EC Blog by Cecily Clark and Matt Brown of East West Training Stables in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
To all the students we’ve loved before (past and present),
There’s a lot we’ve worked on together over the years, and many lessons we hope you’ve learned as our students. Many technical, many philosophical, and many that don’t only apply to horses and riding, but to life in general. You won’t remember all these lessons; hopefully, many of them have just become second nature to you by now. But these are some of the most important ones we hope you keep with you forever.
♦ Loving your horse is the most important thing you can do as a horse person. And by love I don’t mean kissing and giving them treats, I mean always having a love, a respect, a sense of treasuring your horse in everything you do with them and every decision you make for them. The second we lose sight of that love for them then we’re more likely to use them, or treat them as tools or stepping stones on our path rather than partners that we cherish and who’s well-being is more important to us than competitive goals. Often when we get the closest to achieving a competitive goal is when it’s the easiest to lose sight of the love that we have for them, and when we’re most likely to use them.
♦ Treat your horse like a horse. An animal, with different motivations, instincts, and fears than humans. The second we fall in to the trap of thinking horses process things the way we do, the more likely we are to treat them as if they owe us something, or to take their behavior (good or bad) personally.
♦ Your horse doesn’t owe you anything. No matter how much you spent on them, what your dreams are, how well you treat them, how talented they are, or how easy their life is, they don’t owe you success or certain behavior. All they can do is be a horse.
♦ Read the writing when it’s on the wall. Even though it seems like your horse is capable of something, or you want it to do a certain job, go a certain way, make it to a certain important event – sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want them to. Don’t force things, if something feels way too hard then it probably is. If the horse truly isn’t suited for a job, no amount of training, supplements, joint injections, or discipline will make a horse do a job it’s not mentally or physically suited for.
♦ Don’t blame. Don’t blame your horse, your coworker, or your trainer. Don’t blame your bit, your saddle, the footing, the weather or the judge. Take personal accountability and see how you can do better to meet the challenges you will face next time.
♦ Be a good student. Of the horse and of the sport. Listen more than you speak. Watch more than you show. Get off your phone, there are learning opportunities ALL AROUND you every day. At home, watch your trainer ride and teach throughout the day. Observe horses in their fields, and stalls, it’s amazing how much you can learn about a horse and horse behavior just watching them exist in the world. At a show, go watch warm up, the lunging area, watch people in the wash stall, watch the grooms work. At a clinic, don’t just be there for your ride, watch every ride, every session. If you can’t afford to ride in the clinic then go and watch. Set fences, listen and observe. Stay off your phone and don’t chat with your friends during the sessions. Immerse yourself, be hungry to learn, assume you know nothing still.
♦ While it’s your trainer’s job to teach, it’s your job to become educated. You don’t need a fancy barn or the most expensive tack to have a well-fed, well-muscled, happy horse.
♦ Help out. Bring the barn help coffees and snacks. Thank them. Try to make their jobs easier. Clean up after yourself and your horse. Appreciate how neat and tidy your barn is? Help keep it that way and don’t leave a mess in your wake. There’s no such thing as “not my job” in horses. If something needs doing, just do it, whether it’s your job or not.
♦ Leave everything better than you found it. Every space you enter, every bit of tack you borrow and use, every person that you interact with. Leave a positive impression.
♦ If you borrow something, return it in excellent shape, and don’t assume borrowing something once means you have free rein to use it whenever you want. If you used a bit and liked it, buy your own immediately. Clean out the trailer if your horse shipped in it, clean and sweep the tack room if you used it. Treat other people’s things as if they are precious.
♦ Be thankful, humble, and appreciative. Of your horse, your barn help, your trainer, your fellow students, fellow competitors, horseshow organizers, volunteers, your farrier, vet.
♦ Let the horse professionals in your life have some down time. Don’t text or call your trainer, barn manager, vet, farrier after business hours unless it’s a true emergency. And also know that it may take them a bit to get back to you. If you don’t want them glued to their phones while they teach you or ride your horse, if you want them to be semi on time to your lesson, then know that they can’t always text or call you back right away.
♦ Be self sufficient. Don’t expect others to do things for you.
♦ Be involved in the care of your horse. Be at the vet appointments. Know when he’s due for shoes. Be interested in what it takes to make your horse tick.
♦ Don’t take anything or anyone for granted.
♦ Trust the process and do the work. Know that training is a long process and there are no quick fixes, so resist the urge to follow trends. Just because everyone is riding with a certain dressage coach right now doesn’t make that person the right fit for your horse. Observe, take everything in. If there’s a coach or a piece of equipment that’s trending right now, take the time to think about if it’s right for you and your horse. The magnetic mask isn’t going to magically make your horse jump clear if you can’t canter in a rhythm to begin with, the coach of the month isn’t going to magically make you score better in one lesson if your basics aren’t solid already.
♦ Be a good sport. Things won’t always go your way. You’ll mess up, someone will get in your way in warm up, unfair things will happen. Laugh it off, have a good attitude, be kind and move on. Smile, we’re horseback riding.
♦ Make positive contributions to the spaces you’re in and the people you’re around. Don’t talk sh$t or be negative. It sucks the life out of every space and situation.
♦ Have high standards and don’t cut corners. Details matter.
♦ Don’t judge. Don’t assume. Everyone is doing their best, everyone is still learning. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.
♦ You’re always training your horse. You can train them to do good things or bad things. And you’re always training yourself. You can practice good habits or bad habits, and know that when the pressure is on, it’s what you’ve practiced that will come out. So practice good, train good, act good.
♦ Aim for best effort and progress. Don’t aim for perfection, you’ll always be disappointed because in horses it doesn’t exist.
♦ If you find the right horse for you and you take good care of it so it lasts, you’ll have to retire it one day. If you find the wrong horse for you, and you can’t sell it, you’ll have to retire it one day. If you are in horses, you will have to retire at least one some day. Do right by your horses, even the ones that aren’t right for you.
♦ Never stop learning.
♦ When you finish a ride, good or bad, PAT THE HORSE. Always thank your horse.
♦ ♦ We are lucky to do what we do with horses. Never lose sight of that.
Thank you to Cecily Clark and Matt Brown for allowing us to share their wisdom! If you have a blog to submit for consideration, please send it to Online Editor Delores Kuhlwein: Delores.Kuhlwein@EquineChronicle.com.