For most of my riding career, I’ve been lucky enough to have fairly consistent training during the show seasons. With regular lessons once or twice a week, I always felt like I was progressing. I would still ride on my own, but it just never felt like I could get the same quality ride that I would have in my lessons. It felt like the only time my riding was progressing was during my lessons, and when I was riding on my own I was just trying not to let any of that progress fall apart.
But this past year has been a little different than previous years. My fiancé, Zach, and I now manage our own barn of twelve horses about 1,000 miles away from our trainer (which is another story in and of itself). Our trainer, Brad Hall, still comes to teach us about once a month, but once a month is a lot less than the weekly lessons I was used to during show season. So I was forced to figure out a way to continuing progressing without depending on those weekly lessons.
You may be wondering, “Why not find another trainer in your area?” Well, Zach and I have been working with Brad for about ten years. By this point, he knows us so well and we have built a lot of trust in him to keep our safety and our horses’ well-being a top priority as we move up the levels. Additionally, we all recognize and compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that allows us to work really well together. He’s also going to be the best man at our wedding, so there’s no turning back now!
Back on topic – I was forced to figure out how to keep progressing outside of my lessons. Trying to figure out how to make that work resulted in a rollercoaster of a show season filled with both highs and lows. But out of the frustration of failure, I finally had my “light bulb moment”. And by “light bulb moment” I mean I finally understood what Brad had been trying to tell me for the past 5+ years…
“Every time you ride, you are either putting money in the bank or taking money out.”
(Brad’s take on a similar George Morris quote..)
I finally realized I needed to hold my rides outside of lessons to a higher standard. Every time I put a foot in the stirrup, I need to expect the best from myself. This doesn’t mean that every ride will be the best ride ever or that there won’t be any frustrating days, but it does mean that I will try to communicate with my horse to the best of my abilities every single ride. It’s about holding yourself accountable for your horse’s performance. If something’s not going right, I don’t blame the horse. I try to analyze how I’m communicating what I want and how I can make changes or improvements to get a better result from my horse.
I don’t mean to say that taking less lessons has made me a better rider because I’m “too good” for lessons. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As I begin the long transition from amateur to professional, I need my trainer now more than ever. But taking less lessons has forced me to retain as much as I can from every lesson. It has taught me to truly listen to my horses, which has greatly improved my timing and confidence in the tools that I have to analyze the situation and make things work. If you really listen to them, they will tell you exactly what you’re doing right or wrong!
We all know horses can give you both the best and worst days of your life; but when you learn to recognize the small, daily successes, you will have more good days than bad. Learning how to make the most out of every ride has allowed me to recognize those small, daily successes. I believe the ability to produce, recognize and appreciate small wins in every ride is the true definition of success as a rider. It’s what will keep you going during the low points, humble during the high points, and remind you why you started this crazy journey in the first place: for the love of the horse.