I can teach you a lot of things, but I can’t teach you how to be a horse person.
At the end of the day, no matter how much information I give you in a lesson, no matter how many theory books you read, no matter how many hours you spend surfing the web to learn about horses, being a horse person is not something that can be taught. It has to be earned, and it has to be earned through interaction and observation.
One of the most memorable lessons I have ever overseen as an instructor was a lesson where I mostly spoke after the lesson time had concluded. It was a hot summer day at a camp in Maine, and I had a group of girls for their very last barn lesson. Instead of doing something along the lines of grooming or learning the parts of the saddle, I took them out into the paddock, and I asked them to observe the horses.
For nearly thirty minutes we stood in silence until we headed back for the barn and I asked the question: “now what did you see?”
Of course at first, the girls hardly knew how to answer. They thought what I wanted to know was something from a textbook, so they stumbled around, trying to sound as articulate and as clinical as possible. As I waited patiently, one girl spoke up and said:
“I saw them being horses.”
We talked for a while longer on what that meant, how their herd structure functioned, and how they reacted to one another within that structure, but I couldn’t have asked for a better answer.
Yes, they were being horses, and that is the first thing a person has to understand if they want to understand a horse. A horse, most importantly, is not a human, nor do they want to be a human. By surrendering the notion through observation that these magnificent animals behave as we do, a person is able to take the first step on the long and rewarding journey to becoming a horse person.
I always like to think that a horse person, whether they ride, drive, or simply work with animals from the ground, is the cornerstone of the equestrian community.
However, being a real horse person and not just a rider is something that is fast losing ground, and in the case of my own students, I have no one but myself to blame. Sometimes my need to teach and fill the time with my words and knowledge can push aside interactions with the animals that are crucial to understanding them. After all, it is easy to teach people to ride, but I find that as an instructor, sometimes I forget there is a good deal that a student needs to figure out for themselves.
I’m not just in the business of simply producing riders, I’m here to help give the foundation for my students so that one day, they can help shape the generation to come after them. While words and theories and the technicalities of riding correctly are very important to know, they are simply the gates one must pass through on the road to becoming not just a horse person, but a good one that can continue to move forward with, and shape our industry into something bigger and better than it already is.
So no, I can’t teach you how to be a horse person, let alone a good one. But I hope that I can help guide you on that path so you can find the wonder in it for yourself.
About the Author
Logan Rivera is a riding instructor from Maine. Along with teaching, she also enjoys writing, and spending time with her pony, Winnie.