Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Are You Serious?

People call me about lessons, training, and buying horses all the time.  I am constantly amazed at the array of calls, emails and inquiries. (thank you, thank you, and please, keep contacting!)

They range all the way from clueless people who call me up out of the phone book who want to "borrow your horse to take on a trail ride with some friends for the weekend" (seriously, it happened!  thank God that was only once), to breeders with amazing young horse prospects--started and unstarted--that want to put their horse in full training with me to compete on the Florida circuit and everything in between.

Each one of them, including the clueless people mentioned above, are very serious when they call me.

So what do I mean when I ask the question "Are you serious?"  I mean, what are your goals?  Why do you ride (or want to ride) horses?  And the most important question of all--

What are you willing to do to achieve your goal?

What are you willing to sacrifice?

What are you willing to change in your life to accommodate the time, money, and work that it takes to ride a horse (well)?

I have been riding, training, showing, breeding, (living and breathing) horses for almost my entire life.  I can answer the above questions with the only acceptable answer there really is:

I will do anything.  I will do whatever it takes.  I will give up anything.

And only when you are on my side of age, can you answer that as I have above.  If you are on the newer side of age (below 50, let's say), you can only answer in the prospective term:

I am willing to do anything.  I am willing to do whatever it takes.  I am willing to give up anything.

And then you will spend the rest of your life proving it.

Anything less will get you less.  How much less is directly related to what roadblocks you are willing to accept.

Students come to me with differing long-term goals-- to learn to ride, or to progress in their riding, or to be coached, or learn to train horses, or learn to teach others to ride horses.  In the beginning, I try to have them define what their goals are--short term and long term.  (I realize as I write this that I need to be more assertive about clearly defining these with them).

Everyone of my students think they are serious.  But are they?  Are you?  They ask me if they are talented enough, which is difficult to answer.  Many of them declare that they are talented, and want to be the best, so I get all excited and start asking them the questions:

How many times per week can you ride and take lessons? (once a week is NOT serious--5-6 times is)

When will you be ready to buy a horse? (the serious answer to this question depends on the rider, and the answer to the first question)

Are you willing to put your horse (or your prospective horse) into full training with me? (this doesn't, and shouldn't, mean that you can't ride your own horse, but the trainer has to be able to maintain a supporting role in keeping the horse tuned up for you--you are not a trainer)

How much time and money are you willing to invest in your horse's care--nutrition, athletic maintenance, shoeing, grooming, etc.? (an athlete is an athlete, and your athlete deserves the utmost standard of care)

How much time and money are you willing to invest in showing?  (whether it is you showing your horse, or your trainer, or a combination)

If you are not willing to commit to whatever it takes to answer the above questions in the affirmative (whatever it takes), then you are not serious.

Before you answer, "I can't afford it", and get all depressed, read on:

The most money my household has ever brought in has been a little over $80,000.00 in one year (gross receipts, combined income).  Many more years, the income has been much less--one year, there was less than $9,000.00.  So income is no excuse.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

Success has very little to do with talent or money, and has everything to do with grit and determination.  It has everything to do with clarity of purpose, persistence, single-mindedness, and quality experience.

Your success in riding (as well as any other endeavor on earth) absolutely depends on your commitment to excellent education, commitment to your horse and your trainer, and thousands of hours in the saddle and in the barn.

The only thing holding you back is you.  I don't want to hear "if only I had more money...if only I didn't have to work...if only I didn't have kids...if only my husband was more supportive....if only I didn't have a husband....if only I had a barn....if only I had a horse.....blah, blah, blah.  Those are all excuses!

You can and should find a great instructor (ask here in the comment box below, or email me for instructions!) among all the shysters out there (and there are TONS--beware!).

Take lessons, seriously.  Buy, trade, work for all the lessons you can possible take....ride at LEAST 4 days a week in lessons at first, and as you achieve your goals, purchase a horse if that makes sense and board it with your trainer.  Your trainer should ride your horse a LOT--how much depends on the horse, your own riding level at the moment, and your goals.

Ride, ride, ride--  I don't want to hear, "it's too hot, it's too cold, it's raining, I don't feel well, I have to go (insert anywhere), my kid is sick, my  husband is complaining about money, my husband says I spend too much time at the barn, my mom wants me to do chores, my boyfriend wants to go out tonight, blah, blah, blah".  Not acceptable.

Those are all excuses, and you need to decide what you will sacrifice--your horse? Your riding? Your success?  Don't blame it on the others in your life--YOU take control.   RIDE!

Never, ever stop taking lessons (and your lessons will get more expensive the more you learn....I pay $300.00 per 45 minute ride for my lessons, plus I have to trailer down to the facility, and pay for a stall, and give up the money I would make giving lessons that day--so you can see some of what you have to look forward to....  Riding well is expensive and insists on continuing education and experience, but there is no excuse for riding poorly.  To back off is to give up, and that cannot be any part of your genetic makeup.

