Recently a young woman started lessons with me in my work/exchange program – she works, I teach her. Her initial enthusiasm did not surprise me as I see it often in new students. Then, I saw it in her eyes: passion and desire for time with horses. And it made me smile.
Rider after rider, training after training session, I see riders who enjoy their horse time, maybe even have love for the horse, but it’s not something they must have.
But when I work with a rider who has a true passion for horses, it’s different. They touch the horse with meaning, with care, and with love. They listen to every word when a lesson is being taught. They recognize every subtle communication the horse sends them. They become completely immersed in the relationship with the horse. I see pure joy, wonder, and love in their eyes. This does not mean they humanize the horse — it means they are immersed in the horse for who he is. It is not necessarily about them or their pleasure as much as it is about what they can do for the horse.
Here’s the truth: we can never know enough! Riders with passion never will know enough! We recognize all the complexities there are in communicating and partnering with the horse. We recognize that each horse is unique. We recognize the horses ability to teach us something new each and every time we get on them or handle them. And we recognize that we will never ever know it all!
So, we seek guidance. We learn from our horses but also having someone with more knowledge or at least someone experienced beyond our own in the study of horsemanship becomes an essential part of our growth.
A student’s husband once said to her, “why are you still taking lessons? You already know how to ride!” We had a chuckle about that. She had been riding most of her life. She had her own horses, had shown horses, trail ridden, been to various clinics and taken years of lessons. So why was she still taking lessons? Because she is a rider with passion and she will never tire of learning and developing with her horse.
The person with the true passion makes sacrifices to be with the horse. They may forego other pleasures or luxuries in life to afford their horse. Sometimes, vacations are not possible in order to support the horse. Some work additional jobs, get up early, stay up late. Latest fashions no longer matter to riders with passion, and they will drive a vehicle into the ground. Do they think of it as a sacrifice? NO! Because people with a passion for horses are content with the time they have with their horse. It fills them up. Their sacrifices are rewarded with their achievements.
These same individuals don’t make excuses for not riding or just being with their horse — it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too tired, too much traffic, etc. They don’t make excuses, because they can’t imagine not wanting to be with their horse.
I am so fortunate to share time with many of these riders. It’s a kind of like a society. We understand and see each others passion. I see it in the eyes of many of my students, and it’s how I know that every one of them will achieve their goals. Is it in your eyes? I suspect it is or you probably would not be reading this post!
Over the years I’ve worked with a vast number of riders. There are some who enjoy riding, but it is not a passion. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t have unreasonable expectations of the horse.
So often new riders or new horse owners do not have any idea of what becoming a rider really takes. They think after a few lessons they will be a rider. Or they think if they send their horse to a trainer the horse will somehow be “push button” — meaning the horse will magically do whatever they want.
One of my biggest frustration is working with students who very seldom work with their horse in between lessons. They also become frustrated, because it’s like a hamster wheel: you never get anywhere! Horses learn through repetition and consistency. It seems terribly unreasonable for anyone to expect improvements when their is no practice! It’s unfair to both the horse and the trainer. It’s unfair for the horse both physically and psychologically. Physically, because the horse is a couch potato in pasture most of the time so their physical condition is not prepared to exercise. Psychologically, because the horse feels the stress physically as well as confusion about what you are asking.
“Weekend warriors” is a term for riders who do nothing with their horses all week, then take them for a long trail ride on weekends. The horse will suffer physically from exercise beyond their fitness level. There is actually a muscle disorder due to this: Monday morning disease, also know as tying up or azoturia. It’s very painful and very damaging.
Am I saying if you do not have passion that you should not enjoy horses? No, I am not! But I do believe it takes true passion to take on the commitment of owning a horse.
If you’re a person who wants to enjoy riding and being around horses but aren’t sure you have a lifelong passion, consider taking riding lessons instead. The horses at a reputable schooling stable are cared for and kept in consistent work. They are handled, groomed and taken care of daily. As a lesson student, you can enjoy time in the saddle as you’re able, without being unfair to the horse. And you can learn about horses and horsemanship at the pace that’s right for you.
Seeing my new working student’s passion brought me back to my childhood. As a child I was not fortunate enough to have access to horses. But from the time I could say the “H word,” it was obvious that was my path, my chosen destiny. I begged for a horse every birthday and every Christmas. That was not going to happen. So, as soon as I was old enough to walk to the nearest stable I shoveled poop, watered and groomed just to be around them. Just being next to them was all I needed. Their very scent eased my stress or pain. I never complained. It’s all I needed to know that I would find a way.
Every adult in my life tried to convince me I needed to go to college. It made no sense to me at all, since it was absolutely clear to me that horses would be my career. So, my college was working in barns as a working student and as an apprentice. I took clinics, classes, lessons, and tutorials. And I spent years and years in the college of hard knocks.
It is the horses who taught me the most of all. I first had to learn the basics. All the technique and theory in the world does not work if you don’t hear what the horse has to say.
I am 69 years old now, (YIKES!) and early each morning, 365 days a year, as I walk down the driveway to my barn I still feel the pleasure and excitement of a new day with horses. Never once have I regretted my decision. Sure, I must admit I sometimes am tired and dream of the ocean (my second love), but the choice is always clear. That my friends, is passion. And you will see it in my eyes until my eyes close from this life. That I am very sure of.