Rider Insider: Becoming a Real Rider

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Trail RidingThere’s a popular notion in the equestrian world that you’re not a real rider until you’ve fallen off 10 times. Or is it three times? Either way, if you hang out with enough horse people, you’ve probably heard some variation of this old adage. Maybe it’s just something that riding instructors and other experienced equestrians say to comfort newbies after they’ve met the dirt for the first time, but it does make some sense. You can sit on an old trail-string pony and wander around for days, but you’ve hardly earned your stripes until you’ve reached beyond that comfort zone.

There’s much more to equestrianism than staying in the saddle (or not.) Chances are, when you fell off that third (or tenth, or hundredth) time, you didn’t jump up off the ground feeling like you’d suddenly made it. However, maybe there was a lightbulb moment when you realized you weren’t just a beginner, dabbling in this horse thing. Was it the first time you were able to groom, tack up, ride and cool out a horse without having to ask for help? Did it come somewhere later on down the line when you were able to act confidently to help a sick or injured horse? Was it when other riders at your barn started asking you for help or advice instead of the other way around?

All riders are growing, learning and improving as long as they keep working with horses. It’s a process that never ends. But unless you were born into the horse world, you can probably look back at a time when you had no idea what you were doing around a horse, and see how you’ve progressed from them. What was the experience or event that made you realize that you had become a true rider or horseperson? Click Submit a Comment below and tell us about it. Some of the editors’ favorite responses could be featured in a future issue of Horse Illustrated!

This month,
Noble Equine is sponsoring the Rider Insider column in Horse Illustrated with a prize for the selected featured response. If you’d like to be considered for a prize, make sure to include your contact info in the email field of the comment form (emails will not be publicly displayed.)

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33 COMMENTS

  1. When I first rode my 7 year old gelding at a lope out on the trail I realized how far I had come from being a young girl riding around our pasture on a stubborn little pony.

  2. When I first rode my 7 year old gelding at a lope out on the trail I realized how far I had come from being a young girl riding around our pasture on a stubborn little pony.

  3. For me, being a rider was never just about the riding part. It was about being with horses and learning things that were incredible. I really knew I had become a horsewoman when I was 13 and three months after I bought my first horse he tore a serious ligament in his back leg. I was in way over my head and naturally I was freaking out. But those 6+ months taught me what patience and commitment was. I know appreciate every horse I am told to ride and every challenge that is thrown my way. Without that push, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today and I probably would be stuck not knowing the difference between a polo and a wrap. To me, that is what being a real equestrian is about. It is not only how you sit on a horse, it is about how you care for the animal, and it is how you learn from that animal. I learned a lot from my first horse and am now confident that I can wear the Equestrian badge proudly.

  4. I thought I was a real rider when I was taking lessons and competing in hunter/jumper, saddle seat, and western disciplines on other people’s well-trained horses. I thought I was a real rider until I literally was handed the reins to my very own horse after my husband purchased him at auction for me. As I stared up into his big beautiful brown eyes and took in all 16-hands, 1,200 pounds of him, I realized that I was now responsible for every aspect of his happiness, health, and well-being. He had less than 30 days under saddle and everything I knew about horses was about to be challenged and tested. I became a real rider when I admitted that I didn’t know it all, cowgirl’d up, and got dirty with my own horse. The moment came for me nearly a year later in a pure moment of joy when we cantered around the arena, knowing that all the blood, sweat, and tears, both mine and his, had lead up to this one moment of perfection when all my fear and frustrations floated away and my horse and I were truly one. There were no words, just tears streaming down my face and the sounds of his breathing and hooves dancing across the earth.

  5. It wasn’t when I had my third fall. Or my tenth. Or my twentieth. I realized I was a real rider when someone scared my horse in the pasture. Instead of running to the back fields, he ran to me and buried his muzzle in my jacket, because I realized that he trusted me to help him and protect him from the Scary Thing.

  6. The first time my horse cantered up to me when I came to him in the pasture, I felt like a real horse person. In a few months, he had come from bucking me off on our first ride to really being happy to see me. Developing a bond with my horse made me feel that I truly belonged in the horse world.

  7. Raising my somewhat 1/2 Arab 1/2 Morgan filly from birth. Looking back now to when I had to bottle feed her every 3 hours to now, with us going running up and down a field like we’re flying, no city person could ever “get” that feeling like we horse people get every day. Waking up that one morning to see her in the field, training her by myself to ride and pull,showing her this fall, and of course the 101(and still counting) falls she’s put me through, has made me a real rider.

