How I can become a better rider

Like many of you, I’m a fan of the outspoken and straight shooting Denny Emerson. A couple of years ago, I received his book How Good Riders Get Good for Christmas. I read it by New Year’s. The book was both incredibly motivating and utterly depressing. He points out some obvious truths: without time in the saddle, an appropriate horse, and the right teachers and mentors, you aren’t going to get very far.

Here’s why the book depressed me: Oklahoma is a frustrating place for an eventer to live. There aren’t a lot of eventing barns here. There are few schooling horse trials and even fewer recognized competitions. I can count the number of cross-country courses in the state available for schooling on one hand.  I’m also the owner of two old horses, one of which has some kind of phobia about jumps in a ring. While they’re both sound and healthy, both are on the downward side of their useful lives.

Hacking last night.

Obviously, I don’t feel constantly depressed about my riding situation; if I did, I think I would have quit riding altogether by now. But I have been feeling exasperated lately. Yesterday, a post on Denny’s Tamarack Hill Farm Facebook page gave me a kick in the pants:

Big, huge, enormous, Titanic, and otherwise not tiny misconception about becoming a good jumping rider, by learning all…

Posted by Tamarack Hill Farm on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My horses can walk, trot, and canter, and at least one of them can reliably get over a two foot fence. I don’t need to get new horses or live elsewhere to practice these skills (or many other) skills. I can do a lot while living in the eventing abyss with two ancient horses:

  • Continue to work on my fitness by exercising regularly
  • Utilize exercises in various books and magazines to develop my eye
  • Count strides when I’m hacking in the field to develop my sense of timing
  • Ride with no stirrups to improve my seat
  • Audit dressage clinics (which are usually free in my area!) to learn new ways to solve problems
Moe can reliably jump anything!
Moe can reliably jump anything!

While these things won’t magically turn northeastern Oklahoma into an eventing mecca, they will turn me into a better rider. And being a better rider will help me do the best I can with future horses and future opportunities.

Do you ever feel kind of down about your ability to progress? Or the “life hurdles” you encounter? What do you do when you feel that way?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

17 thoughts on “How I can become a better rider”

  1. This post is so timely. I had been feeling down lately, wondering if me and my broken horse will every get …anywhere… …ever. I left the barn Monday feeling like I should just give up and trail ride.

    I was thinking today on my way to work that I want something I haven’t earned. I haven’t earned the right to be a good rider. I took 12+ years off from riding in the prime of my life. I am starting over on the other side of 30, with a horse with zero training or skills, except what I have put on.

    No – I am never magically going to be a good rider. But I can work with what I have and chip away at what I am.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. I know the feeling! Alberta has lots of dressage, but not near me. The nearest dressage barn or trainer to me is 170km away, and the nearest dressage show (schooling or recognized) is 250km away. When I got down about this fact, I started reading about riding. Books, magazines, internet articles, and blogs. Nothing beats an actual trainer in your discipline, but I found that there was lots of things I could work on in the saddle by myself, and that if I was stuck on something, I could probably find some inspiration or exercises through reading.

    The other thing I did was to embrace fun I could have with horses outside of my discipline. It seems like you have this part down already with how you go to dressage shows and fox hunts when you can’t event directly 🙂

    When I got really stuck (early this year), I started my own blog, and figured out how to get some instruction creatively (simulator and schoolmaster lessons). These things were just enough to kick me out of my rut and get me progressing again.

    I hope you find a good way to get out of your rut 🙂

  3. This is such an inspiring post! I live in a dressage mecca and have access to a lot of instruction, but money is always a hindrance. I don’t have the budget for the number of lessons I would really like to have, so a lot of what I ended up doing last year was on my own. I’m hoping this year to have a budget to accommodate more lessons but I need to believe a little more in what I can do on my own too. Like I don’t need a trainer to tell me that I should be doing more core work outside of riding or that I should sit on my right seat bone more.

