What Is The Most Important Horsemanship Lesson ?

All little girls (and a lot of boys) dream of sitting atop a beautiful horse and riding into another world.  I was no different, and although I got my first pony at the age of 5, I didn’t really understand one of the most important lessons of horsemanship until I was 10.  Before that point, horses were a dream, a weekend pleasure, a “family adventure”, but one fateful summer I learned what it really means to be a horsewoman…and I haven’t turned away from it yet.

Will Work For Lessons

At 10 years old, you’ll do almost anything to ride an “Arabian Show Horse” – to get riding lessons that would lead to horse shows and the possibility of blue ribbons – at least I would do almost anything, and I did.  For an entire summer, and most weekends during the school year, I spent my 10th year with some family friends who were into the “show scene”.  They had a fairly sizeable ranch (for the suburbs), complete with an arena, a breeding stallion, and at least 15 horses (most of which were actively being shown by the family).  My eyes glazed over the first time I set eyes on this place; it was my heaven right there on earth.

I knew immediately that I had to be a part of this newly discovered Wonderland, but I only had a “good seat”, some “natural talent” and a few years of pleasure riding experience under my belt.  I started by riding a couple of the family’s horses, while being supplemented with lessons on how to properly wrap a polo, how to keep tack clean, how and why to use certain equipment, etc. – all the while grooming, tacking and re-grooming my own horse after every ride.  After a while, their trainer took notice of me and I was allowed to ride her show horse in Western Pleasure and Stock Seat Equitation…in exchange for some “work”.

In the beginning, no one looks at the “horse life” and thinks “wow, I’d really love to spend half of my time at the barn cleaning stalls”, and I admit that a part of me would have loved to have simply walked into the barn like a superstar and had a bevy of people readying my faithful steed for the day’s lesson.  Reality was a pitchfork, wheelbarrow, dust and a layer of old shavings stuck to a sweaty body and face.  I would watch out the half door of the stall as my trainer gave a lesson to another girl, and there were times that my pre-adolescent mind didn’t understand why I was in picking up manure.  It didn’t seem fair (insert whiney voice).

Barn Work Pays Big Dividends

The days passed, and I did get my time in the saddle.  I listened and I learned, and each technique that I was given seemed all the more important because I had worked for it.  Something had clicked in my head, “If you work hard enough for something, give it all of your effort, and toss aside the idea of entitlement, you can achieve anything you desire”.  Horses are hard work; if I wasn’t cleaning those stalls, my trainer would have been doing it, or she would have been paying someone to do it.  She was imparting knowledge unto me and allowing me to ride her seasoned show horse, so why shouldn’t I be responsible for some of the care and upkeep?

This thought process stayed with me as I grew, got my own Arabian horse, started heading to local shows, and eventually Regional level ones.  The idea that I “did the work” myself (with some help from my amazing parents) not only gave me the pride in knowing that everything I “got”, I had “earned”, but it also taught me that responsibility, work, and tenacity were not just words, they were ways to live my life.

I was blessed with a lot of fantastic opportunities in my “horse life”, and I have been able to maintain the dream while working two jobs and going to college, starting a family, juggling “life responsibilities”, etc., but nothing that I have had has been without some sort of sacrifice – whether that is saving up for a used show saddle, having my grandmother sew my show clothes, cutting things from my budget so that I can pay for board and feed, and, yes, even cleaning stalls.

I Still Clean My Horse’s Stall

Stall cleaning (576x1024)Even though my mare is now kept at a beautiful barn where stall cleaning is included in the fee that I pay, I still clean my own stall (in part or in whole) on an almost daily basis.  If it hasn’t been done when I arrive at the barn, I will grab a pitchfork and do it myself.  Why?  Because I don’t want to forget what it means to be the horsewoman that I started out as; because I don’t want to ever take for granted what I have.  As I look around me right now at all of the Championship Neck Ribbons, plaques and other tokens of my success in the show ring, I can smile and picture that little girl covered in sweat, pulling around a wheelbarrow full of manure…and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My advice…  If your kids want to take riding lessons, find a place that will require them to actually do some “work” instead of just jump up on a horse’s back.  If you decide to buy your child a horse, require that they get up early before school and go by the barn to feed or check on their horse, and after school, when it’s time to ride, make sure that they pick up a pitchfork every now and again.  If you, as an adult, decide to get into the horse world, take an active part in the care of your horse – get to the barn early a few days a week and clean your own stall, oil your tack, feed your own horse, because these are the things that make for a well-rounded horse person, and a responsible and grateful human being.

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I have been an equestrian most of my life, having gotten my first pony at the age of 5, and 30 years later, I competitively exhibit my Half Arabian Reining horse on both the Arabian and NRHA circuits. There are three passions in my life, riding, photography and writing. Being able to combine all three of these things is a dream come true.

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