When am I considered a "good rider"?
I recently finished reading Denny Emerson's book, How Good Riders Get Good. Mr. Emerson is a very smart horseman. I recommend it for every person bitten by the horse bug. He has short interviews with riders of every ilk. I think horse people can be a bit sensitive about their abilities or knowledge of horses. It's not like there is much regulation that verifies one's expertise. Awards and ribbons are fun to get, but I believe, as I think most do, that there's more to being a good rider.
Every good rider has fallen off.
Every rider has gotten frustrated while riding, usually at themselves more than the horse. Good riders know when to get off and hang the saddle up for the day.
I remember standing in the middle of a show ring at 11 years old, and my horse would not move no matter what I did.
I remember my instructor make it look so easy to get my horse to lope bareback in the rain.
I remember being in a position when I let a big name Olympic rider make choices for my horse that I knew were wrong.
I remember falling off a grey mare on a fox hunt, and the Master of the Hunt was the one that caught her and brought her back to me. Yikes! Major faux pas!
I remember falling off Buffy, 88, Gypsy (many times off of Gypsy - she was my favorite), Lucky, Cherokee Fool, Junior, and the pony, Mikey, the list goes on...
Countless horses have reared up; more horses kicked and bucked.
And I have been Life-Starred - but I rode two days afterwards.
With all of these experiences, one would think I'm off my rocker to keep riding. Oh, but the wonderful experiences far outweigh these trials. And they all helped make me a better rider.
There is something unique about riders. Is it bravery? Is it chutzpah? A little craziness? Maybe some combination of all of these traits. Riders love to ride - and I don't mean sit on a horse for a while. It's only slightly different for each rider. Some love the gallop of a race horse, a moment of weightlessness during a canter suspension, swimming through a pond, a slow walk through the woods in the fall, flying over a stone wall...
I love meeting a new horse, getting to know them and helping them move fluidly. There's a process I go through that starts from the ground. I usually have a treat that is given after they move over for me on the cross ties or pick up a hoof for me to pick out with out any hassle. I appreciate the positive instead of getting overly loud or domineering when they do something naughty. The process of grooming is sacred time (Zen Mind, Zen Horse - see recommended reading).
The moment when riders are most vulnerable is when they're mounting. Once I'm on and set, I relax. I go through testing out the stop and go and the bend and turn. I truly get in to a flow (Csikzentmihalyi
- recommended reading). For me the moment of bliss during the ride could be a springy collected trot, a slow western jog, hitting the right take-offs for an entire course, or a balanced and smooth spin on a reining horse. I have enjoyed many styles of riding. My joy is figuring out which one is right for the horse I'm working with in the moment. If I had to choose one discipline, it would be eventing because it is comprised of three disciplines :)
I believe that I am a good rider, but I can always get better, and I can always learn more. That's why I read, watch and listen. Reading books can help one become a better rider if used in conjunction with practical application and help from a ground person. I hope you read and enjoy some of the books I've recommended here. How does one become a good rider? Experience, time, patience, and time and years and time. You never stop learning.