By Rebecca Barber
Most of us have been there at some point in our lives. Either our horse is out of commission due to an injury or our own life circumstances make owning or leasing a horse impossible. It can be easy to say, “I’m done,” retire your boots, and hang up your helmet. However, if you are dedicated and committed to continue riding, it is possible!
While the horseless route isn’t always ideal, when everything falls into place you may be surprised at just how rewarding it can be. I did not possess the ability to own a horse through the six formative years between the age of fourteen to the age of twenty. Here are some tips on how to survive being horseless (from a girl who has been there).
Lend a Hand
Audit as many lessons and clinics as possible. If you have the ability, volunteer to help in any area needed: public relations, jump setting, trailer parking, promotion, etc. I have often found that clinicians will waive their auditing fee for those willing to go out of the way to help. Similarly, if you find a trainer that you really click with, ask if they are in need of barn help – even if it’s just for an hour or two after your lesson. Not only will you have the opportunity to observe training rides and lessons, you may also get some saddle time if they witness your consistent hard work.
Get Your Foot in the Door
If you are experienced enough and have a “sticky seat,” catch riding is a great way to gain additional experience on a wide variety of horses. The easiest way I have found through my own experience is to offer care or exercise for a friend’s horse while she is away. You may just find yourself bumping into a fellow boarder in need of similar services. Not to mention, if you do a good job, your abilities are more likely to be spread by word of mouth and more opportunities will present themselves. I have never said no to extra time in the saddle. Every ride is a valuable experience, whether it is on a proven champion, a fancy greenie, or an up-down lesson horse.
Teach What You Know
It has been proven in numerous studies that the best way to learn is by teaching. If you have been riding for a while and feel confident with the basics, try applying for a low-level instructor position at a barn in your area. Even simply assisting the instructor can be beneficial to your own riding; offer to help her set jumps, get clients ready for the ring – anything to make her life easier. Often, you will find a rider who is struggling a skill similar to one that you have had difficulty with in the past. By searching for new ways to explain and demonstrate what needs to happen, you can often find clarification for yourself – a new way of thinking about that concept or problem, which may simplify or reinforce the way that you approach that specific task.
Watch & Learn
Watch great riders. Over and over and over. In particular, pay attention to riders with a body type similar to yours. Take note of their style, their take-offs and landings, ask yourself questions as they glide through the course. Be critical and teach yourself to learn when they missed a distance or when they should have shortened and held back, rather than extended and gunned for the long spot. Observation is absolutely free and one of the most valuable tools within reach of any rider of any level; whether it is spectating at a show or browsing through YouTube videos, observing the top riders in action is an excellent tool for improving your own riding. Personally, I take the time to watch riders with tall upper bodies, like myself, and study how they keep their upper body out of the way over fences, which is something that I want to improve upon.
Not owning a horse does not mean that you cannot be competitive in this sport. It just means that you have to be creative, work harder, and persevere in order to chase your dreams.
Remember, you are not alone in your endeavors! There are plenty of other riders in similar circumstances making it work. Often, the riders who have faced their own hardships are the ones most willing to help the next generation. Reach out to those riders and ask for advice. Do not give up on your passion. If you want it badly enough, and you are hungry enough, and you are dedicated enough…you can make it happen.