My Mirror of Erised…

For those of you who are not totally Harry Potter nerds like I am, the Mirror of Erised is a magical mirror that shows whomever is looking at it the deepest and most desperate desires of their hearts. So what do I want, like really want when it comes to horses?

I want to be a good rider.

That is all I have ever dreamed of being. And after 16 years in the saddle I have still not accomplished it. And I hate that.

The hard thing about this goal is that being a good rider has no quantitative value. If I asked all of my readers what a good rider is, I would get 4oo different answers. I am sure that a lot of them would be similar, but I am also just as sure that plenty would not even look like they were talking about the same thing.

When I first cantered, I thought that would be it. When I first jumped I thought that would be it. No luck though, I still was not a good rider in my eyes. At all the big riding milestones I thought I would feel like a good rider, and yet here I am, still waiting. I have jumped 4′. I have been able to do victory gallops at championship dressage shows. I have tons of blue ribbons. I have ridden hundreds of horses. I have ridden many miles of trails. I have even ridden saddle seat, hunt seat, dressage and western. Yet I still don’t feel like a good rider.

The thing is, I rationally know that I am not a horrible rider, yet something stops me from being a good rider. What I am not able to figure out yet is what it will take to feel like a good rider. You would think that when some of the top riders that I have ridden with told me I was good (I nearly died of happiness when Rebbecca Cowden told me I was good) I would just accept it. Or when my trainer tells me that I am good that it would sink it. Yet it never does. Maybe because my goal is an internal one, not an external one.

There are so many times that I feel like such a crappy rider. One of the reasons that I work as hard as I do in my riding is because I don’t like to feel that way. In fact, I HATE feeling like a crappy rider. When I watch tapes of myself riding I could tell you 100 things that I am doing wrong. That is one of the reasons why I feel comfortable enough to post them online. Very few people in the world would be able to see all the things wrong that I see.

The crazy thing is that I cannot even answer my own question of what it takes to be a good rider so how could I have become one yet. The funny thing is that I still really want to be a good rider. Even though I don’t know what that means.

For those of you who are at good rider status, how did you know when you got there? Was it something specific that you did or did you just realize it one day? For the rest of you, what do you think it takes to be a good rider?

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9 thoughts on “My Mirror of Erised…

  1. I have talked to 4* event riders who say they work everyday at being a better rider and learning more. There is no end to the process, that’s the part I like best.

  2. I agree with Barbara. Its hard to master the art of riding when there is always so much more to learn and accomplish. If anything, I think this post shows your a good rider. Good riders have that desire to be the best, to pursue perfection, and thats what you have been doing for sixteen years. I am sure you’re way better than you’re letting on!

  3. I agree with Barbara and Miss Frizzle. The thing about riding is, the plateaus we reach are not static. Everything comes together and then the horse takes another step–and everything changes. It’s not like driving a racecar or making a quilt, where it’s you with a machine and/or materials doing a certain action to achieve a result.

    Riding is you and another living, sentient being, working together and communicating every inch of the way. The “ride every stride” mantra is such, for a reason. The horse may understand you have asked for a trot, but you have a particular TYPE of trot in mind (working trot, let’s say) and then you ask for collection, then lengthening, then back to working … so every step for the horse is a question. And there are some days when you and/or the horse feel a little out of sorts and nothing seems to “come together,” which is a whole other aspect of riding.

    When self-doubt becomes an issue, don’t even GO there. Focus on “that next step” and try to improve from there. Even riders at the pinnacle cannot repeat their fantastic scores or achievements at every show. They continue to work at staying on top–honing their edge, so to speak. That’s why dressage, in particular, is called “a journey.”

  4. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like “ok, I’ve made it, I’m a good rider now, I can stop trying to be better.” I’m always going to make mistakes and learn from them, and then make new mistakes and learn more. And my horse is always going to come up with a new way to challenge me, and I’m going to have to figure out a way of dealing with whatever new issue he’s presented. There is always room for improvement, and I’m always going to try to be more precise, more accurate, more relaxed, smoother, more confident. And I’m always going to want my horse just just a little bit better, more responsive, softer, more engaged, have an easier lead change, or jump a little rounder and tighter. And as each year passes, I find we get closer and closer to those goals, and then we set new ones.

