Riding different horses at different levels is a bigger challenge than I thought it would be. It’s good for me because I’m never completely comfortable with which horse I’m riding. Just when I’m used to one, I switch to another, and then back and forth. So when I started moving up in my dressage training, I went and asked my normal lesson horse for a leg yield and his response was to go faster or do nothing at all. Horses, it turns out, do not come pre-programmed.

When we’re just starting out riding, we know for sure that the horses we’re on are smarter than us. But the day when we “outgrow” what they know feels more like a myth than an actuality — until it does happen. Then I’m faced with a new challenge and something new to learn myself. Suddenly, I’m the one training my horse and not the other way around.

During the lesson, my trainer worked with me on ways to get the horse I was riding to understand what I was asking him to do. It took her walking next to me, hand on my leg to make sure it was in the right spot, to push him to move his back legs in front of each other. Otherwise, he’d just move diagonally towards the wall. We worked at it at the walk a few times and attempted at the trot with not much success. But he was willing to try and it gave him a new challenge — something to stimulate his brain for a change.

I’m happy that I’m finally progressing in my riding lessons. But I’m torn between taking the “easier” route and working with a horse who does come “pre-programmed” with the lateral movements I want to work on and plucking away at it with the horse I’m riding now. The thing is, being able to train a horse is an incredibly valuable skill — one that isn’t taught in your average riding lesson programs.

I whole-heartedly believe that the only constant is change. But to embrace change like a responsible horsewoman, I know I need to learn the skills to be able to train a horse. So even if I do spend more time with a horse I can practice lateral movements on, I’ll still come back and work with that first horse. I’ll know then that this, training a horse to do something, is something that I can do.

Being able to help train one of my lesson horses in something more advanced than walk, trot, canter is a rare gift. One that I’m going to take advantage of, to grow my skill set beyond just being able to ride.