An Untalented Rider's Perspective: 16 Skills Anyone Can Master to Be a Better Horseperson

Dressage Today's Lindsay Paulsen reflects on the ways we can all improve as riders, regardless of talent level or resources.
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There are riders who are just born with natural feel, timing and athleticism—and then there are the rest of us.

I like to believe that we each have our own unique talents. Unfortunately, none of my obscure talents—ping pong, donut consumption, Disney movie trivia—actually help me in the saddle. But that’s OK. It doesn’t make me love dressage any less.

Here I am with my mare enjoying the sunshine in Wellington! We've been working hard at just getting a little better every day. (Photo by Beth Goldring) 

Here I am with my mare enjoying the sunshine in Wellington! We've been working hard at just getting a little better every day. (Photo by Beth Goldring) 

I have spent the past month down here in Wellington and for the first time ever, I’ve brought my own horse with me. It’s about time, right?! (I’ll have lots more to write about this whole trip in a future blog.) Needless to say, it is humbling to be here. Each and every day I am reminded of what a teeny, tiny amoeba I am in this giant ocean of dressage talent.

I’m a mid-level Adult Amateur and I didn’t come down here to try to impress anyone or make waves in the dressage world. I was offered a free place to stay with a friend and had the opportunity to take some lessons with a great trainer, so here I am, just trying to be a little bit better than I was before. The facility where I am boarding is dreamy and beautiful and there are literal swarms of Grand Prix riders buzzing about. Do I sometimes feel like I stick out like a sore thumb? Heck. Yes.

So, I’m not a Grand Prix rider. I’m not talented. I’m not abundantly wealthy. Where does that leave me in this strange place called “Wellington”?

Here’s a newsflash that I’m writing mostly as a reminder to myself: Your value as a horseperson doesn’t have anything to do with the level you compete at or how much money you have or your amount of talent. To a certain degree, some of those things just aren’t within our realm of control. Sure, it would be great to be born into a trust fund, but life just didn’t shake out that way for most of us. 

Here’s the good news: There are a lot of things that are within our control. So let’s focus on those.

A while back, I saw a graphic on social media floating around about ways you can be a better rider without spending a dime. The more I thought about it, the more it inspired me to create my own list of things that practically anyone can master to become a better, more respectable horseperson, regardless of talent level or financial status. Here it is:

1. We can make sure that our horse, tack and equipment are spotlessly clean.

2. We can be attentive to the needs of our horses to promote their health and happiness.

3. We can be on time.

4. We can look professional by tucking in our shirts and cleaning our boots.

5. We can take direction and do exactly what the trainer tells us to do, when he or she tells us to do it.

6. We can be receptive to constructive criticism.

7. We can be curious and eager to learn new things—whether those relate to dressage technique or horse management.

8. We can be neat and tidy at the barn.

9. We can have positive attitudes and be friendly.

10. We can be considerate of the other people we share spaces with—in the barn aisle, wash stall, tack room and arena.

11. We can be helpful to other people by pitching in an extra hand when time allows.

12. We can be supportive of other riders.

13. We can take advantage of opportunities to learn more by reading articles, watching other lessons and studying skilled riders.

14. We can be diligent about writing down notes and impressions from lessons.

15. We can make the effort to improve our fitness out of the saddle.

16. We can choose to prioritize the wellbeing of our horses over our own ambitions. 

Lastly, I feel like I should mention that as much as it can feel like I am in the minority of our sport, I know that’s not the case. I know I’m not the only rider in Wellington who doesn’t compete at the top—or even the middle, really. I’m not the only person who pinched my pennies to get down here. And in the grand scheme of things, if I own a horse at all—never mind the trip to Wellington—I’m really much luckier than most!

I love my good girl! She sure is patient with me as I fumble through this thing called "dressage." (Photo by Beth Goldring) 

I love my good girl! She sure is patient with me as I fumble through this thing called "dressage." (Photo by Beth Goldring) 

In the horse world, us average people of modest talent and modest means are the actually the majority. As many like to say, we are the backbone of it all. We’re in this together. 

And in fairness to even the most privileged riders in our sport, they have to work hard, too. They have to put in their time. Horses aren’t robots and they don’t automatically perform a 70-percent test just because someone wrote a big check for them. If we were to say that dressage is only a money game, we are seriously underestimating the complexity of it. (But that's a discussion for another day and not what I want to focus on here.)  

Resources and talent certainly help, but as my list above shows, they aren’t everything.

Remember, as George Morris likes to say, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work.”

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