  8. The thing that made me feel like a true rider is when me and my four year old thoroughbred accomplished our first 3ft oxer. That may be “easy” for some riders, but training my own horse and learning how to jump without the help of an instructor makes me know that I can truly do all things through Him who strengthens me. He is an excellent horse, and I am proud of him.

  9. It’s kinda crazy… But the first time I felt like a real horse person was when I had my first semi-major horse injury. I was riding in the woods with a friend and my 16 hand horse was cantering. I didn’t duck low enough to miss an overhanging tree limb and hit my forhead. Luckily enough, I came away with a large scrape, bruising, and some swelling, but no concussion!!!

  10. I have loved horses veer since I was 4, but I was still a little scared about being in a higher speed than a jog. I got used to it, but I was still scared of falling off, but I thought I never would even come CLOSE.
    But I came close to a fateful fall when I first tried to gallop…..I wasn’t ready.
    But a few years ago, I realized that I wanted to completely connect with horses, not be scared about possibly falling off.
    Now, I have my very own horse, that I am training myself. But I have soared to new heights with horses, I have walked, jogged, loped, galloped, and even experienced a few definite bucks from other people’s horses!
    Me and my horse work as a team, so hopefully, we never will have to deal with any fate full falls, but even if we did, horses are well worth the risk!

  11. the experience that made me feel like a real horse person was when I regained trust in my horse after a bad experience I didn’t fall off but he did put on a rodeo with me an inexperienced at the time (still don’t consider my self a real experienced rider just better than then)I took equestrian riding in college to regain the trust I lost that was when I believe I became a true horseperson

  12. Believe it or not, I felt like I became a real rider twice: when I remounted my mare after a bucking fit even though I was shaking so bad; and when I mounted my horse for the first time after saddling her by myself. These were both wonderful achievements in my life and when I truly felt like a real rider!

  13. I first felt like an established horse-person when I fell off but wasn’t afraid to get back on. Falling off doesn’t define your “horse expertise”.Falling off and then getting on and trying even harder is what makes you more advanced. When I was first riding I fell off and got back on, but not willingly. Later down the line, I fell, dusted myself off, and then got back on and rode even harder. That was the point at which I realized I had reached a milestone not only in horseback riding, but in my own self-confidence.

  14. I first felt like an established horse-person when my kids from the neighborhood threw a firecracker behind my mare that raced like a rocket

  15. I feel like a real rider every time one of my students asks me to “show them” the right way to do something, wether its position, a cue, or new technique that they havent seen before….knowing that they look up to me and want to see how I would do it is the greatest feeling. I’ve accomplished plenty on horseback myself, but teaching and sharing what I’ve learned with the kids is what makes me feel like a “real rider”!

  16. I’d like to say I realized I was a real rider when I won my first blue ribbon. But that’s not true, because I truly learned I was a real rider when I realized I had stopped trying to impress everyone but myself. I grew up riding expensive show horses winning everything. But when my trainers moved and I switched to a new discipline with unwanted and green ponies I started to never win ribbons anymore. For years I rarely placed because the horse I was on was always really green and hot. When I finally got my two horses I have now that are dead broke and safe, for about the first two years of riding them I was almost doing well again and I was always trying to impress everyone every time I rode. One day I had the most amazing ride with my young horse and I was happier than I’d been in a long time with my horse. I realized then I hadn’t been riding to impress anyone, that I had finally just been riding. And it was amazing. Then I knew I was a real rider because when I rode it was to make myself and my horse happy and not to try and impress anyone watching. And it was freeing. And I have gone back to winning often and always placing high in competitions instead of being almost good again.
    Kelsey prudhomme

  17. I first felt like a real rider when I was finally able to find the true point of partnership with my first mare. When I got her, we were both young and were constantly trying to figure out who was the herd leader of the day. I was so afraid of her even though she had never tried to hurt me. Some days she would spook and canter and I felt like she was running for the roses in the Derby. Due to my fear, small size, and young age it would take me awhile to slow her down. I ended many barn days crying. Every one of those days my mom would pick me up and ask me if I wanted to quit riding. She would say that it was okay if I truly didn’t want to ride but that I shouldn’t let fear hold me back. Every day my answer was the same: I love riding and I want to keep trying. Over the next few years I stopped crying and got over my fear, but my mare and I were still at the same impass of who would be the leader. One day, we finally realized, together, that this constant battling would not work. We learned that we needed to work together and trust each other. That is the day that I felt like a real rider for the first time. I had to learn how to truly be a good leader: not one of dominance, but one worthy of being followed.

