BY EMILY ELEK
I don’t teach public riding lessons anymore. Instead, my business focuses on sales and leases so I can spend more time with my own family. I am protective of my time in the barn, and I’m pretty pointed about the kind of student I want to teach. The kids I want to work with, spend my time on and give extra rides to have five things in common. And they are five things anyone can have.
Be a Good Learner
Good Learners want to know anything and everything they can about training, showing and horse care. They watch videos and read books and listen to podcasts about horses and training. They ask good questions of me, the vet, the farrier, the grooms. They never stop learning.
Be a Good Listener
Good Listeners can tune out distractions. They pick up the things said around the barn, in other lessons, between the trainer and the grooms, between the vets and carriers. Good Listeners learn to pay attention to what is being said and not being said. This applies to the horses, who don’t talk in words, but have so much to tell us. Good Listeners pay attention to how their horse is feeling. They know when he is calm and happy, or nervous and upset.
Responsible students know that ultimately, they have to take control of their own learning. It’s not up to their trainer, their parents, nor their horse—especially not the horse. The horse didn’t sign up for this sport. We ask them to let us ride, train, and jump them. Most of the time they comply. If the horse doesn’t, the responsible rider asks why and tries to be a good listener and good learner.
Be a Worker
Workers show up. They are ready to learn from the moment they get to the barn. We all get distracted, but a worker is the one who puts in the extra time. They pick up, and help around the farm with whatever is needed. When they ride, they ride with a plan. They do transitions, and figures and have a goal. They ride without stirrups, without reins. They put in days of long, boring fitness rides because it is the right thing for the horses. They do the hard things, because it makes them stronger and better.
Bravery is trickier to define. Not everyone is inherently brave. Some people are brave until something goes wrong. Others ride like they are infallible. But to me, bravery is the willingness to keep trying—to keep stretching. To do the hard things even when you think you can’t. To trust the people around you to just do it. You might fail. You might fall. But that is how we grow and learn. It’s ok to be scared, but that fear doesn’t go away by not doing it.
Riding is a sport that rewards talent, but the most naturally talented rider in the world can’t succeed without these five traits. They’re the lifeblood that keeps riders going through the inevitable hardships of our sport, but anyone can be this kind of rider. All it takes is a diligence and dedication to keeping the right frame of mind.