So I’m sat here on my sofa watching the dressage from Badminton Horse Trials, explaining it all to my boyfriend and acting like some sort of pro Eventing coach even though I have never and will never Event.
I had a flashback that made me cringe. I was about 11 years old and an avid pony lover. My best friend, who was equally horsey and actually the child responsible for luring me in to the equestrian world, and I were watching Badminton on TV and we made a plan. We were going to train really hard so we could enter our first Badminton as soon as we turned 18 years old.
We were deadly serious. We actually thought this was an achievable plan despite the fact that it would be a few years before either of us got our first ponies. We used to ride once a week at a riding school in our rubber riding boots and then we’d help out for the rest of the day doing chores and leading in the beginner lessons.
Our riding did improve and we both went on to have a collection of wonderful horses and ponies between us over the years – Flicka, Charm, Misty, Sian, Connie, Leo, Bubbles, Jolly, Cyryl, Spice, the list goes on. You can actually read about some of those ponies in my older posts. But we never really got past doing much more than a bit of Unaffiliated Dressage, local shows and fun rides – the normal activities most of my riding buddies do now. And then by the time we turned 18, it was harder to get out of bed and want to spend the weekends shovelling horse muck when we had experienced heavy nights before!
But the point isn’t a life story, it’s that riding is hard. Really, really hard. It’s always annoyed me when non-horsey people assume that riders are just passengers and that riding isn’t a sport. My boyfriend used to say it, so I gave him a riding lesson on Cyryl. He soon shut up.
Riding isn’t like most sports because instead of relying on equipment, we rely on a living, breathing animal that has its own mind and experiences its own moods. We have to build bonds with our animals and get to know their quirks. We have to learn to trust them and also to teach them.
Horse riding is a slow sport to progress in because unlike a sport with equipment, there are limits to how much we can do with our animals. With jobs and busy lives, we can’t spend hours a day perfecting our dressage or practising cross country. We would need a string of horses to ride, stabling, facilities, a trainer, horse transport, and financial stability to be able to not work!! It’s no wonder that it’s really hard to get good at riding.
Not having a horse can make progression even slower still. I remember being so excited for my weekly riding lesson that I’d feel sick, I had one hour a week on a Sunday. That’s 52 hours of riding per year, assuming I attended every single weekend. I bet professional riders spend as many hours in the saddle in a week as I did in a year!
Riding is physical. I now ride four or five times a week and I still get achey muscles the day after a hard session. My point is, I think riding is actually really hard work and it takes a really long time, many years, to become a good rider. I’ve been riding for 17 years and today I was chuffed to bits because Hooch and I jumped some small jumps in the school! Let’s not beat ourselves up because sometimes slow progress is the best progress.