Jeannette Bayer is from College Station, Tx. She owns two thoroughbreds and a Morgan, all in training to become eventers. As they are all quite green, she started writing a blog to follow the happy moments as well as times that make you want to cry! Many thanks to Jeannette for sharing her story with us, and be sure to check out her blog: 14 Hands and Counting.
When I grow up I want to be a good rider. I tell this to my boyfriend ALL the time. “I just wish I was good at riding horses. Le sigh.” “When will I be good at riding horses?! Le sigh.” “I hope someone thinks I’m good at riding horses. Le sigh.” “How do I get good at riding horses?! Le sigh, le sigh, le sigh.” All the overly dramatic 1950’s sighing and swooning aside, this is a legitimate question/goal that has recently got me really doing some thinking. When will I know that I’m a good rider? What makes a good rider?
Over the New Years holiday I watched the George Morris horsemanship clinic. There were twelve 18 year old kids and their horses that were among the top young riders in the Nation. George Morris was constantly saying that it was less of a clinic and more of a demonstration because of how great of riders these kids were/are. I am not the person who has the authority to butt heads with George Morris but what I can tell you is that I don’t fully agree. These kids have, probably from birth, been put on $15,000+ horses and ponies that have packed them around many an eq course. Not to say that those horses and ponies don’t have their problems, they’re still animals with minds of their own, but money bought the horse and the trainer/training, not just the horse. They are lovely riders with lots more experience than I can boast and they can ride the heck out of their blood horses but what about sticking one of them on Panda (my green TB), or Cash(my crazy Morgan)? I think they’d be completely lost. Perhaps I’m wrong.
So I suppose the ability to ride all different kinds of horses would be a criteria of a “good rider.” But that’s not fair! Let me tell you how many people get recognized for schooling the stubborn Welch pony to make it a good lesson mount. I’m going to go with a big old fat 0. No one. There aren’t cameras at every barn that feed back to David O’Connor where he watches from the Virginia hills and decides who will be the next Beezie Madden. Nope. Every day the weathered instructor of some unknown barn in some Podunk town rides the bucking pony into submission so that tomorrowher little student can jump crossrails without fear of being bucked off. Is that instructor a “good rider?”
And then there are the me’s of this big wide world where money is not, nor (hopefully) will it ever be, evenly distributed. The $700 horses I ride are being trained and bettered by me and are hopefully worth more than their meager beginning price tag. Who knows if I will ever score rides on big Selle Francais stallions in Grand Prix Jumper classes or Oldenburg mares in Prix St. Georges. Am I a “good rider?”
It’s easy to say that Beezie Madden, Reed Kessler, Ben Maher, William Fox Pitt and Boyd Martin are good riders. We see them at the top all the time. They’re always winning. They always have top notch, top dollar horses. What we don’t see is the work it took to get there. The 18 year olds in the George Morris clinic, I would contest, don’t do a lot of work. They’re still on mommy and daddy’s dime, using connections their parents have made, riding horses most of us only dream about. And that’s fine. And I could be totally wrong too. No one sees the behind the scenes.
Anyways, absolutely none of that really answers my question. And now I have a new question; How do good riders make it to the top? I think there is one basic answer to all of those questions and it’s called hard work. I think you become a good rider by riding tons of horses. Any horse you can. For the experience. Do I think a good rider should be able to sit on any horse? Yes and no. There are some horses that are just so crazy that ain’t no one gonna sit on their back. That is the attitude they were born with/have taken on and at that point there is no point in riding that horse. And a good rider can see/determine that quickly. But I do think a good rider should be able to efficiently and correctly ride pretty much every horse.
But a good rider should also realize when the horse is not a good match for them. Every horse has a way it prefers to be ridden and every rider has a riding style. Both can adapt to a point, but why force a situation? If I like a lot of contact in the bridle and a horse gets very fearful with heavy contact why not have someone partner with the horse that is a little more forgiving in the hands? And I think a good rider knows that and thinks that way.
A good rider is built by working with horses. Not just showing up at the barn to a tacked up horse, riding a bit, and then handing the horse off to a groom. Once you have reached the top that luxury can be yours but you learn next to nothing about a horse if all you do is ride it. There are plenty of horses that are capable jumpers but they need a reason to go the extra mile. If you spend time bonding with the horse and really getting to know it, they will often do leaps and bounds more for you than if you show up to exercise it three days a week.
A good rider is smart and empathetic. They see what works and what doesn’t work. They are creative in their training techniques. They are able to get consistent results by using the same training methods to produce athletes. They have a good eye for horses. They are constantly learning and improving. They are dedicated. They are persistent. They shoot for the stars. They know that riding has its ups and downs and they don’t get too down on the down side or too high on the up side. They work with what they have. They are innovative. They are tireless workers.
I want to be those things. All of them. Which I guess makes the answer to my question, “When will I be a good rider?” never. And at the same time soon. It’s an endless pursuit. Being a good rider is totally dependent on the assessor and what they value. I was unimpressed (and also horrendously jealous) by the clinic riders because I see no hints of hard work. Whether or not their talent and skills were there wouldn’t matter. I value effort.
Once I was watching a Grand Prix Jumper class. There was a lady who was terribly turned out. Her ponytail was sticking out from underneath her crooked helmet. Her breeches had a stain on them and her jacket was very old fashioned. Besides the pony tail, I was kind of hoping she would rise above her obviously unprofessional outfit and ride the crap out of the course to a win over some of the top riders in the country. Unfortunately the disaster that was her getup was only made worse when she tried to prove her riding skills. Every jump there were elbows flapping, yelling, crop using, a leap at the jump with her body, which all resulted in the horse knocking down a pole at every jump until it finally crashed through jump number 6.
She was not a good rider. I will always remember that. Always. The moral of this post and that story in particular are that there are so many things that go into a good rider. Just because you’ve reached the Grand Prix level does not make you a good rider. Just because you’re on a nice horse doesn’t make you a good rider. Just because you can ride a snotty pony does not make you a good rider. Just because you look pretty sitting on a horse does not make you a good rider. But perhaps if you put all those together and stir in a little hard work and constant self improvement you’ve got something there.
I will probably still ask my boyfriend when I will be a good rider and “le sigh” about everything that I don’t have quite yet. But “le sighs” do not get you to “Good Rider” status. Believe me, if they did I’d be short listed for the 2016 Olympics by now. Only hard work will get you anywhere. You have to want it bad enough. It has to run through your veins. When your mom told you, “If you work hard enough you can be anything you want” is so true. But the key there is you have to want it. My little sister could never work hard enough to ride at the top levels because she doesn’t care to. And that’s fine. Don’t get discouraged! And remind me not to either. Jump at every opportunity you can and make the most out of it!