If you want to ride, RIDE.  Find a great instructor (that is actually the hardest part--but remember, you have grit and determination, and will find a way, no matter what).  Find the money.  Find the time.  Find a way.  No excuses.

Go get yours.


  1. Beautifully said, Mary, and thank you! It is so important for professionals to guide riders through the process - whatever the process is! Thank you for stating this so clearly. I'm going to print it out and hand it out to several students this week!
    Keep up the great work,
    P.S. I get those "borrow your horses for a trail ride" calls... every summer!

    1. Thanks, Em!
      LOL--I know, right? (about the trail ride calls)

  2. I don't think it's fair to say you will do ANYTHING and give up ANYTHING for the sake of the horses. To me that doesn't define "serious."

    The one thing I'm not willing to give up for horses is ensuring my mom has decent medical care and a safe place to live as she ages. Because of that, I gave up horses for years (and regularly cried about it!) so I could save up and put myself in a position to have horses and take care of her. But I wouldn't give up caring for her for horses. Period.

    Under your definition, that counts as not serious, but I still ride 5-6 times a week on a bad week when my asthma keeps me from riding - and many more (two horses, specifically so I can have more saddle time) on other days. I've given up social life for the most part and the luxury of fun trips all the time, clothing I might want, etc. I've given up the comfort and joy of living alone in order to have my mom in the same house and horses out the back door. But even though horses are my one driving passion, some things are still worth more.

    I try to get at least 10 hours of saddle time in a week right now, but am looking to get a third horse or lease one and try to increase that to 15 come spring. I ride with my instructor for two lessons a week, ride with a biomechanics clinician twice a month typically, and take clinics with other instructors who fit with my training as much as possible. I get video of most of my rides so I can compare what I felt with what I actually did/see and improve in between lessons. I watch all the dressageI can, read all I can, compare and contrast ideas. I don't know any way in which I would not be considered a serious (non-pro) rider except by your definition.

  3. Dear net,

    I admire you for giving up riding and horses to care for your mom in some time period that came before. That is exactly as it should be. And now, it seems that you can and are returning to being serious about riding. Kudos! You have balanced your life to work for you (and you for it).

    I never said you have to give up EVERYTHING. I just said you have to be willing to give up anything...that simply means where you place horses in your order of priority corresponds to what your goals for your riding are at this time in your life. It seems as if you are a very tenacious person, and based on that, I see that you will achieve whatever you set out to do. Have fun along the way!

    I also don't see how you came to the conclusion that my essay defined you as not serious...by your description, it seems as if you have organized your life (including your relationship with your mom) to allow you to be serious.

    You should be celebrating the fact that you are going for it against what seem like pretty big obstacles, and that makes you the definition of serious!

  4. Great post!
    I personally would count myself as a serious rider. I started late in life (early thirties) and have "advanced" to 4-5 times riding, 2 of them in a lesson each week. I lease 2 different horses that allow me to work on different things. I do not dream of showing, my goal is to become efficient enough to hop on any horse and be comfortable and to master the (dressage) training scale. Right now (3 years into my journey) I am riding the old schoolmasters. After every lesson I am part exhilarated and part exhausted. I am always learning new things (thanks to an awesome teacher), have “aha” moments but also realize that there is so much more to learn.
    As my better half can attest, I am willing to give up a lot, just to get an extra hour of riding in to get the elusive right lead canter (or whatever it is I am working on). I have also flirted with the thought of getting my own horse, but decided to forego it for more lessons on different horses to learn. I think fear plays a role in this decision against owning, as being a horse owner involves so much more than just riding. I have had the advantage of working with a true horsewoman who believed in groundwork, understanding the horse, its biology, ailments and safe handling and partly because of that I am very aware what goes into true horsemanship.
    I know one day “the horse will find me”, as my former teacher always said and when this happens, I will be ready. Having an animal give you trust, the human needs to earn it. I personally think I need to be prepared better to know what is right and wrong. Errors will still happen, but a basis needs to be there.
    I agree it is also important to have a true trusting relationship with your teacher. Not just with regards to teaching riding skills, but also that both student and teacher know where the comfort zones are and what is appropriate.
    One last but very important thing is to not be deterred by others. My starting riding late in life has caught a lot of my friends and family off guard, hoping I would grow out of it. I have been called selfish, not everyone understands why I am willing to give up xyz [fill in any social engagement] for another hour on the horse and it is hard to find a balance. However, I have learned, an hour with either one of my lease horses calms me, grounds me and makes me happy. In the end, that is worth it to me.

