This is an incredible time in a rider’s life: you have learned enough to be comfortable and confident around horses. Your talent and understanding is showing, and you can do a lot on your own now that you simply couldn’t do as a novice. Here is some advice I’d give to myself at that time if I had the chance:
1. Don’t Trade Competition for the Pleasure of Riding
Entering the show ring is an exhilarating experience, and winning even more so. Enjoy the fruit of your achievements when you compete and do well. But make sure it is not at the expense of the connection you have with your horse or the people who supported you getting to that place. If competition is consuming you to the point where you cannot ride just for the pleasure of riding, perhaps reevaluate where you lost the spark. Are you still competing for your own sense of achievement, are you trying to appease family, friends, or fellow competitors? If so, bring it back to the basics and your passion will drive your talent higher.
2. Don’t Buy into Barn Gossip & Cliques
Okay, I know this can be hard. But let me say that gossip at the barn is so easy to slip into and yet so hard to get out of. Gossip is an issue to varying degrees because, much like a school or work environment, the barn is a group of people with their own set of insecurities. The people who feel superior are not worth the time of day until they stop badmouthing everyone else. I have seen even little frustrations get out of hand. Be open with people you have miscommunications with. Share your riding space. Reach out and find out their interests. You are way better off being a sincere friend to someone than talking behind their back about something petty and temporarily validating your feelings.
3. Accept Help, But Not Everyone’s Help
You are at a place now where you know a lot, but you are not quite an expert yet. Use your discernment to gain advice from people you know have well-mannered, happy horses. When asking for advice, or even hearing people’s unsolicited advice, just internalize the opinions of those you know are trustworthy.
A trustworthy advisor will encourage working for the horse, not against the horse. They will stay away from forceful methods and will have relaxed and obedient horses. If you haven’t realized it already, horse people are very opinionated (we are, after all, passionate people), but not every opinion is helpful. Run their words through what you know to be true for your horse. Too much input can leave you confused and your horse frustrated.
4. Hold on to Curiosity – It’s Your Secret Weapon
I’m cashing in my cliché pass right now, because it is so appropriate: “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder”, brilliant words from a profusely played LeAnn Womack song that ring true for horsemanship. Every horse you ever encounter will be different in personality, background, and temperament. Plus, they will all vary day-to-day. Instead of being quick to impose an assumption, ask questions internally and observe the horse’s behavior. When training and riding, keep your creative juices flowing by being inquisitive enough to find opportunities outside of the box. Curiosity: it is what sets the great apart from the good.
5. Trust Your Intuition
Trust the intuition you have built up to this point. You will still make mistakes, and that’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how long they have been riding. You will learn more quickly. In all the voices of opinion, know that as long as you are learning and treating your horse well, you’re on the right path.