Riding from the Ground Up: Respecting Our Sport

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

BY PEARL RUNNING DEER

Don’t worry—I won’t start off this article with, When I was a kid, we did… Don’t expect this generation to have the same love like we did.

I refuse to believe statements like that. I go to stables with working kids. They love to hang out at the barn all day, clean stalls and tack, feed, and ride different horses. Being a barn rat is a title they’ve achieved with pride.

With that being said, “Barn Rats” have an upper hand instead of riders who only come out a few times a month. In other words, the more you practice the better you get. These are the facts. There are no quick fixes, gimmicks, or shortcuts with riding. Nothing can make you a winning rider quickly. 

You can’t be a professional rider in a month. Just like you can’t take swimming lessons in a month and think you’re ready to win the gold.  No matter how “made” your horse is, you have to learn how to ride. Not just to win, but for fun and safely.

Horses will spook, bolt or rear at the strangest things. Many horses think a plastic bag will kill them. A windy day makes a grand excuse for them to run off. A horse acting up in the far corner of the ring can give him carte blanche for some free expression, and you have to be prepared for it. Whether you’re a barn rat or weekend warrior, you have to learn that your partner speaks another language.

I believe fully respecting and appreciating our sport starts with a trainer who has the experience, patience, and knowledge. Someone who is willing to spend as much time with you as it takes to learn how to handle your horse and learn their language. Take your time to find an instructor who really wants to teach you how to be with horses. Not just in a ring, but how to handle all situations that may come your way.

Here is the catch—it means starting from scratch. It means taking the time to learn things slowly and properly versus applying band-aids to pursue ribbons in the ring. 

Yes, I know it takes longer, but it will make you a more solid rider. 

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

This might mean more lessons. Perhaps your trainer will put you on a variety of horses. Even if you’re already a good rider, you’ll learn something different from each horse you ride. Who wants to eat ham sandwiches every day when you can have something different? The same goes with riding. Every horse has something it can teach you. So, if your instructor wants to put you on another mount, go for it. He/ She wants you to expand your knowledge.

The foundations for riding are all simple but challenging. There are several exercises you can do on a lounge line. Each one helps you to use parts of your body separately. The windmill while posting, hands on the helmet while twisting at the waist and posting, two-point, etc. All these and more help balance the body and get your legs tight.

There are many jumping exercises. A favorite, lining up several jumps in a row creates balance and helps your horse not to rush fences. Riding with no stirrups or no saddle. Posting, jumping without them. 

Trail riding is a tremendous help. It clears your mind at the same time makes you aware of your surroundings.

Acquiring a strong leg combined with a quiet seat and hands, aware of your surroundings and your horse, brings you closer to your mount. You’ll know if he might bolt. Or feel, if he’s going to quit a jump. So much goes into riding. 

Never expect your horse is always going to have a good day. Sometimes your partner gets up on the wrong side of the stall. Be prepared to have patience.

Once your instructor and you feel confident enough to enter a show. You’re ready to handle situations where other equestrians who took shortcuts might not be.

Remember to have fun. It’s not always about winning, but respecting and enjoying the sport.


Pearl Running Deer was the first Native American who rode on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. She would follow Frank Chapot or Bert De Nemethy teachings. In the 2003-13 she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she worked with film directors, being a girl Friday. Ms. Running Deer teaches, coaches at horse shows, and gives clinics. She has founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc. Starting a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also teaches underprivileged children riding.

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