BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Here are some things you can commonly hear come out of my trainer’s mouth (often during my own lesson):
Don’t rock your hips like that. That’s so ugly!
Stop that! You’re ruining my horse!
Of course you can’t sit the canter well, you brace in your stirrups.
Pat your horse, because he made the right choice while you did nothing.
No no no no no NO! Are you listening? Do it again!
She is, by any definition, not subtle with her critiques. I thrive under a direct teaching style, so I know to quietly listen through sharp instruction and not take it personally when her voice raises an octave. After all, a trainer who gives a lot of “feedback” is a trainer who wants me to be better, right? That’s what I’ve always believed. Plus, she is right to yell. I’m a hot mess on a horse. I have a long way to go.
It took me some time to see something more important about my trainer than her teaching style. We were talking about showing and goals one day after my lesson.
“I think if I can put it all together, he has a chance to do okay in the hunters,” I said while I hopped off my free Thoroughbred. He’s got sticky changes, a need for speed and extremely questionable hocks. I had long ago decided that we’d stay in the hunter ring because it was where I felt happiest, but knew we didn’t stand a chance against Warmbloods and nicer horses. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to pin in the middle of the pack with a decent trip,” I added.
“How about winning?” she replied. “There is no reason this horse can’t win.”
That’s when I realized that my trainer believed in me and my horse more than I did.
See, riding has never exactly been easy for me. I’ve been significantly overweight my entire equestrian career. I have extreme trust issues, and get scared easily. Plus, I’ve racked up years of bad habits from riding on my own in my early 20’s. My horse, Simon, wins people over with his personality and heart, but historically he’s not been the kind of creature that turns heads at the horse show. He’s the horse you call cute, but not fancy.
When I started showing Simon six years ago, my only goal was fitting in. I didn’t want us to be the pair people remembered for the wrong reasons. It never occurred to me that we could really be competitive.
Hearing this kind of support from my trainer was a turning point for me. I began pushing myself harder outside of lessons. Stopped settling for mediocre. When I went to show, I slowly began shifting my goals. For years, I merely wanted to survive the 8-12 jumps ahead of me. Getting over to the other side was the only real goal, if they were done in the right order — bonus! But this summer, I started a new dialogue with my trainer. I want to relax instead of being nervous. Today my goal is to not add down any of the lines.
Whenever I chip really bad to a fence and have an ugly jump, I want to get distraught. Shake my head and start over, always in the pursuit of perfection, but my trainer taught me to think differently. “Take it one jump at a time,” she patiently tells me before we walk into the ring.
“But I’m worried about the bending to the oxer –“
“One. Jump. At. A. Time.”
When I took my horse to our big year end show, I remembered all of my trainer’s criticism. Not to wiggle my hips. Not to lock my elbows. Not to put my weight in my stirrups. But more importantly, I remembered her telling me to relax. To breathe. To believe that I had the potential to put in a good round, and that we were capable of winning.
And you know what? We did win some. We won more than we’ve ever won before that show, but the fresh ribbons hanging from my bookshelf aren’t the most important thing I took home. Years from now, when I’m living states away riding with someone else, maybe even on a different horse, I’ll remember one jump at a time. I’ll remember the huge smile that greeted me at the in-gate.
I’ll remember the trainer who taught me how to believe in myself.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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