Do you remember what it was like to be a young rider? I sure do! It’s tough. Sometimes, as adult amateurs, we tend to get all wrapped up in how tough it is to fit in time to ride and show that we forget that it’s equally tough for young riders; just in a different way.
For me, as a young rider, there were the late nights of tack cleaning, long days of training with my horse, the horse clipping and bathing, and throughout the process the friends that I made who, to this day, I still have. In those days I juggled school, extracurricular activities, and life on a large dairy farm with my desire to ride and show. Those experiences shaped me into the person I am today. Though my adult life looks much different than my life as a young rider, I still juggle many things including a career, a family, and a multitude of other responsibilities with a desire to work with my horse.
Whether you are currently a young rider or an adult amateur with a desire to reflect back I’m changing it up a bit with this week’s blog post by asking Natalie Cockram of the blog The Small Town Equestrian to share her experiences as a young rider. You can read more of her stories at https://smalltownequestrian.wordpress.com/
Experiences of a Young Rider
By: Natalie Cockram
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, and I have been taking riding lessons for the past ten years. I rode school horses in lessons, camps, and shows, leased a saintly older mare for four years, and currently train the horse who I am the proud half owner of. All of these amazing horses shaped my life in so many ways. I have had more amazing experiences as a young rider than I can count, but there are a few that really stick out in my mind that I would like to share.
My First Dressage Show
I began showing at local shows at the fairgrounds near my house and competed in hunter under saddle classes. At the time, I was showing a lesson horse named Sassy, who I have many fond memories of, and I have even taught younger girls’ lessons on this lovely little mare. As her name suggests, Sassy is not necessarily your push button lesson horse, although she puts up with a lot. She is short, wide ribbed, and SLOW. Not your ideal hunter or dressage horse, but one of the best horses ever to introduce little girls to the show ring – she has done her job well and is now retired from showing. Anyway, after about a year of showing, I got to take Sassy to my first dressage show. I don’t remember every detail, but I remember the judge saying “Your pony really isn’t cut out for this, is she?” and “You really need to work more on your geometry.” I remember leaving the ring with tears in my eyes – who says that to a ten – year old? – but I also wanted to better myself so that the next time I entered the dressage ring, I wouldn’t look quite so silly.
My First Lease Horse
In 2012, I began leasing a beautiful 18-year-old black Arabian mare named Basia. We were best friends from the beginning. Basia carried me through my first A-rated show, first dressage win, first championship win, and so many more. However, those ribbons mean nothing compared to everything that she taught me. My riding skills improved and I became more self-confident, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and honest because of Basia. When you bond with a great horse, it is truly humbling, because they show you what you need to change about yourself. However, they will also help you change and mold you into a better person if you let them. When I first got Basia, she took off with me when my buddies and I were playing around in the field, and another time she dumped me. I often struggled with keeping her on my aids because my legs didn’t go far past the saddle. Although we struggled with understanding each other in the beginning, we soon became a great team. Eventually, it was like we could read each other’s thoughts. Basia was always a joy for me to be around and she could always put me in a good mood. I am so thankful for all of the lessons that she taught me over four years of riding her.
My First Year Showing and Training a Green Horse
After my lease with Basia was up, I began riding a nine-year old Arabian gelding named Chrome. My trainer had bred Chrome, but then sold him to someone. She sold him a few years later and he was passed from person to person until he found his way back home. When I began riding Chrome, he was very green and inexperienced, but had (and still has) loads of potential. I literally had to work on everything with him – transitions, framing, ring manners, bending – anything a horse needs to know to be a pleasure to ride. And, for a long time, he was not really a pleasure for me to ride. He would buck, try to run into the corners of the ring, and flip his head up and down when he got bored. His energy has always been limitless, and when he was misbehaving, every ride was a struggle that left me feeling exhausted. Although I was tired and discouraged after every single ride for a good six months, his sweet personality always cheered me up, and I knew that I would never give up on Chrome. Our first year of showing did not go well. It’s very hard to show a horse at the A-rated level when they are still semi-green – they need to learn so much to be successful at that level. We came out last in every under saddle class and almost every dressage class, which was extremely discouraging. I found myself becoming easily frustrated because I worked so hard, but I felt that my work was all for nothing. Thankfully, Chrome has improved his under saddle manners greatly. We have yet to win an under saddle class, but we don’t always come in dead last anymore and I am confident that we will be able to make great progress this coming show season!
My First National Show
This summer, Chrome and I were able to attend and show at the Arabian and Half-Arabian Youth National Championships in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. My teammate, who showed in the 10 and under division, and I were absolutely thrilled to be able to attend Youth Nationals. For as long as I can remember, one of my dreams had been to attend a national show with a horse that I trained myself and win a national championship. Chrome and I competed in sport horse under saddle, training level dressage, and sport horse in hand. We had a lovely dressage test – probably our best ever – but unfortunately, a missed canter transition and a bad stretchy circle landed us a score below the top ten. I was frustrated that there had been a few small mistakes between us and a top ten placing, but I was very pleased with Chrome’s behavior and responsiveness. The under saddle class was not much better – Chrome had never competed in such a big class, so he was a little nervous and broke at the canter a few times, causing us to leave the ring empty handed yet again. By this time, I was pretty upset and discouraged. I had trained Chrome and myself for hours upon hours for this show, and we had no ribbons with one class to go. Of course, it should be about the experience, and I had the time of my life throughout the whole week, but I really, really wanted at least one national ribbon to display all of my hard work and my horse’s talent. Long story short, Chrome ended up winning national champion in the sport horse in hand class. I bawled through the pictures and victory lap, Chrome was totally unimpressed with his roses, and it was the greatest day of my life. It has been months since this day, but it still seems surreal to me.
My time is a junior rider is coming to an end – I have two more summers to show in junior classes before moving up to adult amateur. I have been so lucky to ride some amazing horses and learn from both them and a great trainer. My advice to junior riders, or equestrians of any age, is to never give up, just keep persevering and working hard and someday your wildest dreams just might come true.
Thanks for reading!
The Small Town Equestrian