My soapbox about adult riding
Over the last few months I have had quite a few thoughts about adult riders, particularly after reading about the variety of different riding experiences that all you horse bloggers have. Some of y’all show on a weekly basis and I am constantly amazed at your level of energy and dedication. Some of y’all train your own green horses on your own property and I am constantly amazed at your level of energy and dedication. Some of y'all handle injuries, hauling, feeding, etc all on your own and I am constantly amazed at your level of energy and dedication.
My own evolution as an adult rider and horse owner has been over the course of 15 years after I picked up riding again in college. I started out as an adult rider taking weekly lessons, getting an introduction into hunter/jumper land, and following that schedule for almost ten years. When I moved to Dallas and ended up working and living near an equestrian center, I found my current trainer and started half leasing one of her horses. That turned into the purchase of Ryon, my first horse, and you could find me out at the barn training / riding 4-5x per week. Now I’m on my second horse, Mae, and since we got a puppy, I’m out at the barn riding 3x per week. I don’t lesson quite as frequently anymore, I’ve written about it before, but to summarize, adult obligations, work, travel, blah blah blah.
There are less than a handful of other adults who take lessons from my trainer. We’re a rare breed at our barn - the adult rider that enjoys riding but doesn’t want to or plan on showing for many different reasons.
There is one adult rider in the program who along with his wife bought their first horses together less than a year ago. One week, he had a jump lesson scheduled, however his horse was consistently spooking hard on one side of the ring, every time he walked, trotted, cantered by. Instead of schooling the course with his wife as he expected to, his lesson instead was focused on walking by the spook site calmly and quietly, which eventually happened toward the end of the hour lesson with much coercion, treats, and a crop.
Afterward, the rider was extremely dejected. When we chatted about it, his biggest disappointment was that it was a waste of a lesson. Instead of making progress, they were regressing and falling back. Despite taking lessons or not, showing or not, one common theme among us adult riders is that we want to make progress or see progress being made, either in ourselves as riders or in our horses. It’s about doing everything perfect and just right as a rider and then expecting the associated result on the horse’s side (or vice versa).
But since when is progression in anything in life ever linear? I can count on one hand the number of real life scenarios where X level of effort plus Y level of practice has directly resulted in Z desired outcome. In practicality, progression looks more like a game of Chutes & Ladders.
Riding for adults is mostly mental. Yes, it’s about being physically able and fit, however most of the hurdles that I’ve heard adult riders talk about are mental ones. There is a lot of disappointment around being frustrated, scared, insecure, and angry. It’s understanding that horses are sensitive and can/will pick up on your mental state - if you’re stressed, anxious, frazzled. They feed off of those emotions as well as your confidence and strength.
Back to the failed lesson, the rider may not have jumped anything that time or worked on lengthening / shortening strides, etc. However, his horse learned how to approach a scary thing calmly and to fight his instinct to run away from it. They both learned to trust each other. The rider learned to change his expectations and to be fluid in his plans. He also learned how to redirect his energy and mental state in a more positive direction.
Riding is about all of those things. It’s not only about who can look the prettiest, jump the highest, or run the fastest. It’s about the partnership and connection that you develop. It’s about problem-solving in a way that you didn’t expect. It’s about knowing when to have patience and when to ask for more immediately. And more generally, it’s a gentle lesson about how life is full of setbacks and disappointments and living is about how you handle them. For me that’s the crux of being an adult rider. Lesson programs and showing set up a framework with which to accomplish those objectives, but it isn’t the only way of learning, progressing, failing, and growing. Riding in itself is a challenge that isn’t a simple equation of X + Y = Z and that’s what makes it such a proxy to real life.