Training the Healing Rider

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

Whether a rider is healing from a broken arm or recovering from brain surgery, the trainer holds an essential role in the process of getting back in the saddle and into the show ring. Beyond drilling equitation or rides without stirrups, Lindsey Garner of Capstone Equestrian knows the most crucial part of getting riders comfortable again is mutual trust. “Often I think that, as busy professionals, trainers can come across as intimidating or difficult to approach, especially when we get busy with showing and teaching a lot of lessons,” Garner says. “It’s important to stop and take the time to develop trust and good, open communication.”

Part of the communication she builds with her clients is understanding that showing is only a small part of what we do as equestrians. “Yes it’s fun and an important aspect of what we do, but it’s just one part of the big picture,” she explains. When clients are nervous or lacking confidence, she makes sure to talk through their feelings openly in a comfortable place away from the bustle of the ring. “We often remind our clients that riders at every level—including the very top of the sport—get nerves and suffer from low confidence at times. Being able to discuss what’s going on and why often leads to better riding and better rounds,” Garner continues. She makes an effort to share her own challenges as well, and foster an environment where mistakes are seen as an important part of the learning process instead of something to be ashamed of. 

Lindsey Garner

Creating space for this level of vulnerability is especially important when it comes to a rider healing from injury or illness. For those in particular, Garner takes time to openly discuss strengths, limitations, and goals. “Riders who are working through an injury or illness need to give themselves permission to really work through their challenges in a way that they are comfortable with and that also meets the recommendations of their trusted medical professionals when it comes to setting goals,” she states. Acknowledging that the horse world can be one that encourages “powering through” pain, Garner knows this mentality can cause further injury, bad nerves and setbacks for the recovering rider. “It’s important that, just as we would if we were rehabbing a horse, that the rider has a plan that suits their mental and medical needs.” 

Regardless of where a rider is in the healing process, Garner wants them to remember why we swing a leg over to begin with. “We ride and show to stay connected with our love of the horse,” she says. “We are incredibly lucky to get to work with these animals and be part of such a wonderful community. With gratitude comes happiness. Take your horse for a hand walk, enjoy some time at the show with friends, and find joy in the small victories. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down to just appreciate our horses at the end of the day.”



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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Read this article in the May/June full issue here.