How to Bake a Humble Pie: An Adult Amateur’s Return to the Saddle

Ever had to take a break from riding because “real life” got in the way? Adult amateur contributor Meagan DeLisle outlines the perfect “how to” route to get back in the tack based on her own (entertaining) experience.

In my first lesson after my nearly two-year hiatus, we worked on lead changes. After three failed attempts to get the change (over a pole, might I add) I cantered away blissfully unaware as my coach yelled across the arena, “Do you know how to ask for a change?” Duh, I thought — that is until my 17-hand lease horse at the time decided to be a total saint and give me the change when I wasn’t expecting it (or asking for it — good boy Oliver for knowing your job) which resulted in popping me out of my seat and off the side of the horse.

Have you ever noticed that when you watch people fall off, it happens so fast that you aren’t completely sure what happened? Yeah… when you are the one falling, you seem to have plenty of time to sort out why you fell and how not-so-great it is going to feel when you hit the ground. In those few moments, I realized that even though I mentally knew how to ride, all of my muscle memory had vanished leaving me a bouncing, wobbling, leaning mess in the saddle.

Step one: Admit you have a problem

I was a pretty competent rider in my competitive college years. I worked my way up from Walk/Trot to Novice Flat and Fences in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, or IHSA, in less than four years and placed third at Regionals two years in a row in good company. My old horse, Lance, was a perfect first hunter and we earned several tri-colors on our local circuit. I woke most mornings and did barn chores before class and rode four or five days a week. I had the opportunity to obtain my CHA certification and shadowed under my coach for quite some time. I was fit and fearless.

Meagan at her final IHSA Regionals Championship in 2014. Photo taken by Monie Brehmer (horse show mom extraordinaire)

Meagan at her final IHSA Regionals Championship in 2014. Photo taken by Monie Brehmer (horse show mom extraordinaire)

The big draft horse in the barn who I nicknamed the Cowardly Lion? Yeah, put my 5’2, 120-pound self on him — I got this. Drawing random horses out of a hat at IHSA shows and riding them like I rode them daily? Boom. Consider it done. And here I was, unable get a darn lead change.

Step two: Suck it up, buttercup

So, I did what I didn’t want to do — I sucked up my pride and I started over. I took a few lessons with some beginners at the barn to re-build my foundation. I watched the way the upper level riders rode and took notes. As I was going around the ring, if I couldn’t get what I thought I was asking for, I circled and circled and circled as my coach explained to me how to properly use my body.

Yes, I came off a couple times… including having my first-ever fall at a show. Believe it or not, no matter how big of a saint your horse may be one day they WILL break down and give you what you deserve. For me, it was a sudden stop at a fence because I was leaning way too far forward in the approach. In true Meagan fashion, when I landed on the other side of the fence I tossed my hands in the air like a gymnast and trudged off to get my horse. My coach Cassie stood smiling at the end of the ring as I lead Oliver out and dusted the dirt off of my breeches. “Told you not to lean,” she said with a little bit of a laugh as I made my way out the gate. “I hope you’re not going to the trailer, because I expect you to get back on and do that again.”

Step three: Don’t be a quitter, even if your sore butt really wants you to quit

So I did. Every time I get frustrated, I do it again. Every time I fall, I get back on and jump again. Every time my new horse Joey, a green OTTB, launches over a fence or gallops out of a line, we do it again. I fight with my body to correspond with my mind. I listen to my coach yell, “Left leg… left leg… MEAGAN THAT IS YOUR RIGHT LEG USE YOUR LEFT LEG.”

I once read a George Morris quote from one of his clinics where he said, “Maybe lightning will strike and you’ll suddenly be able to ride” and prayed for that fateful bolt of lightning to help me out. So many people don’t understand how physically demanding what we do every day actually is. Taking that time off from riding definitely brought me back down to humble-land and made me realize that being a good rider is an acquired skill.

Making a comeback at my first show after 2 years off, with the oh-so-wonderful horse show husband by my side. Photo by Joanie DeLisle, horse show mother-in-law in training.

Making a comeback at my first show after 2 years off, with the oh-so-wonderful horse show husband by my side. Photo by Joanie DeLisle, horse show mother-in-law in training.

Despite the pain and the frustration, I kept trying because I know what kind of a rider I once was and I know I can be even better than that now. I am thankful for the little successes and I go home and read, research, and scan the internet for videos to help accomplish my failures. I ask A TON of questions (sorry Cassie) and I practice, practice, practice. I started over, because sometimes starting from scratch isn’t a bad thing. It’s not easy being an adult amateur and it is definitely not easy returning to the saddle after a bit of a break, but I have found my rhythm thanks to the right attitude and one heck of a support team (seriously, my coach and fellow Adult Ammys at the barn are the best).

Step four: Eat a piece of humble pie and remember, you can never stop learning. Besides, if you feel as if you have learned everything you need to know in this sport, I suggest you go to a George Morris clinic… I think he might prove you wrong.

Go adult ammys, and go riding!

Meagan and Joey. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman.

Meagan DeLisle has spent her whole life clipping photos of horses out of magazines and dreaming of the day that her photo appears in one. She spends her days balancing her new marriage, a demanding career, and a desire to spend every free moment in the saddle.

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