Other Riding Tips

Letter to My Rookie Self: Shelby Dennis

Written by Shelby Dennis

Equestrian Advice: This is part of our Letter to My Rookie Self series, an open letter equestrian reflection project. Learn more and/or submit your own letter here.

Dear Rookie Self…

You have the fiery passion and fearlessness that lends well to creating a good rider. Never lose this. Your drive to become better will become a powerful weapon in the future. As you grow as a rider, try not to let this fire within you become extinguished.

Because, girl, people will sure try.


Your drive to become better will become a powerful weapon in the future.

You are young and naive and without the full concept of how harsh and unforgiving the horse world and the people within it can be. Still, do not let this discourage you.

Everyone who tries to put you down and take away your drive to become better will only serve to remind you of the person that you do not want to become. Never let jealousy or pure unhappiness in your own life push you to rob others of their own happiness.

And, please, never let the words of complete strangers change your goals in the horse world. Even if it takes years, you will achieve those goals (or at least be on your way to achieving them).

Anyone who tells you otherwise is just flat-out wrong. Don’t prove them right by neglecting to try.

Riding is hard.

You will make lots of mistakes in your riding, as well as general stable management. This is okay — everyone does it. But, you can work to avoid such mistakes by furthering your knowledge through reading and asking the professionals around you for help.

No question is stupid, it is okay not to know everything. By admitting where you lack knowledge, you will open the door for further learning.

Pretending you know more than you do will only promote ignorance. Lacking knowledge is not a weakness, it is merely a hole that you will fill soon with your thirst for becoming more educated equestrian.

Riding lessons are your friend. They may be costly and they may be hard, but the more you can manage to take, the better you will become and the fewer mistakes you will make.

Train with lots of different trainers. If someone makes you uncomfortable, have the guts to question them, have the strength to leave if you no longer agree with a certain trainer’s practices.

There are way too many talented coaches to stick with one solely because you’ve been with them a while. Not all trainers are suited to you for the long haul, and that is totally okay.

You don’t need to own a horse to be worthwhile.

Taking lessons is okay. Leasing is okay. Riders are not defined by their ability to have ownership over a horse. You will still continue to grow and improve as a rider even without your own horse.


Owning a horse does not lend you superiority over riders who are not so fortunate.

Similarly, when you are lucky enough to own a horse eventually, remember that does not lend you superiority over riders who are not so fortunate.

Every rider who is working to improve themselves is worthwhile, even if they have less than you. Do not fall into the pretentiousness that so many other young riders get caught up in.

Appreciate the support you get and always remember that at any time, this could be taken away from you.

Be independent, find out ways to support yourself, and always cherish those who help to land you the opportunities that you have. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Taking a break is okay.

If you’re burnt out and need a break from the barn entirely, it does not make you less of an equestrian.

In fact, breaks may even work to improve your love for horses and reignite the fire that may have dwindled to embers.

Respect your physical and mental health and know yourself well enough to know when to stop pushing. Your body is your temple, and your mind is what oversees it.

Don’t take either for granted.

Don’t fall into the mean girls cliques.

Bullying riders who are greener than you isn’t “cool.” There will always be newer riders, but there will always be better ones, too.


Everyone has different budgets, different tastes, and different priorities.

Treat others how you want to be treated, and don’t allow the mob mentality to shape the manner in which you treat people. Similarly, remember that while wearing name brands and having nice clothes is fun and all, it is not the be-all end-all.

Everyone has different budgets, different tastes, and different priorities. Respect that.

Do not enforce your personal beliefs and preferences on others. Treat everyone with kindness, and reserve harsh judgment for those who are truly being unethical.

You’ll need tact and measured thinking to continue to make it in the horse world. Do not become engulfed in the pettiness that so many other riders do at a young age.

Question yourself and those around you.

Question yourself and those around you. Question the industry as a whole. Just because everyone does something does not necessarily make it right.

Just because the top professionals are doing something doesn’t mean it is right.

The horse world is an imperfect place, a conservative place, and one that is afraid of change. If you become a sheep and accept things just because “that’s the way they are,” you will never be part of the change the horse world needs. We’re growing as riders and learning more about proper animal husbandry, and that will help us all make the best decisions for our equine athletes.

Good things take time.

People are not better than you just because they hit the destination faster. You’ll find more and more that there are an abundance of shortcuts in the horse world, but most of them do not yield lasting results.

Patience is one of the most important skills a rider can hone.

Do not let it pass you by. Do not degrade yourself because other riders figure out aspects of riding quicker than you. Things take time, and everyone has their own personal strengths and weaknesses. You CAN do this.

Enjoy the ride.

Lastly, to the young rookie girl who fell head over heels with horses and never looked back, please never forget to enjoy the ride.

There is so much more to horseback riding than competing, showing off to friends, or trying to one-up other riders in your program or compare yourself to those that you idolize.

Remember why you initially got into this sport — for the sheer love for horses.


Remember why you got into this sport in the first place.

Do not lose that simple joy. Do not forget the rider who made this all happen. Do not lose the sweet innocence of your inner horse rookie.

Let it remain part of you for years to come. Then, help nurture that innocence and love for horses in all of the new riders who will look up to you in the future.

Be the best you can be.


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About the author

I'm Shelby Dennis, a prominent figure in the realm of YouTube as an equestrian vlogger and a dedicated horse trainer. For over 17 years, I've forged an unwavering connection with these majestic animals, charting a diverse path across the equestrian landscape. Hailing from the picturesque Fraser Valley of British Columbia, I stand as a professional horse trainer and behavior consultant.