Always Learning

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.

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2012

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.

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2013

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.

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2014. Photo by Lauren M.

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.

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2015. Photo by Lauren M.

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.

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2016

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?

15 thoughts on “Always Learning

  1. I absolute LOVE this. Especially when we get hard on ourselves, it’s so important to remember that the horse doesn’t care if he ever moves up a division. That is not a goal they have. As long as they have the strength and ability to do what we’re asking, and plenty of grass and cookies, life is good.
    And to the always learning- absolutely. Sometimes non-horsey people will ask, “Why do you still take lessons? Haven’t you been riding for 20 years?” and my only response is, “Yeah, and maybe in another 20 years I’ll really learn how to ride.”

    1. In Val’s mind, the meaning of life is cookies. And maybe jumping. He does kind of like it.

      But sometimes it is hard to remember! I just keep reminding myself that in the long run we’re better off going a little slow and really getting things right.

  2. Jenn

    I can absolutely relate to this! Well-written, as usual 🙂

    I’m very much a visual learner so I enjoy watching riders of all disciplines and skills levels because I personally believe we can all learn something from everyone; good, bad or otherwise. This sport is so challenging, the moment we stop learning, I think we’re doing something wrong. Great post!

  3. As an adult amateur who has had and currently has a green horse I don’t see each horse as an experiment. I want all of the horses I ride/own to get to the best of their ability or atleast get the foundation to set them up for ongoing success… Sure maybe I am not the person to get them to their max potential but I am going to try my hardest to do the best I can all the time for the horse. Sure there will be speed bumps and detours but as riders of green horses I think it’s our responsibility to our horses to try to give them a solid foundation at the very minimum and to reach out for assistance when necessary to get there. I am definitely of the opinion that all riders can always improve and learn and I hope to live that belief throughout my riding.

    1. That’s a fair point. Especially with one that is still learning the basics it’s very important to make sure they have a solid base to work from. But I do also think that part of learning to teach those skills, or even later skills, involves a learning curve. Even with the help of a trainer, as you learn new things, you won’t always do them right. Each horse you train, you’ll get better and you’ll get things right more efficiently, but the first few there are bound to be mistakes. Of course, for something I know I’m doing wrong, or I just can’t seem to figure out, I’ll ask my trainer for input or suggestions for an exercise that will help me get it right. But other times it’s a matter of just doing until I get it right.That has been my experience at least!

  4. Going to have to agree with Heather re your comment Hillary.

    I don’t think she meant that “whoops this horse is the throwaway”, simply that there is an unavoidable learning curve when you’re training a certain type of horse for the first time, or second time, or third. There’s always a learning curve and not one of us is perfect in our training methods. We are always learning, even the best of the best.

    1. There is no doubt a learning curve. I guess I was just saying that for instance Annie is currently super frustrating on the flat. I don’t just throw my hands up and say it is what it is. I am getting the help I can to work through.

      All good points. Obviously no one is perfect but we should still hold ourselves to a standard where possible 🙂

      1. I suppose I don’t understand where you’re getting the notion that she was suggesting anything otherwise. In the post itself she said her trainer assists her when things get tough and she’s not just throwing her hands up and saying forget it. Most of us seek the help of a trainer when we get stuck. The point is that NONE of us are perfect and shouldn’t expect it to be that way…there’s a learning curve. As in, always learning.

        1. It is very different with a really green horse like Hillary’s, so maybe that’s where the difference in opinion is coming from. It’s all good though! I think there was maybe just a miscommunication. I maybe could have explained myself a little better in the post.

  5. the moment we think we know everything, or that we’re the best we can be at our level, is the moment some horse will come along and show us what is really up haha. they definitely have a way of keeping us humble! all the same tho – as you say, that journey of learning each little new nuance and subtlety is so rewarding in and of itself.

  6. I agree with Emma. As soon as you think you got it…you really don’t.

    But in my mind, that’s what separates the great from the good, or at least the humble from the proud. And humble riders will ALWAYS learn more. Thus, making them great 🙂

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