    1. Dear conny,

      Super! It sounds like you are on an amazing journey. I understand what you are saying, that a lot of people think you are being selfish. It doesn't matter at what point in your life you found dressage, you are NOT being selfish, and kudos to you for not letting them make you feel that way!
      It sounds like you are on solid ground in your plan for your riding. It takes a lot of willpower and clarity of purpose to not get sucked into buying your own horse until (or if) you are ready, and it sounds like you are doing what is exactly right for you.
      It also sounds like you have a great instructor that can support you and doesn't try to manipulate you into straying from your path. You are lucky (and wise) to have found her.
      Thank you for reading my blog! Good luck on your journey.

    2. Mary, I think what you are saying is so very true. BUT, I also think what you may be omitting is that if a rider sets goals, they must be willing to sacrifice to achieve that goal. It doesn't mean that you have to give up everything in your life and ride 5-6 days/week. It does mean that you should forgo some luxuries in order to achieve the goals you set for yourself and your horse. If you can't, then maybe you should re-assess your goals. When I have to work more in order to support my habit/hobby (my 2 wonderful mares)I have to re-assess the goals I have set. Riding and training horses is an ongoing compromise. When a horse is lame (and it will happen to some degree at some time in a horses life), we have to look at our plans and figure out what else we can do that does not involve riding. There is a lot to be said for ground work!
      Additionally, we pay our instructors for advise. If a rider is not willing to take that advise, there is a serious problem. It is a waste of everyone's time if your instructor gives you homework and you don't work with your horse until your next lesson.
      Even as an amateur rider I get people asking me if they can ride my horse or if I can teach them how to ride. I try not to laugh when I ask them what kind of riding experience they have. If they pass the initial verbal pre-qualifications and get to come to the barn with the intent to ride, and they show up in tennis-shoes, I can't help but laugh out loud. Most of the time I simply tell them that my horses are not suited for beginners or are in competition training and I am the only one that rides them other than my trainer. But one time, I did let someone sit on my horse that lied and said they knew how to ride. As soon as my very well trained mare started to trot her nice big dressage trot, they freaked out and said she was trying to throw them. HE HE HE HE. :)

    3. You are so right! Like I said before here in the comments, I never said you have to give up EVERYTHING; I only said you have to be willing to give up anything. That means you have to set your priority.
      And let me say here that not everyone that rides has to be serious about riding! If you (and I have been using "you" in the royal sense of the word) want to be a recreational rider, that is fine!
      But so many people complain that they WANT to be a serious rider, BUT.......and then the excuses come. That is what I was ferreting out of people.... "Are you really a serious rider, or do you just think you might someday, maybe, kind of, want to be a serious rider; but not really......"
      That is all I was asking, and I was really just asking the Universe; you know, food for thought. I am glad it ignited such feedback!! Thank you all for keeping it real! I love you guys! I wonder what kind of passion my next blog post will bring? LOL

  5. Hi Mary,
    Lovely comments in here: makes me in good mood to read this:)
    Firstly I do apologise my bad english, but I cannot help wondering; what level of seriousness with riding I could be clasified?
    I have been around horses for over 40 years now,as a hobby first and later trough equestrian education combined with practical learning have owned all together about 50 horses( Used to run a riding school).
    Now I work in other industry have sold
    (& sent some of my old horsefriends to horsey heaven),all but two.

    I have them on full livery away from home, and first time for years I can be 'selfish' and I truly enjoy riding with no preassure to show, or compete.

    I have young unstarted horse, who will hopefully last me with rest of my life, and my trusted old dressage mare to ride now. What a freedom:)

    Funniest thing of all, my dear old husband, who all these years was complaining, how I put horses interests in front of his, is now naggin at me not riding enough! ( riding makes me be in better mood)

    No I don't think I am serious rider, but still enjoying this grazy old sport.

  6. Oh sorry this is who I am ( comment above)

    1. Dear Anja,

      Thank you for reading my blog! Your English is admirable.

      Not that it is for me to judge, but I would say you are very serious about your riding! It is all about balancing your life at the moment, with your goals in the same time frame. You have "paid your dues", as we say in America, by what you have achieved to this point, and from this point forward you seem to be doing what it takes to maintain your goal-level. Does that make sense?

      I am giggling at your comment about the change in your husband's complaints from riding too much to not riding enough to maintain a good mood---my husband also has complained about this in the past when I have had to adjust my life (several times) to teach more than ride, or to concentrate on some other aspect of the business, because I am in a better mood when I ride, as well!

      This essay was more targeted at the person who claims they want to be good rider, and yet thinks they can do it recreationally, or intermittently, or when there is nothing better to do.

      The great American writer said it best when he said:

      “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.”

      ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

      I would love to hear more about your horses, Anja! Thanks again for reading the blog, and for your comment!

  7. Thanks Mary, talking about goals, I just found mine:)


    1. Awesome! Thanks for the link! I hope everyone watches it....I have definitely found inspiration in it as well! Thanks to Schleese Saddlery for making the video, too!