Are you a good rider? - Andrea Busfield
Although I rode as a child, I was never taught how to ride so when I bought my first horse, at the age of 42, I faced a very steep learning curve in order to become the rider I wanted to be. Eight years later, that learning curve looks just as steep, which makes me wonder – does any rider actually reach the stage where they consider themselves to be “good”?
If I had to evaluate myself, I would say I was competent in certain areas, on certain horses, and hopefully getting better. Of course, that is not to say there hasn’t been progress.
In the past eight years I have ridden almost every day.
I have taken an OTT thoroughbred and made him into a pretty decent flatwork riding horse.
My beautiful Andalusian mare is slowly transforming me into a more sensitive rider.
I have had the privilege to be able to work with young and new horses at the busy yard where I stable my two.
And I have a trainer who gets my back up, puts my nose out of joint and bruises my ego with the kind of tough love that occasionally allows you a glimpse into the treasure chest of riches still waiting to be plundered.
Last week, I was given such a glimpse during a lesson on my ex-racer. This week, I have managed to grasp the wispy ends of that lesson to see how much is actually possible, and how far I am from my initial goal – because becoming the rider you want to be is an almost impossible task.
The more you learn, the more you appreciate how much there is to understand.
The more you feel, the more apparent your weaknesses and shortcomings become.
And the more you know, the more your trainer – if they are worth the title – will reveal this knowledge to be but a scratch on the surface of everything you need to know before you can even consider describing yourself as “good”.
And yet – as this end goal continues to evade, slip and occasionally laugh in the face of my own equestrian conceits – instead of getting disheartened or frustrated to the point of who-the-hell-cares, it fuels the addiction.
My bedside table, once littered with novels by Isabel Allende, Robert Harris and Barbara Kingsolver, now feature hardbacks offering wisdom on classical dressage and biomechanics.
I watch videos, I watch lessons, I watch my trainer getting trained by her trainer and I try every day to understand and, more importantly, to listen to my horses so I can become not only the rider I want to be but the rider they need me to be.
Sadly, in the equestrian world there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes nit-picking about the best way of doing things, whether it’s in the competitive world of sports horses or the more mortal realms of amateur riders and their preferred disciplines or owners who simply want to be around horses without any particular riding goals in mind beyond staying on and enjoying the process.
This is a shame because it fosters a defensive approach to discussions rather than one of openness and the fact is, just like the riding, there is no one correct way of doing anything. There are certain universal standards of care, of course, but the only right way of doing anything really boils down to what is best not for you or your ego, but your horse.
Ultimately, I guess that’s what makes a rider good, if not a good rider. That goal will no doubt continue to elude me to the day I run up my stirrups for the last time.