PIPER KLEMM, PH.D
I was recently walking around at a horse show where I heard a supportive friend or family member say to a beginner rider, “You look like a natural!”
It’s a well-intentioned and positive comment that I’ve heard a thousand times. We’ve all heard it: “She’s so talented.” “ He has natural ability.” “This comes easily for them.” We don’t give those a second thought, but in this moment, it gave me pause.
Really? Really?! We’re praising people for “looking like a natural”?
Because it’s not enough to be beautiful—the trick is to be beautiful without trying. It’s not even enough to be fit and eat healthy—the trick is to look like you do without putting in the work. It’s not enough to work your
damndest and ride well—it’s only worthy of envy if it comes naturally.
Why are we lionizing this? Why are we trying to be the smallest and the weakest and promote walking in and having success?
This is a sport in which we all have to work. We should be praising work. We should be lionizing work. Next time you praise a rider, think about the terms you use; are you supporting good choices they made, or simply reinforcing traits over which they have no control?
Heading to Pony Finals, I’m particularly thinking on how we coach and support young people. Many programs are set up to help the “committed but not genius” rider, providing the practice and structure to build great habits. But that’s only part of the question. I’m increasingly interested in the question of what we do for some of our most talented riders, the ones who perhaps don’t see the need for practice and good habits when they begin riding because their talent carries them through. How do we help these riders when they begin to hit the point where their talent can’t carry them to success in that bigger division or with that new horse?
While some parts of the answer may vary with each rider, I think the steps would be far easier if we were praising riders from the beginning for their hard work, rather than for their talent.
So next time you see a young rider doing something great, let them know how glad you are that they put in the
effort to get there.
See you at the ring!
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Scenes from the ExCel Horse Show
The Experience Equestrian League (ExEL) Summer Horse Show ran June 25–27, 2021 at the Germantown Charity Horse Show grounds in Germantown, Tennessee.
The Fall Show runs September 24–26, 2021. For more info: www.exelshows.com
*This story was originally published in the August 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!