I have been a riding instructor at least on a part-time basis continuously for over 30 years. For the last 20 of those, my primary clients have been adult amateurs in event training. They are my favorite equestrian demographic to work with. I can relate. Perhaps more than a lot of full-time trainers/professional riders, I have a more empathetic understanding of and perhaps a better ability to appreciate the levels of involvement they have in the sport. And, my students have run the gamut from those who ride one or more horses a day several days a week, to those who may ride as little as three or four times a month.
Most of my students event. Some have Beginner Novice competition as their ultimate goal; others entertain the idea of a starred long-format. And, I even teach a few riders who do not, nor do they ever wish to, compete. They simply want to learn more about riding and training their horses so they can better enjoy their time in the saddle. These varying levels of ambition and involvement have no bearing whatsoever on whom I enjoy teaching more. The student traits that do make a difference to me are enthusiasm and…realism.
Enthusiasm is usually not a problem. Few adults ride who don’t want to ride. (Conversely, I have taught more than a few kids who ride not because they want to ride, but because Mom wants them to ride…but that’s a topic for another day!)
But, in addition to being enthusiastic, the ideal student is realistic. And, my definition of this realism is pretty specific. As a rider, I believe it’s crucial that the goals and expectations you have for your riding match the investment you are willing and able to make. Most of my students are pretty realistic with regards to their horses’ ultimate potential. I rarely have a student who has at best a nice Novice horse, yet believes he’ll one day run Intermediate. But, quite often, I teach or meet riders who expect much more of a return from their horses and their riding…not necessarily more than what their potential warrants, but rather more than they can realistically generate from the time and effort they invest. If a student only rides twice a month and expects to be competitive (or even safe) in the Novice division, she is simply being unrealistic. This is not to say that this student needs to ride more than twice a month – but if that is all the riding she can find (or make) time for, she needs to adjust her expectations. If with those two rides a month she simply wants to go to the occasional dressage schooling show and enter an Introductory or Training Level test, and not give a hoot about her score, or trailer to a park to go on a short, easy hack with friends (assuming her horse is tractable even with very limited riding), her goals are much more in line with her investment. That is not to say a rider shouldn’t want to move up through the levels of riding and competition, but if she does, she needs to be willing to move up the levels of time, effort, discipline, and dedication as well. It’s a common trainer admonishment to her student: “You need to ride more.” I’ve said it more than once, but only to the students who want to do more with their horses (humanely, safely, and fairly as well as successfully) than their current riding schedule can produce.
Am I going to run Rolex? No. I know my level of dedication to the sport is not in line with that goal, even if my potential ability were. And, I’m okay with that. I do not believe the amount of enjoyment the typical rider derives from the sport is at all contingent with the level at which she rides or competes. I think the happiest riders are the ones who have a clear sense of the correlation between what they put in and what they can expect to get out, however modest or lofty that expected return.
Article by: Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who lead a team of four to the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern US win