Things I wish I’d known as a horse rookie
Intermediate level — it’s an incredible time in a rider’s life. You’ve learned enough to be comfortable and confident around horses. Your talent and understanding is showing through, and you can do a lot more on your own now than as a novice.
Looking back now, here are the biggest pieces of advice I’d have given my “rookie self” as an intermediate rider.
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 how you lost the spark.
Are you still competing for your own sense of achievement, or are you trying to appease family, friends, or fellow competitors?
If so, take your riding experience back to the basics, reset your priorities, and your passion will drive your talent higher.
2. Don’t buy into barn gossip and cliques
I know this can be hard — gossip at the barn can be so enticing. It’s easy to become a gossip, but it’s hard to stop. Things like equestrian bullying and “water cooler talk” are toxic and have no place in our sport. I have seen even little frustrations get out of hand. Much like a school or work environment, the barn is a group of people with their own set of insecurities.
Riders who act superior are not worth your time of day until they stop badmouthing everyone else.
Reach out and find out other’s interests. You are way better off being a sincere friend to peers than talking behind their backs about something petty and temporarily validating your feelings.
Be open if there’s been a miscommunication, talk through the hurts, and be willing to walk away if a barn community doesn’t share your values.
3. Accept help, but not everyone’s help
You are at a place now where you know quite a bit, but you’re still not an expert yet.
Use your discernment to gain advice from people you know have well-mannered, happy horses.
When asking for advice, or even vetting people’s unsolicited advice, only 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 others’ words through a mental filter about what you know to be true for your horse. Too much input can leave you confused and your horse frustrated.
4. Curiosity is 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.” These brilliant words from a profusely played LeAnn Womack song still 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. All riders makes mistakes, no matter how long they have been in the horse world. The key is to learn from mistakes and not repeat them.
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!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an intermediate horse rider?
We all know what a beginner horse rider is (since we’ve all been one!), but what exactly is an intermediate horse rider? An intermediate rider is someone who is fairly comfortable riding a horse at all paces. This includes walk, trot/jog, and canter/lope as well as galloping, posting trot, and any special gaits, if we’re talking gaited horses.
You do not have to ride on a regular schedule to be an intermediate rider, but it sure helps!
An intermediate rider also has to be able to control a horse in most circumstances. They are plenty capable of cueing the horse to transition between gaits, ask the horse to pick up a certain lead, turn, back, and halt. This rider has also ridden different horses, can identify leads and diagonals, recognize a lame horse, and be proficient in basic horse care.
Why go back to horseback riding basics?
Horseback riding basics are the foundation on which you built all of your riding skills. A weak foundation can lead to issues later on, so a good horse rider will always make sure they don’t overlook the little things. If you never learned how to properly ask for a canter, sit a trot, or even ask for a halt, you can run into issues as you try to progress and do more complex activities. You can’t do a flying lead change if you can’t even ask for a correct lead in the first place.
Some people get impatient with the “beginner stuff,” but learning the right way saves you time and trouble. Unlearning bad habits can be very difficult, so if you feel like you’ve been knocked down to total beginner-level, don’t give up.
You have to rewire your brain and muscles, and that takes time. It’s totally worth it in the end, when you’re zooming around that jump course like a pro or showing off your fancy dressage moves.
How do you become a horse expert?
You can become a horse expert by devoting a big chunk of your time over a long period to equestrian pursuits. After many years of working with countless horses and professional trainers you will be able to finally pass this knowledge on to the next generation! You have to go through all the levels of riding – beginner, novice, intermediate, and advanced. You need to gain experience showing in your particular riding style and be familiar with all aspects of horse care and management.
A horse expert is also knowledgeable about different breeds, veterinary care, hoof care, and can identify health and lameness issues. They should also be able to raise a young horse and train it from the ground up. Problem horses are something an expert can handle since they have experience with many different behavioral problems and training methods.
What is the most helpful horse riding advice?
The most helpful horse riding advice is to have fun! It should be enjoyable whether you just want to go on leisurely trail rides or plan to compete in the Olympics. If you dread going out to ride it is going to be impossible to truly become a good rider. Honestly, it defeats the whole purpose of riding horses in the first place.
Since horses are not required for transportation there is no pressing need for you to learn to ride. Equestrianism is a hobby for a large portion of the people involved, and hobbies are supposed to be pleasant. If you find yourself not having fun anymore, you may need to switch gears and try something new.
How do I improve my horse riding?
Practice, practice, practice! Did I mention practice? The absolute only way that you will ever improve your horseback riding skill is by practice and building up that muscle memory. Ride as often as you can and ride as many horses as you can. Watch other people ride, work with a trainer, or even multiple trainers. Invest more time in general horse care and groundwork to understand all aspects of the horse.
Read books and watch videos, but understand that it will never replace actually getting on a horse. Make sure to keep yourself in good physical condition by exercising, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep.
Riding is a sport, and you can’t excel if your body is suffering. You also can’t excel if your mind is suffering, so pay attention to mental health. Take breaks as needed, make sure you’re enjoying yourself, and don’t be embarrassed to seek help.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Letter to My Rookie Self: Shelby Dennis
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- Equestrian Storage Wars: Comparing the 6 Best Tack Trunks
- Horse Riding Equipment List: What You Need & What You Don’t
- Shelby Dennis: Best Horse Riding Advice & Biggest Mistakes