  18. The first time I felt like a real rider was the first time I could lope my horse with our fear. I have learned that lacking confidence isn’t just a mental block with yourself, it can also effect your horses mentality. After riding a horse that left my confidence shattered I knew I needed to repair it. When I bought my new mare I had to learn to be the confident leader she could look up to and trust. After months of working to regain my confidence, I finally loped for the first time without fear. For the first time in my life I was able to feel a connection with a half ton animal who speaks another language than me. It was absolutely incredible! I finally felt like a real rider!

  19. Everything. Everything has made me feel like a real rider; each experience, challenge, accomplishment, adventure, and accident. It’s everything we go through in the horse world that has turned us into the equestrians we are today. 🙂

  20. I’m not going to pretend that I am a “real rider,” because I’m not. Though I don’t believe that simply falling off makes you a good rider, I do think it has a big affect on your skills as a rider. My interpretation is that a challenging horse or ride makes a good rider. That being said, calm horses are just as important in honing a rider’s skills.

  21. For me it was going over my first two and a half foot jump with a rescued horse I help train from the start, but it’s really the everyday experiences, good or bad, that really turn on the light bulb. And that light doesn’t have to be turned on only once…for me it’s everyday! Each thing I learn, every day with the horses, makes me feel more knowledgeable than yesterday! And that’s good! Because if the light only turned on once a long time ago, then it means we’re probably not getting anywhere!

  22. owning my first real horse has made become a true horsewoman inside and out, and although I have not fallen off ten times, (at least I think not!)and I have yet to master the gallop, I will always have the heart of a true horse-lover!

  23. Until I actually get a horse then I won’t truly feel like a real horse-person. But jumping my first jump this year in August at a horse camp did make me feel more like a true rider.

  24. I have always been a horse person, but it wasn’t until I was adopted by this beautiful, older gelding who was unridable. He had special needs and care due to the abuse and his age. I came to understand riding is second in owning a horse. Because of him, I have friends who have adopted rescues and I was a second time adopted by a beautiful but yet abused, neglected blind mare who has become a rare horse that is willing to carry me anywhere because of trust we have with each other. I earned my stripes with both of them, they taught me to understand the world these horses lived in and how I needed to make their world safe and secure.

  25. For me, it has been working with a Tennessee Walker mare to Parelli train her. She has thrown a few other people because she changes directions quickly, but she always calms down and listens to me and makes me feel like I can really make a difference in working with her.

  26. For me personally, becoming a real rider starts first on the ground. Knowing and understanding how much physical labor, dedication, and knowledge that goes into horses helps you to be more grateful for them and that for me shows that you are a real rider.

  27. I feel like a real rider when i finally was able to trust my horse and listen to him and let him teach me what he knows. He is the experienced member of our partnership and i finally allowed myself to learn from my amazing horse, and what a teacher he is. I have improved so much this past year because of he has has taught me.

  28. I felt like a real rider when I got back on a horse after a broken vertebrae in my back (not riding related) after two years of healing and not riding in those two years, and even after 11 years of riding, I knew that was when I became a real rider, and I again felt like a real rider when I decided that even though my trainer told me I was one of the better riders at this barn, that I didn’t belong there, and found another barn to perform for.

  29. My greatest goal as an equestrian has always been about the bond between horse and rider. Every time I feel the bond between myself and the horse that I ride grow, I know that we’ll do better in the arena with communication and working as one, but most importantly, we’ll have more fun. Every time I see the trust in my horse’s eyes, I know I have taken a step in the equestrian world, and gained a friend for life.

  30. The moment when I felt like a real rider came about three years after I started riding. During those first three years, I understood go and whoa, I could make a horse walk trot and canter, jump, and I could perform several figures and lateral movements. However, I didn’t fully understand the essence of dressage (my primary discipline). However, in the summer of my third year of riding, it clicked. I understood the concept of being on the bit, and the idea of rounding up your horse and driving him in to a soft contact with your hands by using your legs. I knew exactly what part of my body to use and when to use it to get the results I wanted. Horseback riding became more than just pointless maneuvers, but a true art.

  31. I think I became a real rider the first day my horse ever stood for the farrier without being tranquilized or ear twitched. It took two years of training, every day.

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