The Plight of the Amateur



There is always a time and place – to ride or not to ride.

Last August, I made a choice that practically no other amateur did at the Green Incentive Finals — I rode my own horse. I did not make that choice because I felt I was better than anyone else or because I thought I could win (quite the contrary really), I made that choice because I felt that my young horse, Finch Hatton, and I needed experience ‘on the big stage’ together.

For years, I could never come up with a term for what it was about learning, practicing, and starting young horses that I loved so much until one day I had a conversation with Randi Vladimer. I said to her, “Randi, you buy so many horses and then sell them. Is that because you don’t like the horses?” Her response to me hit the nail on the head. She said, “No not at all, I like the horses, but I love the process. I get so much pleasure out of seeing a young horse that knows nothing, learn, grow and develop into something special. Once the horse knows what it’s doing though, that’s boring to me and time for it to move on.”

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

We had a little chuckle, but I realized that is what I like most also — the process of getting there. People who ride horses tend to be Type A, they want to do a good job (nay, a perfect job) and they strive for that perfection. I am a competitor no doubt, but I love to practice. To work on myself, work on the horses, and then arrive at a show to see how well the homework went and create a list of things to do when I get home. I was never one of those people who literally got on in the in-gate and went and jumped the class. That situation doesn’t work for me, because I feel like I have no rapport with the horse.

Ever since I was about 6 years old, my mother would make me do everything in the barn with my pony. She might re-brush her or go over the tack, but I had to do it all first. She was teaching me something every day about horse care. Approaches that might seem old fashioned today, but until they stop working I will continue to use them.

That hands-on approach stayed with me right through college. I was a private groom as soon as I got my driver’s license in high school. Once in college, I would spend Christmas break in Ocala with Amanda helping her get set up for the winter shows, and the summers back and forth between her operation and Mitch’s. When I bought Russian Gold, I lost that hands-on with the horses. It was that time in your life when you first start working, you have moved far away and the only way you can keep horses in your life is to meet the farm at the shows, but I never felt like I had the connection with him that I needed or wanted simply because I saw him 2-3 days/month.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

When I was able to bring the horses home (and by home, I mean that I can see Russian Gold inside his stall eating hay from the dining table in the house roughly 20 yards away), I felt like I was able to get the relationships back with the horses that I so dearly needed. I have brought Finch along in the hunter world basically by myself. Mitch and Jodi come over to school us, but no one else had ever ridden him in the show ring. When I asked Amanda to help me formulate a show plan to bring him along, she thought that regardless of his placing, the green incentive championship was an experience young horses should have. The horse has to deal with a big venue, crowds, flags, big beautiful courses etc. He had never been in such an environment. I tend to get a little nervous about the first jump in any ‘important’ situation, but I told myself that if I wanted to develop a good horse I had to put him in situations that would allow him to grow and also grow confidence in myself.

As I sat on him in the in gate for round 1, I distinctly remember saying to Amanda, “Are you sure you can’t just do it?” By that point it was too late, it was my turn. I knew she would never have let me go in there if she thought I wasn’t capable of handling the situation, but one’s own self-doubt sometimes can get the best of them.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

So I trotted into the ring and just as I took a breath, Finch’s eye caught something. Before I knew it, we were headed in the opposite direction. A million things run through your mind, but all I can remember thinking is “You’re so stupid, you should have just had a professional ride the horse!” We made it through round 1 after the spook, but not without a couple amateur mistakes along the way.

Day two was much better, and the progression of how we interacted as a team just twelve hours later was remarkable. It made me remember it’s the process that matters most to me, that I have to have faith and trust in the horse, and in return he will have faith and trust in me. Just having done that class, I felt like as I headed into the fall season I had better instincts about what he might be foolish over and how to overcome that and ride through it.

In the weeks leading up to Capital Challenge and Harrisburg, Amanda and I decided that the time had come for her climb on Finch Hatton and Light it Up, as I felt I had done all I could do so far to prepare the horses for competitions. The horses needed to go in the ring and have a good ride without any amateur moments getting in the way, so that we could see what they could really do. The decision gave me much anxiety. I did not want her to be upset with the prep of the horses and I did not want them to go poorly, but it was exciting for me to see them go out there and get ribbons in such a talented field.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

There are amateurs, like Callie Seaman and Jaimie Auletto, who can go out there to show against the pros and really hold their own at the head of the class. I admire those girls. I am fully aware that I am going to lose some classes as an amateur without professional prep, and I am for sure going to spend the majority of my time staring at the behinds of the whole class when I show the horses during the week in the professional divisions. But for me, the rewarding part is knowing everything about the horse, and finding a way to make every experience the best I can for us as a team. Sometimes that means I show the horse, sometimes that means I have the professional show the horse, but it always means that I do what I feel like is in the best interest of the horse as my partner.