  4. I hear you. I’m definitely having some life hurdles right now between my arm and ankle, which both got x-rayed today, and my mule who refuses to trailer without trying to kill herself. But I’m trying to be positive. I’m lucky to own a horse/mule at all, to have the money to buy a new trailer if that’ll solve it, the health insurance to pay for injuries, and an amazing support system to help me through all of it. That said, if everything could stop conspiring against me this year, that’d be great, mmkay?

  5. I feel like the previous 3-5 years of my riding life were a fairly constant struggle… It was very hard to get adequate training in order to progress. I am hopefully that now I will be in a better position to make cionsistent progress.

    Stuff knocks us down but riders are a resilient bunch!

  6. God yes! I would love to have a horse of my own to work with, to be able to afford some adventures on, little things, nothing big like WEF. I stay focused by just thinking what can I do now. Even if it is just going to work to get money. (That can be a struggle! ) keeping ones self fit is great! I’ve been working on that too.

  7. This is how I felt when we moved up to NY. From hero to zero as far as opportunities for anything. But I did find a better team to make me a better rider, and that I can take anywhere!

  8. I’m so sorry that Northeastern Oklahoma isn’t an eventing mecca for you 🙁 Too bad you’re not a barrel racer… Nothing like a good kick in the pants to get you going, though! Still lots of opportunity.

  9. Ironically, my Instructor does eventing,but I have no interest in it, way too scary! I’m in California so there are loads of options, I love Western pleasure, possibly trail challenge, or limited distance. But I need to get better. Just bought the horse I leased since last year, so more excuses for me! Thank you for the thought provoking post!!

  10. Ugh. Riding is such an emotional roller coaster. I used to show in the low amateur jumpers. 4’3″! And I’m still alive! But now? Now I show 3′. And it’s HARD! So forget progressing, I’m REGRESSING! But sometimes you have to cater to what you have available to ride. Jampy lost his confidence after our disastrous attempts in the jumper ring so I stepped us down to the equitation ring where we don’t really have options. 3′ or nothing! He loves the equitation ring, so that’s what we do. On the bright side, we’ve had a lot of success together. And I have some young horses coming along so maybe one or both of them will want to do a little more. I think it’s important to enjoy the ride, even if it’s not the ride you dream about.

  11. While conversely I’m in an area rife with eventing at the schooling and recognized level, I definitely relate. Esp this time of year it seems hard to imagine all the things we wished we could do given what we actually have to work with…

  12. I totally get you! I’m sitting here in a GREAT place for eventing, but on an 18 year old pony with attitude problems who hates arenas… But if I focused on that, I’d never get anywhere! Instead I apply myself to be the best I can be in my situation, and there’s certainly PLENTY to work on in my current circumstances, and skills to master that I’ll be able to take to my next, younger pony. 🙂 Go get ’em!

  13. First of all, I LOVE that book! Such a great read but I totally know what you mean by depressing at the same time lol. Secondly, I also feel you on the whole eventing scene in your state. Louisiana has next to nothing as well and I even have to keep my horse an hour away from where I live in order to be at an eventing barn. Thirdly, I’ve been thinking about making a 10 or 20 day riders challenge for those of us who want to improve outside of lessons and work on our seat, eyes, etc. After reading this, I think I’ll hop on that! Keep an eye out for it on and we can motivate each other!

  14. Ugh I seriously know how you feel. It is hard on me to try and work harder to get what I want! Ries isn’t perfectly sound and I don’t want to make it worse by riding. School has been extremely overwhelming lately. I am excited for summer

  15. Riding is such a complicated endeavor that takes so much time in the saddle in truly excel at. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the progress when you work day in and day out on the same things and only marginally improve. What I find particularly motivating is video. Watching and comparing older videos really highlight how far I’ve come.

  16. So much yes! For me it’s time. If only there was more time in the day/week/month. If only I had more time to ride. It can be frustrating.

  17. I love this post! I wish I had more time/money for riding but there is so much I can do to improve my riding. I think I’m going to have to read that book 🙂

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