Be The Better Rider

Money and dressage…well, horses in general really. It goes hand in hand. In some of my previous posts you’ve heard me talk about some of the big names in the horse industry including Bloomberg, Gates and Springsteen. It’s a land of money and they are happy to pour their money into the best horses, the best care for those horses and of course the best equipment. I want to give you a few tips for if you are wanting to compete with the best but aren’t exactly a Springsteen child. 

I want to start by saying I have the most supportive parents in the world and they have always done everything they can to support me and my riding career. I am sure sometimes they wish they would have never taken me to that first riding lesson after everything we have had to do for horses. But still to this day they are right by my side, helping me along the way. I want to talk to the kids coming up in the equestrian world that are not Springsteens. I want to tell them not to give up. Don’t get discouraged that you don’t have Equiline breeches on and everyone else does. Don’t get discouraged that you have a wintec saddle and everyone else has Pessoas. Don’t get discouraged that you are on a pony from Memphis TN when everyone else is on imported warmbloods. When I was 13, I had some big dreams. I wanted to go to the North American Junior Championships and then the North American Young Rider Championships. I was currently on a 13.1 hand pony named George and we realized that I would not be able to compete on a pony at the championships I wanted to do. So we found George a home and started searching for my next big thing. At a local horse show we found out about an 8 year old Arabian/Tb mare named Tsarina. She was too hot and excited for her current owner. She did not have much show experience and was schooling 3rd level. She was only 15.3 hands. Arabian/Tb, not exactly something you see winning in the Grand Prix ring. Long story short, we bought Tsarina. 13 year old little girl coming off a pony, hopping on a hot and spicy Arabian mare. Can only mean great things right? Maybe eventually but it was a long road.

For at least the first year with Tsarina, my trainer would have to warm her up for me. I was still figuring out how to ride correctly and Tsarina was not always the easiest horse in the world. We were both learning, but we were both determined. She was a very talented mare with good gaits, but not the best walk. We spent our first year showing second and third level. We had some really good shows and some really bad ones. But it was all a learning experience. We set our eyes on NAJC for 2008. We headed to Wellington Florida to try to get some qualifiers in. In all reality that was probably mistake number 1 for qualifying. Region 3 is the most competitive region and I had never experienced anything like this before. There I was, this little 13 year old kid on her 15.3 hand Arabian, in the warm up ring with some of the best riders in the US. Even though my chances for getting any qualifying scores in Florida that season were pretty much shot due to lack of experience, it was an unbelievable learning experience. In a way, being thrown to the wolves might have been the best way to do it. I am competitive. Extremely competitive. I wanted to win. Going to Wellington and not doing so well at shows only fueled my fire. I wanted to qualify for NAJC and go prove myself. I didn’t care that I was riding in an outdated heavy wool show coat, didn’t care that I was still riding in a wintec all purpose saddle, didn’t care that I looked like I was on a pony. I was going to do whatever it took to make myself look like I deserved to be there. My trainer had the best words of wisdom. She told me that even if someone has the best horse in the world, they still had to ride it. You may not be able to out horse someone, but you can always out ride someone. Be the better rider and you will win. 

I spent a lot of time studying how to be perfectly accurate in tests, I think this is the best way to get big scores on not so big movers. If you’re on a 17 hand warm blood that moves like a freak and you make your 10 meter circle a 15 meter circle, you will probably end up with a 6.5 or a 7. If you’re riding a not so special mover but you ride a perfectly accurate 10 meter circle, you’ll still end up with a 7 or even a 7.5 and your submission scores will also be higher in the end. Winning. I spent a lot of time on my position. Everything from riding with a whip behind my elbows to teach myself to open my chest and sit up tall to no stirrup lessons, you name it I tried it. You have a rider score in your collective marks. Make it higher. I started as a 6 and ended up normally getting 8s. I worked religiously on my halts. Every horse can halt. You don’t need a fancy warm blood to nail a centerline. Any horse can get an 8 or 8.5 on a halt. You have to figure out your horses strengths and make those even stronger. My horse had incredible changes. We made those even better. I knew she had a bad walk, we were lucky to get a 6. So I knew I had to find places to make up for the walk. It’s a numbers game. So if I nailed my first halt and had an accurate trot tour, generally after the walk we would be working on low 60s. So I had to kill the canter tour. Pick out your strong points and make them even stronger. Pick out your weak points and figure out how much better you can make them.
After starting the season with scores in the low 50s, I pulled myself together and focused. I focused on making my horse as fit and rideable as possible. I studied my tests like crazy. I watched videos of other tests to see what I could be doing better. I did everything I could without spending thousand and thousands of dollars. I worked as a working student for lessons. Luckily, I was homeschooled so I was able to spend my days working and riding and then would do my schoolwork at night. If you want it bad enough, you do what you have to do. You work hard and you get it done. I ended the season qualified for NAJC, I was at the bottom of the pack but I was qualified. They were set to be held in Colorado that year. My horse was fitter than ever and ready to go. Thank goodness because Colorado ended up having record high temperatures that summer and while most of the horses and riders were severely struggling in the heat, my tough Arabian mare was barely breaking a sweat. (Bet everyone wished they had an Arabian instead of a warm blood then) We ended up medaling in the individual competition and the freestyle. I had proved myself. I came in ranked bottom in my region with my qualifying scores but I peaked at championships. I ended up ranked second in the United States. I’m not saying all of this to show off. I’m saying all of this because I want young riders to know that you don’t need a $100,000 horse to do well. Find yourself a decent horse, find a good trainer and beg them to let you work off lessons. Work your tail off, make that not so special horse as special as you can. Be the better rider. Be the better horse woman. Don’t get caught up in wearing the high end brand name breeches and use some of that money to buy better feed for your horse. Be ok with that used dressage saddle. In the end, all you have to do is out ride your competition. Be the better rider.

  1. So very proud !!!
    McKenzie’s dad

  2. Excellent advice.

  3. What a wonderful article. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Christina!

  4. This is so perfectly said! Thank you! There are so many riders with great potential who give up because they think they can’t keep up with the Joneses. Hopefully, this will encourage at least a few to keep going!

    1. Thank you for the kind words Melissa!

  5. Great post, you are so right! Have shared it on my blog’s Facebook page. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Natalie!

  6. I know this all too well. I wanted to go to the American Eventing Championships, while I had never actually finished an event- ever. I fell off and got eliminated at every single one. I moved home to have money for more lessons (small price to pay) and bought another horse for $700. She was off a cattle ranch in Colorado, but had learned to jump at my trainer’s house. I noticed huge improvements just by being able to ride 2 horses a day instead of 1. Neither were super fancy, and literally all of my tack was used, borrowed, or free.

    Long story short, cow pony and I made it to AECs at Novice, and were Reserve Champion in Area IX that year. I did it with breeches two sizes too big that had a huge hole where the knee patch should be (but as long as I was mounted, it wasn’t all that visible), a giant wool coat with mismatched buttons, and yes, we took the rusty old stock trailer all the way to nationals. We placed 16th in a hugely competitive division.

    And I’m writing this reply from my trainer’s bed. She’s out of town, and I’m working off lessons by house/dog/horse/goat sitting for her.

    IT CAN BE DONE!!! I cringe a little when people use the money excuse in exchange for trying their hardest. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 Can I link to you on my blog?

    1. Hi Shallary! Love hearing stories like that! It just makes the victory that much sweeter when you have to work hard to make it happen. If you’re willing to work hard, it’s 100% possible! And I would be happy for you to post this on your blog! Thank you for the support!

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