Intellectual Skills Are Necessary for Good Horsemanship

Piper spending her birthday in 2017 with aspiring journalists at the Kentucky Horse Park - Tori Weed, Grace Salmon, and Mackenzie Shuman.

August 2018 Publisher’s Note


For so many of us, ponies are where we began our journey as riders—climbing on for the first time, probably with a boost from a parent or a trainer, and just trying to stay on for our first gentle walk. That was the first day, and it was exhilarating, fascinating, but might have also been a little scary or exhausting—a little sample of the riding experience. With the arrival of the 2018 Pony Issue, I’ve been thinking about the ways that first day leads into a lifetime of riding. Every one of us has had a grumpy early morning or a stop or a fall or a horse that just loves to roll right after being washed. What makes us keep coming back for more?

Some reasons come from inside us: maybe grit, or maybe because we truly love being on a horse. Some reasons are more external: maybe it’s the people and the community we joined, or maybe it’s meeting that magical unicorn that we couldn’t imagine not seeing again. But these reasons all really come back to one core piece: mentorship. We are here because of mentors who asked us to get back on when we fell off, who passed on the love for riding, who taught us how to treat other riders, or who helped us find the perfect mount. As I look to the future of our sport, I’ve been drawn to the connection between great mentors and riders, and how that connection can develop into a lifelong commitment to riding.

In a given year, 25% of the membership of USEF is replaced by a new generation of riders. That makes riding a living, breathing, evolving sport—new faces, new viewpoints, new ideas constantly joining. But it also makes ours a sport with many athletes who are not finding a lifelong connection to riding. We should and we can do better. Actively developing better mentoring for young riders is key.

Piper with Stefanie Mazer at USEF Pony Finals 2017 with an article about Forget Me Not Farm in The Plaid Horse.

Even for riders who have outgrown the world of ponies, this Pony Issue brings new texture to the future of our industry. What does that transition from junior to adult rider mean? What experiences in the pony ring can kindle a lifetime love? Good mentors should be supporting the development of their students through practice and training, but that means more than just standing by the warm-up ring and telling us to keep our heels down. Intellectual skills are necessary for good horsemanship; a lifelong commitment should include the ability to keep our horses sound and understand their needs. The USHJA’s Horsemanship Quiz Challenge has been a place where I am proud to contribute, but everyday training in the barn aisles and turnouts builds the foundation. Emotional skills are necessary to cope with the disappointments and temporary defeats that will happen when we push ourselves, and they are just as necessary to be good winners and stay sharp for the next ride.

So wherever you are in your horse journey, think about the mentors that got you here. Think about how to transition junior riders from the division to college riding and ultimately becoming the trainers or dedicated amateurs of the future. Our sport is as great as we make it, and there’s new generation of riders right around the corner who can’t wait to share it with us.

About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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