In general, I consider myself a pretty good rider. I’ve done a lot of catch riding, and I’ve clocked a lot of hours as a working student and exercise rider at a few big show barns, and as a junior I actually did get paid to train a lot of different green and problem horses/ponies for miscellaneous clients. All of this means that I’ve sat on a LOT of horses, and ridden under a lot of trainers, and just learned a lot by being around horses and deeply involved in the industry. And yet, despite almost 20 years in the horse world, I am constantly reminded how much I actually don’t know, and how much more I’m still learning.
I’ve ridden a lot of super broke horses who had some baggage, so I know fairly well how to fix stopping issues and stiffness and other issues you usually see in horses who are a little burnt out or spoiled.
I’ve also ridden a lot of green horses, from barely broke to finally moving up to more grown-up 3’+ classes, and I’m pretty good at teaching the basic skills required to be a functional riding and show horse.
But now I’m in new territory. I’ve never gotten to keep a green horse long enough to move them up to 3’6+, and I’ve never had the time to really put on some the serious, more complex flat work. Speaking candidly, Val is probably not the best first horse to teach these skills to, because he’s fussy and picky, and though he’s sweet and fairly forgiving, he also doesn’t usually give anything away. On the one hand, you would think that that means that I’d really have to get things right and then I’d learn things the right way the first time. The reality is that when we aren’t getting something quickly, I sometimes struggle to know whether it’s just because he’s being difficult, or if I’m doing something wrong.
I of course have the assistance of mytrainer, and I love doing nitty gritty lessons and clinics, but I am also one who likes to learn by doing. Sometimes this means that progress is a little slow. With a big time trainer whose brought lots of horses up to reach their full potential, maybe Val would be showing in the 1.20m already. There are evenings when I look at pictures and videos, picking apart every bit of my riding and lamenting that I’m not the rider he deserves yet.
But when I take a step back, I remember that Val doesn’t care if he ever reaches his full potential. I’m not doing any training that is hurting him or making him upset, so it’s ok if I make mistakes, and if it takes me a little longer to teach him a skill.
I think a few bloggers have recently touched on the idea that the first horse you train to upper levels is probably going to have some bad habits and baggage, but that’s what it takes to do better by the next one. For the first time, I’m really coming to terms with this.
I do a lot of watching the upper levels of the sport to observe how they ride harder courses, and what riders do to set their horse up for success. I also do a lot of really hard thinking to plan jumping and flat exercises that will help improve Val’s way of going, and his actual jump. This often means doing research, reading articles, watching training videos, and even reading your blogs for new ideas and points of view. Because I’m also realizing that even if there are lots of horses that just move up through the levels without all of this attention to detail, the holes in their training do eventually appear, and putting in the effort now will pay off in the long run.
There’s so much more than I ever realized to training a horse at this level, and I’m absolutely enjoying the pursuit of perfection with my wild little beast. In the long term, learning all of these details about how to affect his jump or his stride or how he uses himself are going to be so important for each additional horse I come into contact with. In my mind, we should always be working to improve on and adding to the skill sets we already have, and Val is helping me to do just that. I think even if I ride until I’m 100, I’ll still be learning new skills. And how cool is that?