I recently heard someone say that amateurs practice so they can get it right, but professionals practice so they can’t do it wrong. The speaker’s chosen metaphor sport was golf. Actually, I think its more a matter of attitude, as opposed to whether you get paid to do something. But there is something to the argument that those who treat their sport seriously practice with a different objective than those who just dabble at it.
And it got me thinking about the similarities between golf and horseback riding — particularly about why golfers often understand horseback riding, what it takes to excel at it, and what attracts us to it, and how it holds our attention.
Like many other horse people, I have a non-horsey husband, Bob. His chosen sport is golf. He blew out his knee many years ago, first skiing and then playing soccer. That’s when it dawned on him that he needed a game he could play for the rest of his life, and which didn’t require him to have the physique of a 20 year old to play it well.
He has more of a professional attitude about how to play. You see, when he plays, he goes early and does warm up stretches. If he can swing it (sorry, I couldn’t resist), he really likes to go extra early so he can hit about half a bucket of balls and get everything moving smoothly, and work out some kinks before they start keeping score.
Professional golfers hit 300 balls a day with a single club, looking to put them within 10 yards of the chosen target. They don’t do it because they particularly love any specific club. They do it so they know that club so well that they hit it consistently, and thus effectively. When they pull a 9 iron out of their bag, they know they’re going to get a 130 yard shot out of it. Every time. Without fail. So they can’t possibly get any other result from it.
We ride sitting trot for what seems like hours at a time. We repeatedly work on getting our seat supple and following the horse’s motion. We do it over and over so we can’t get any other result than a beautiful, relaxed, balanced, smooth sitting trot.
When most amateur golfers play, they show up at the course at the last minute, having not seen a golf course in two weeks since they last went out with their buddies for an hour of talking smack at the driving range where they devoted the entire session to their driver, followed by a lengthy stay at the 19th hole. Now, they whip into their parking space, strap on their shoes, toss their bag in a golf cart, and head to the first tee. It’s a recipe for a disastrous round. The sad thing is that they don’t understand why things went so poorly.
When horse people go for a lesson, we get there early, and stay late, taking the care to prepare before the ride, and to prepare for the next ride after this one is done. Just like our fences, we know that the set-up determines our success at conquering the obstacle.
Then there’s the issue of enthusiasm. Bob has more of an “amateur” attitude when it comes to enthusiasm. He can go out and have a terrible round overall, but that one good shot will keep him coming back again and again.
As a rider, I’m similar. Fear not, Boyd Martin and Julio Mendoza have job security because my skill level doesn’t begin to approach theirs. But that moment of gloriously extended trot, or the magic of a well-executed jump will keep me coming back for more.
Like every other amateur, I have a day job that requires my attention, and reduces the amount of time I can spend at the barn. So my form will never be as good as a professional rider who can afford the luxury of doing nothing but riding and training to ride all day. And Bob’s golf game will never put him on the PGA Tour.
So I guess the holy grail of arrangements is to have professional preparation, but amateur enthusiasm. Take your sport seriously. Respect your horse and your equipment. But be willing to let it all grab you by the heart and take you for the ride of your life!
So with that in mind, I get to the barn early to check out my horse’s mood, and give him a stretch, particularly on cold days. I stretch myself out too so I can use my leg more effectively and keep a more relaxed posture throughout the ride, full in the knowledge that my hip flexors are my main challenge.
And Bob knows that Saturdays mean my daughter and I will be at the barn for the better part of the day — stretching, bonding, grooming, cleaning tack, and — oh yeah! — riding. But being a golfer, he patiently brings hot coffee to us on the cold days at the barn. And although he’s not a “horsey guy,” as a golfer, he understands.
Sue van der Linden