by American Stalls December 27, 2021
Many people may think of themselves or others as being a student. But what is the meaning behind this word? Most definitions you will find go something like this: “a person engaged in study; one who is devoted to learning; especially, one who attends a school, or who seeks knowledge from professional teachers or books and examines thoughtfully”.
Regardless of what you are a student of, being a student is like having a job, one that should be held in the highest regard. I was a student majoring in equestrianism, and still am. That’s how seriously I take my riding. Why? Good students in the equestrian world view riding and learning as an honor and a privilege. An opportunity to perfect their craft in hopes of rising to a higher level of mastery. Being a good student is something I have always held near and dear to my heart. I was born putting my whole heart into anything I set out to do. Now, I hope to inspire my own students and readers to adapt to this mindset.
As riders, it is natural to have idols and people to admire. We admire their effortless equitation, their flawless round, their horsemanship, their endless knowledge, and let’s not forget the horses that are practically real life unicorns. A lot of people lose sight of the work that was put in by their idols to allow them to get to that level. Most of those individuals that we aspire to be like are professional students, if you ask me. They have learned the artistry behind studying and applying their knowledge. Showing up at the barn just won’t cut it. Just like showing up to “class” won’t guarantee your grade or knowledge retained. You can groom, tack up, ride, cool down, and repeat this cycle on a loop without any improvement. But why is that? You are at the barn, in the saddle, shouldn’t that be enough? It won’t ever be, “enough”. You will always lack purpose and intention if you have the mindset of “good enough” instead of “being the best that I can be”. That’s why when I work with a new student, the first thing I instill is organization.
Make a Checklist
If you can lock down organization, this will pave the way for stepping stones to success. You should always practice with purpose, intention, and a term I refer to as “policing”. Accountability and “policing” are very similar. The difference is that policing is something you do yourself rather than relying on others. It comes down to “policing” yourself as you ride by engaging your mind/muscle connection when your trainer isn’t able to watch you. Make a mental checklist of the things your trainer has stressed to you in recent lessons. A mental checklist if you will. Are your hands too low? Are your legs at the girth? Are your fingers closed against the reins? Are you slouching through your shoulders? Is your core engaged? This mental list will vary person to person, but we all should have one, and you have to write it down! By learning this mindset of riding with intentionality, you can begin to create objectives for both you and your horse each week.
Keep a Journal / Calendar
Once you grab the reins of organization, you will learn to love calendars and journals. I like to plan my schedule each week not just for my own horses, but for my students as well. I help my students decide what days to plan for a jump lesson, a training ride, what days to flat in between and what should be practiced on those days. A good student will journal and keep track of their lessons/rides so they can take note of all the things they should be studying and practicing as homework outside of lessons. It is also a great way to record the things that went well, new accomplishments and determining what new goals you should establish for yourself or your horse. Setting small attainable goals is key!
Ultimately, your trainer can provide you with the homework, but they can’t hold your hand and force you to do it; it’s a choice that has to be made by you. You, and only you, are the thing that stands between success and failure. Which goes back to accountability. Homework will look different for each individual rider because it should be personalized and not “one size fits all”. Chances are, at the end of your lesson your trainer will recap what you did well and what didn’t go so well. That’s your cue that you do indeed have homework, and learning doesn’t need to stop when your lesson is over.
Do Your Homework & Get the Most out of Your Lessons
Being a good student requires finding your own sense of independence and responsibility. Want to get the most out of your lessons? Leave the excuses behind. Fight the urge to excuse your flaws. Instead, embrace the constructive criticism, soak up the knowledge. Shut up, and buck up. This may sound harsh, but if you spend less time making excuses for you or your horse, and just RIDE, that alone will knock down a barrier that’s most likely in the way of your success. Take the criticism and use it to fuel your motivation during future rides. Don’t just ride, ride with a purpose. Remembering all of the things you or your horse should be practicing outside of your lessons. I promise you, your trainer isn’t pointing out these things to belittle you, they only want to help you improve and truly become the best that you can be.
Fight the urge to respond defensively or with an excuse or explanation. Process what your trainer is saying and just apply it. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t ever be afraid to ask a question. A good student asks questions. If you find yourself still not fully understanding something at the end of the lesson, take the time to ask your trainer what your homework should be, or if they can explain their feedback to you a bit more in depth. After all, a lesson is just a period of your learning, so make sure you use that time to do just that, learn.
Research is Free
Everywhere we look we can find credible resources to further our education. Some of my personal favorites I like referencing to are:
A good student knows that their learning doesn’t stop in the saddle, it can be applied in the barn and at home as well. Have you ever watched your trainer do something, and settle with watching them do it as being enough? Train your brain to be a do-er and not just a watcher, give it a go for yourself! Don’t know how to dress a wound? Don’t know how to switch a bit? Don’t know how to walk a line or set courses? Don’t just let someone do it for you and pass up the opportunity to learn. Embrace challenges and new opportunities to fail, and learn from them. After all, failure, for the committed, often leads to eventual success. When it comes to improving our riding, nothing can replace time in the saddle, I of all people get that. But we can actively further our knowledge in and outside of the barn.
Be the Best Student
Now I may sound like a broken record, but the biggest take away here is SELF. It’s not about the barn, your horse, your clothes or your social circle. If you want to be the best that you can be, you have to learn to be a good student. Being a student in and of itself is something that must be learned. A good student makes horsemanship a priority. A good student is always eager to learn and face new challenges. A good student will spend more time listening and applying, than they do making excuses. A good student will learn time management and organization. A good student will ask for homework. A good student will reap their rewards. A good student will tackle their goals. A good student will noticeably make strides of improvement. A good student will become a great horseman. And the best student never loses the passion to learn and further their education and abilities.
This blog post was authored by our client, Melina Poole-Minnillo, who operates MPM Sport Horses. Melina & MPM Sport Horses specialize in jumpers, hunters & equitation. MPM emphasizes a solid foundation and the understanding of proper horse care, flat work and the mechanics behind riding for any discipline. Melina values instilling the importance of fundamentals, having fun and training a positive mindset while advancing her students to their fullest potential. Melina takes great pride in going above and beyond to provide the absolute best feed and care for her equine partners, and a positive environment for all riders.
In addition to becoming a riding instructor, Melina spends her time finding quality import prospects to bring to the United States to further their development and pair with their perfect rider. MPM Sport Horses proudly also work with fellow professionals in the sales, exercise, care and training, and development of quality hunter/jumper horses in the area.