Eight things I really wish I had known when I started riding
I started riding when I was 10-years-old. I did not come from a horsey family at all. My mom signed me up for ‘Pony Camp’ one summer, unknowing of the fact that it would eventually lead me down a path to a life-long Eventing addiction. My family’s lack of an equestrian background meant we all learned a lot of lessons the hard way. We all did our best to learn as much as possible from more knowledgable people but we made plenty of mistakes along the way. I have been in this sport for over a decade now and I still have heaps to learn about horses and riding. But there are some basic things I wish I had known 13 years ago, that would have saved me a lot of hardships…
1) Buying the horse is the cheap part. My poor parents thought that the two-for-one deal on the Paint horses we bought from the Mennonites was quite the steal. Only $2500 for two horses! I mean some people pay hundreds of dollars for just a dog. Little did we realize that the board, farrier and vet bills really add up. Not to mention all of the coaching, show entries, membership fees, tack costs, etc. Always remember that it costs as much to maintain a cheap horse as it does an expensive one.
2) Don’t buy the fanciest horse. My first two horses were extremely ordinary (slightly below average) athletes and were far from saints. Both of them had just been green broken a few weeks before I became the proud new owner. I fell off on a weekly basis for the first year or so. However, thanks to the heaps of lessons I took, the Paints eventually became tame. As my interest in competing grew and I gained more experience, I eventually outgrew my first mounts. The next horse I purchased was an extremely fancy 5-year-old Holsteiner gelding, who earned the name Evil Munchkin. You can click here to read about all my hardships and later successes with the Evil Munchkin. But now looking back, I greatly encourage people who are still learning, to buy a sane and slightly ordinary horse. Maybe you won’t win everything but you’ll get to work on honing your riding skills and develop confidence in yourself. Some of the most ordinary horses do turn out to be champions because they have enormous hearts!
3) It is sometimes better to just audit a clinic than to actually ride in one. I have ridden in numerous clinics but in hindsight much of what I learned riding in these clinics I could have learned by simply auditing and it would have saved a lot of money. This is especially true for clinics in which you ride in large groups because the clinicians tend to bring everyone back to basics and are unable to really customize their lesson plan to each individual pair. Never underestimate the amount you can learn from watching clinics and other rider’s lessons. There are no miracle tricks up a trainer’s sleeves that can fix your specific problem in one clinic. Chances are, anything the clinician would’ve have taught you if you were riding, you would be able to learn from watching others ride. So don’t bother spending heaps of money riding in clinics, save the money and get more lessons with your regular coach who knows you and your horse.
4) Stop stressing about what other riders your age are doing. I’m a very competitive person and when I was younger I used to drive myself a bit mad by constantly comparing my level of riding to others in my age group. It is okay to be driven and want to become the best but don’t get down on yourself if someone else is upgrading to Preliminary before you. Equestrian sports are a marathon, not a sprint. If you stick it out long enough in this sport and keep chipping away at it, you will pass many of the people who are way ahead of you right now.
5) You can never cross-country school too much. I went through a phase where I felt that if I could accurately answer show jumping questions and my horse was educated on the cross-country basics (banks, water, ditches, narrows, corners) that all I needed to do was a few cross-country schools early in the season. I figured once the season was in full swing that my horse and I would only need to improve our jumping in the arena. I was wrong. Cross-country schools are no substitute for show jumping schools and these are the reasons why…
6) Consult with a current professional rider about your horse’s fitness/show plans instead of taking advice from books or on the internet. To prepare for my first CCI1* I followed a fitness plan outlined in a book written by a reputable eventer but the fitness plan was for a long-format event. I also did not understand that ‘gallop sets’ were not meant to be ridden at ‘as fast as you can make your horse go’… Long story short, my 7-year-old horse finished the event as one of the fittest horses in the field but my poor 16-year-old horse only made it a third of the way around and I had to pull up because she was unsound. She bowed a tendon and luckily rehabbed well and is still enjoying a great life. If I did not just assume this book’s plan was golden and had I consulted with a professional who knew my horses, then I would have probably had two sound horses at the end of the event. Even now I am still constantly picking more experienced riders’ brains about how they condition their horses and what their show plans are and why. Books and online resources are great learning tools but you should always run things by a professional in case it is incorrect, irrelevant or you don’t understand it correctly.
7) Speaking of online activity, stay away from the horse forums. Horse forums, for the most part, are pretty toxic. There are a lot of armchair eventers and self-proclaimed experts trolling about. If you want to read them for entertainment, that is about all they are good for. As a child, I used to read them and I genuinely believed everything on the forums was coming from knowledgeable equestrians. Now I realize it is quite the contrary. If you have a question about something or need any kind of help, seek it from people you know. Don’t take advice from internet horsey strangers. I understand there are some good and intelligent horse people on the forums and sometimes it can be handy to ask a question there but just remember to take it all with a grain of salt.
8) Never let anyone convince you that falling off will make you a better rider. I have fallen off a lot. I have been hurt a lot as a result. But falling off has in no way made me a better rider. All falling off does is make you sore and diminish your confidence. If you find yourself falling off a particular horse on a regular basis, seek help. Maybe send your horse for training with a more experienced rider. Perhaps you should sell the horse. Or you might need to consider dropping down a level. Please analyze why you are hitting the dirt more often than others and work on preventing that. You will thank yourself later.