Many little girls dream of riding horses as a job. I have been fortunate enough to make that dream come true, but not without learning a few things they don’t teach in college equine studies classes. Here are five things I learned the hard way as a horse trainer.
Always Protect Your Head
My worst injury happened when riding a youngster, but I have fallen off plenty of well-trained horses, too. Beginners tumble off frequently, but even top-level riders take their share of spills. Olympian Courtney King-Dye fell off a horse and suffered a traumatic brain injury that has completely changed her life. I personally wear a helmet whenever I am doing something other than self-propelling: bicycle, motorcycle, skateboard or even a calm trail ride on an older horse. My brain is my most valuable investment!
Don’t Let Anyone Pressure You Into Doing Something You Think Isn’t Safe
That worst injury? A broken leg, thanks to a youngster who I had no business being on yet. But I felt pressured by a hurried owner and my own money worries. I approached each session carefully, making sure to review the basics first, but sometimes all it takes is a disrespectful horse who spooks at a squirrel and then takes off at top speed bucking like a sea serpent. I had ignored my gut feelings and paid the price. If there’s a valid reason to your safety concern, just say no.
Pretty Is as Pretty Does
Many people are allured (myself included!) by the pretty wrapper of a golden Palomino or big black horse. But the horse that’s underneath it all is what truly matters. I’ve had plain ol’ brown horses who can jump the moon and pretty ponies with bad attitudes. Watch out for judging someone by their cover, because you may never discover the gem hidden underneath.
Show Appreciation to the People Who Helped You Get Where You Are
Most horse trainers need a hand with things and have a whole crew to help them out. I had a couple of teenagers who would do some chores to be able to afford a second riding lesson each week. They were motivated, hard-working and showed up rain or shine. I often didn’t charge for the little things that many trainers itemize, like taking them shopping for show clothes or trailering their horses along with mine to an event. As a kid I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on horses and had a lot of help in the beginning. I like to think of it as paying it forward. Whatever the reason, remember the people who reached out and helped you up, and give a hand to those who are willing to work hard.
What Worked for One May Not Work for Another
Just as some kids do better in a home-schooling or Montessori program, no one training program or method is going to work for every horse. Each one is an individual, and just because a horse’s half-brother was a Grand Prix show jumper doesn’t mean he is going to be a natural superstar. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”