I just got back to Virginia from a two week “vacation” in Wisconsin. Originally I was going to write this post all about that trip, relating stories about horses I rode, horse friends I saw and how really it wasn’t a true vacation but more of an extension of every day life – ride horses, attend shows, repeat.
But instead I want to talk about horse trainers. Those men and women that make or break your career, who give you the confidence to try new things, and sometimes over-face you and your mount through lack of direction.
While I was home in Wisconsin I was exposed to a variety of different horse scenarios. I rode at two different barns, judged a horse show, watched an all-day clinic and spent the day at a hunter derby. And through these experiences I saw some incredible horsemanship. And some dangerous situations. Some instances where it took every ounce of self –restraint I possess not to walk in to the ring and help the poor flailing student because his or her instructor was an epic failure.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have ridden with some of the best and brightest women that teach in the Midwest. Each one of them gave me skills I still rely on every time I put my foot in the stirrup. Each one of them taught me things that I have since rejected as my priorities in the saddle have changed. Either way, they provided for me an incredible education that has shaped me in to the equestrian I am, both on a horse and on the ground.
The best part? I got to see all of them while I was in Wisconsin!
I won’t name them specifically, but I want to tell you some of the most important things they taught me during the time I spent under their particular tutelage.
- One woman taught me the importance of rhythm. She made me spend endless hours counting “1, 2, 1, 2…” as we would canter a vertical time after time. I was required to yell out my distance as we got closer. If I got it wrong, I had to do it at least a hundred more times! (or so it seemed) To this very day every single time I am on course – whether at home or at a show – I count, “1, 2, 1, 2…” When I miss a jump, hunt the jump or feel hesitant about what I’m doing, I stop to take a deep breath, pull my eyes up from the ground and remember what she drilled into me – stay on step and you’ll be fine every time. She’s right.
- Another trainer spent the time walking courses with me. My friends will tell you that I am a total stickler for setting proper distances between fences and nothing drives me more crazy than a poorly set line. This woman made sure that I knew how long a horse’s stride was, taught me how to walk lines, showed me all sorts of different things about medal turns and generally instilled the value of knowing why something rode the way it did rather than just galloping around hoping to get over all 8 jumps. I think this is a skill every trainer must teach, yet very few seem to do it.
- There was the woman who reminded me that horse showing was actually fun! Not that it ever wasn’t, but as a Junior rider I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect – not just to win but to put in the most perfect round without a single misstep. During lessons at home she would come up with these crazy medal courses (knowing that I was obsessed) that tried to find things my horse and I couldn’t do. That way when we went to the show whatever the course designer set would seem easy-peasy. Before we went in to the ring, the last thing she would say to me was, “Have fun!” while whacking me on the thigh with her fist. It was her way of reminding me that if I just enjoyed my ride I would do what I needed to win.
- I won’t ever forget the woman who saw the talent in a very young girl and was the first to put me in the show ring. Back then there was no pre-short stirrup or beginner rider, but she had enough confidence in my budding abilities to put me right in to the hunters on my very first show pony. Did I mention I was 5? Her confidence gave me the strength to go out there and do it – and frankly, I didn’t know any better at that age! But having a great experience at such a young age is why I love horse showing so much to this day.
One of them drilled equitation into me, instilling early on that it was important to look good while getting the job done. She’s still the prettiest Pro in the saddle who would definitely give the top Junior riders a run for their money! Another has become a dear friend in my adulthood, an unexpected but wonderful connection in my life. I delightfully reconnected with one of them at a horse show while I was home, reminiscing about decades passed and recalling the feelings of that moment in time.
These women made me sweep barn aisles and put me on all kinds of horses and ponies throughout the years. They gave me amazing opportunities to showcase my talents both in the show ring and at home. They made deals with me, trading my help or riding skills for the chance for my horse to hitch a ride to a competition or waiving schooling fees if I braided, which allowed me to experience venues I may not have otherwise had a chance to ride in.
And there is no doubt about it, they taught me how to really ride.
So a sincere thank you to my former trainers. I’m grateful for the knowledge you’ve shared over the years and honored to now call many of you friends.