The equestrian community is generally a great and supportive one.
In most yards, as you begin your journey with horses, there are people who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences with you and help you over the numerous rough patches that will inevitably strike and make you doubt yourself.
Hell, even after years of riding and horse ownership there can be moments of doubt that creep into your brain, as you lie awake at three a.m, wondering why today was not such a good day.
So it’s great when you ride out with a friend who tells you she had EXACTLY the same issue and knows just how you feel, and you suddenly know it’s going to be ok and the behaviour or health of your horse that seemed such a concern yesterday evaporates.
There is also of course the other side of the coin. We’ve all been there. We’ve all met the yard ‘know- it- all’. It doesn’t take long to work out the difference between someone who is simply very, very knowledgeable and so enthusiastic that they can’t help but offer their advice and the person who is just plain obnoxious.
Reading books and blogs can also lead to confusion. One person’s theory of the correct method of training and riding is so often blown out of the water the next time you pick up a book that offers a completely different view. Even for the most confident and competent horse owner, doubts can creep in when existing ideas are challenged.
I hit something of a brick wall a few years ago. I was having lessons from a number of people and whilst they didn’t contradict each other completely, I could sense that their underlying approaches differed and yet they each told me with utter certainty that their way was the right way.
A couple of falls later, my confidence had also been unseated and I felt as if I couldn’t rely on my own instincts or completely trust any of the professionals.
I signed up for a confident rider course at Ashen Equestrian in Suffolk. The two day course was spent in the classroom as well as on owner Becky Chapman’s mechanical horse, Strider.
Strider has a number of sensors that can demonstrate to the rider exactly where any unevenness stems from – I discovered that due to hip misalignment I had far more weight going onto my left seat bone than my right. I’d never realised until I saw the print out and until Becky carefully watched me in walk, trot and canter to determine where the problem lay.
In the classroom, our group all bonded over very different stories of why and how we had come to sign up for the course. New riders, happy hackers, life long equestrians and highly competitive riders were among us. Our journeys had been many and varied, but we all knew we needed to believe in ourselves again.
This, for me, was the stand out feature of this course. Becky Chapman has an innate ability to delve into the psyche of her clients and strip back the excuses we make to ourselves (and believe in) and the net result is that as an equestrian, you suddenly realise that the most reliable source of how you ride and manage your horse is the person in the mirror.
That’s not to say that you become an overnight expert. It’s not to say that you will ever stop learning. It simply means that once you unlock the ability to be authentic and true to your own way of doing things, life with your horse becomes a lot, lot sweeter.
I still look for knowledge, I still ask for advice. I cherry pick that advice now and take notice of my gut feeling if what I’m hearing doesn’t sit comfortably with me, if something seems a little out of kilter. I’ve stopped believing that just because someone has spent more hours in the saddle than I have, that they know more or will make a better job of something than me.
There are still many equestrians out there who I look up to and admire – Becky is top of the list but there are many others not far behind. But the most important thing I have learned over the last few years is that there is only one, really important riding guru who I’ll always listen to. And that’s me.
I hope your most trusted equestrian looks back at you from the mirror, too.