“Watch your fellow riders. It’s how you build confidence.” It was a line George Morris repeated many times at a recent clinic in Buffalo, NY. The advanced group was doing a difficult exercise — a figure 8 around two Swedish oxers, both requiring quick turns after the jump or you’d hit the wall. Literally. Riders from the lower group, as well as many auditors, watched as riders were made to re-do the exercise again and again until they’d done it right. As a bystander who wasn’t a hunter/jumper, and wasn’t on the skill level of the riders, I wasn’t jealous that they were all better riders than I was. I was inspired. And I was learning.
My core group of riding friends is very small but their skill level is wide. Some are like me: they ride when they can, where they can, without goals set to get into the show ring. Others have been riding and competing since before I met them. I’m not a new rider, but I’m not anywhere close to being ready to show. Meanwhile, I have friends who have competed in upper levels, who have trained green-bean babies into beautiful creatures who accept contact and yield to aids. It’s hard to watch them do so well because all I can think of is how bad I am in comparison to them — even when they tell me I’m good.
Riding friends who’re ahead of us in skills and levels are a good thing to have. Like my best friend does, they can point out that “yes, you do actually know what you’re doing” and “you’re not half-bad.” If you’re riding with them and not your instructor, they can help you out, point out what you can improve on, or give you some guidance to work through a tricky exercise with your horse. But you can also watch them in their lessons, in their work, and in their shows and learn from them.
Maybe the people you’re riding with aren’t your usual group of friends. Maybe they’re in the same freezing cold riding group in a clinic and you just met them today. There’s different skill levels present, even if the class is set as “Intermediate” or “Advanced”. But you’re all there because you love to ride and you want to be better. Instead of getting down on yourself for not being as good as other riders, or being jealous that they’re better than you, watch, and listen, and learn. If you think you can do a better job at an exercise, channel that confidence into your riding. If you want to ride like your friend who’s better than you, study the way they ride.
“Horse world” is small, and grows smaller all the time. Instead of looking at each other and being jealous, or even hating someone, for being better see what their riding can teach you. Your barn, your clinic class, the group you’re showing with: this is your community. The family you chose. So focus on you and your goals, but let your friends inspire you. Let them inspire confidence in you. They were where you were once and, if they’re really good friends, they’re going to help you get to where you want to be.