Katy, a 22-year-old event rider from California, writes from the perspective of a young professional in the sport who has no idea where life is going to take her next.
Like many riders, I find the “off season” to be a great time to reflect on the year, set new goals, and utilize all the great experiences I’ve gained over the year to refine and improve my riding and technique. I particularly enjoy reviewing old videos to see how far I’ve come and then watching more recent videos to see what I would still like to improve.
I had a wonderful dressage lesson last night which brought to light some of my pesky habits that I’ve been a little too relaxed about and really pushed me to step up my riding to the next level. The lesson was simple–walk, trot, canter and LOTS of transitions–but as I’ve learned, simple does NOT necessarily mean easy! I was introduced to a couple new concepts which were a bit foreign to me at first, but did prove to be effective in increasing engagement and creating a wonderfully elastic horse. I was definitely pleased with the result.
However, I always find that in taking in new ideas, there is a hard decision to be made: Is it necessarily right for me? My horse? There are of course several mantras of riding (“Inside leg to outside rein” comes to mind) and training which might as well be listed in the Bible along with the Ten Commandments, but beyond that I have discovered that MUCH of training technique is subjective. Depending on the day, the horse, the instructor, the weather (the list goes on), you can hear almost anything under the sun (no pun intended).
Warm-up arenas at shows are a great example of how many different ways there are to ride, train, and think about horses. Sometimes you overhear instructions to fellow riders and think to yourself, “Dear God, WHAT?!” Sometimes you think, “Wow, that’s clever, I will try that too!” and stick around for a free lesson! And of course, there are also many different ways to say the same thing–Toes Up vs. Heels Down is a great example–and it depends on the rider which approach works for them and most easily sticks in their head as useable information.
But back to the point, I find it a struggle to be confident in knowing what I know and what I don’t. In the past I have hung on every word someone had to say to me about my riding and changed my style to suite their tastes, even when it felt wrong and I wasn’t having good results, but I did it thinking that it MUST be right, that I MUST be open-minded and willing to change in order to improve my riding. But in hindsight, I realized that I wasn’t actually improving anything, just changing it. Was this trainer and approach wrong? No. But was it right for me or my horse? Also no. And I wish from the start I had believed more in myself and what I know as a rider with my own experiences.
So how do you decide what’s good information, what’s bad information, and what’s perfectly fine information but not the kind of information you need? It’s not like taking a standardized test where you’re presented with a problem: “(Horse A + Rider B) Trainer X = Success; Solve for X.” And if it were that simple, how do you define “success,” anyway?
Well, I’m still figuring that part out. But for now, every time I take a lesson or go to a clinic, I try to ask myself: “What about that felt great? What about that can you use and add to your Holy Grail of Riding? What about that doesn’t work very well for Horse A, B, C, or D? How can I compile all this new information into a usable packet of knowledge and experience?”
They aren’t all easy questions and certainly I’ll spend a lifetime answering them over and over again. But I strongly feel that in answering them, we can increasingly make the transition from being riders to being horsemen (and women).