Beyond the Saddle: Confidence Built at the Barn

Photo © Nick Gagliardi


As a young rider and high school sophomore, I’m constantly learning.

Whether it’s while hunkering down in the classroom working on my Spanish homework or fostering a bond with a new horse, there’s always something to learn and absorb.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ryan & Seven. Photo © Nick Gagliardi

I have many teachers. Some have two legs, others four. Some are in classrooms at school; at home, I have my parents, my family and friends; and of course, at the barn, where I have Ruth Nicodemus and my horses. I took a few lessons before I met Ruth, but after my family and I met her about nine years ago, we knew that wherever she was, we were meant to be.

For about a decade, I’ve called wherever Ruth is my other home. As I’ve moved and continued riding with her, my horses Evian Van Hat Scheefkasteer (Evian), MTM Licorice (Licorice) and Zeven (Zeven) have taught me countless lessons. These lessons have impacted my development in both my everyday life and my riding life.

Ryan & Evian Van Hat Scheefkasteer. Photo © Nick Gagliardi

I was around six years old when I started riding. Horses looked so large compared to me, but that didn’t matter. I wanted to be the best rider I could be. Ruth taught me about the basics during[ her Saturday horsemanship classes. We took apart and put back together bridles, made homemade horse treats, learned about anatomy, and what a red bow on a tail means something that has come in handy multiple times. All of these basics, I am still using, and I continue to draw on this knowledge, especially at horse shows and in the ring.

That’s where you can find me most weekends. I come down from Connecticut every Thursday afternoon during the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla. During the week, I attend St. Luke’s School. Managing my course work can be difficult, but Ruth has taught me a great deal about managing my time. I know that if I’m missing school, I need to make up for it somehow.

My schedule can be hectic, spending an hour on my Spanish homework before showing. I don’t worry about falling behind often, though. Ruth and my parents have instilled in me a strong sense of work ethic and perseverance.

Photo © Nick Gagliardi

I first realized what she was teaching me with one of her phrases, “faith in, fear out” when I was 12 years old. Considering my family has given me the nickname “Fraidy,” as in fraidy cat, it’s more than a little appropriate. I competed in the 2’6’’ young rider’s children’s division and waited all day for my turn to show. Consumed with nervous energy, which Ruth saw as she sent me into the ring. I did my opening circle. After two more circles, I left the ring. I didn’t even get over the first jump. Something was off.

After watching other trainers get mad at their students after a terrible run, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I shouldn’t have worried, Ruth was different. She wasn’t mad; she told me she was proud of me – I had said something when I wasn’t feeling right.

On the way home from the show, I felt dejected and was in tears. My mom asked if riding was still my passion, and something I wanted to continue with. There was no hesitation I immediately said yes.

Ryan & MTM Licorice. Photo © Nick Gagliardi

A few days later, I went for a lesson and was more determined than ever to overcome my nerves. Ruth taught me how to make my nerves work for me, not against me, and I’ve become much better. My nerves now help me focus and remember all of the things I need to do. Over time, I’ve found that harnessing my nerves helps me to perform better.

Looking back, that show when I was 12 years old was a pivotal point in my equestrian career, and in my development. I think about that day, and harnessing my nerves, when I have a big presentation at school, or even when I took my driving test.

Much more important than winning ribbons, I’ve been taught how to appreciate and love my horses.

Photo © Nick Gagliardi

“Don’t be nervous, trust your horse,” Ruth always tells us, along with, “Never be mad at your horse, they’re trying as hard as you are.” To demonstrate our appreciation, we’re encouraged to give our horses plenty of hugs, and treats. She has allowed us to see, and understand, just how loving and forgiving horses are.

Appreciating our horses is important, but I also think sometimes riders forget to appreciate their trainers, especially the ones who go above and beyond and treat you like you’re their own child. Riding, the barn, and Ruth have taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, and even if I’m not feeling like I am, I really am brave. I love riding, and if it weren’t for my trainer, I think I would be a very different person.

Photo © Nick Gagliardi

I hope every rider has a chance to have a Ruth in their corner.