    It’s a never-ending process, which is what makes this sport special. Non-horse people are always surprised when you tell them that after all these years you’re still taking lessons, aren’t they? They think it’s a sport like skiing, where once you learn how, you don’t need to know anything more. But of course, we all know that’s just not how it works. There’s always more out there.

    My point is, I think you are looking at this the wrong way. There is no magical moment where you will feel like a good rider. You’ll always want to be better, that’s what makes you a rider.

  5. I think the others are right. A good rider is someone who continually works to be better.

    My daughter is a good rider. She continually pushes herself with new goals and challenges and is never satisfied with ‘good enough’. I, on the other hand, am not a good rider. I am quite content to be a passenger on the horse and so long as I can get him to go in the right direction at the speed I ask, I’m pretty content. My equitation is horrible too – but that’s another story!

  6. Okay, I have to weigh in. You don’t know me, and I live on the other side of the country from you. I started following your blog after Courtney was injured and found your updates on her the easiest to access. Then I got hooked! Why? Probably because of your clear passion for horses and your absolute honesty about your riding and struggles.

    I have ridden dressage since I was 17 years old. I am now 52, so that is 35 years! I am a semi-professional with a”real” job, but all those years have made it possible for me to be a pretty good teacher of dressage, so I have a few select students. I have been to FEI more than one time, but here I am again on a young horse I am training myself struggling to get to PSG with some competence, hopefully this summer, but we will see.

    The reason I decided to respond today is because of the Erised mirror. After reading your blog for more than a year, it is clear to me that you have a deep, deep desire to ride well. And every step you take forward I have been rooting for you! Every step you take back and doubt yourself has caused me to say “oh no… don’t do that! Just keep going!” My point is that I struggle every day to ride better! Everybody who is serious does!! There is no finally arriving; it is the journey of learning to dance, and the absolute joy that it brings when things go well that make it worth it.

    My parting encouragement to you is: Don’t think of yourself as “other” from “those elite dressage riders.” You have to start thinking of yourself first and formost as “one of those” or you will always see yourseelf as inadequate and you will always continue to undermine your dreams. You are one of all of us trying to ride well- so go do it!!!!

  7. Totally agree with everyone else. It is a process of continual learning. As an adult, I struggle with issues that never entered my head as a teenager. I am more aware of getting hurt and the dangers of riding. I am no longer invincible! That said, I am a better, stronger, and intelligent rider. But the more I learn, the more aware I become of how more there. Most of it being the fine print, the finesse that I chase. My Mom constantly asks why I still take lessons since I have ridden since I was 8. I take lessons because I learn so much and love the continual improvement. Lessons help me feel and respond better. Each horse I ride teaches me something new. My arab retired 4 years ago and I started working with a paint. He was completely opposite in every way to my beloved Tanners. It felt like I had to completely relearn to ride – but what a journey. And when everything comes together just right or I stay focused on my task when he is doing his best to distract me (i.e., spooking, bucking, get irregular, or try to toss me), the feeling is absolutely euphoric. I video all my test rides which I love looking at because it reminds me of how far we have come together. it makes it all worthwhile as those videos shows an amazing progression, yet like you, I can still have a long list of issues/weaknesses that i need to fix. Each ride, I take one on focus on it until it becomes a non-issue. I know that list will never end since I become more aware and picky about my riding. I love the journey and partnership between us. Keep riding and enjoy the journey. Did I mention there is no finish line?

  8. I think my mirror of Erised just shows me with my horse. Maybe 20 years down the road, because he’s the love of my horsey life and I hope to have him around for many more years!

    As for riding – some people would call me a good rider. I wouldn’t, because I have so much to learn. I’m ok with that, though. I may be lucky that the first riding school where I rode, the instructors made it clear that the more you know the more you would know you needed to learn – and it’s impossible to ever know everything or do everything with horses. So I take figuring out more and more I need to learn as a positive! Right now I’m frustrated because sitting my horse’s trot is HARD for me. I’ve been able to sit the trot on every single other horse I’ve ever ridden, and my trainer said she doesn’t think she can sit his trot. But still, I get down on myself sometimes because I want to be sitting his trot NOW. I’m going to end up trying to ride 3 horses a day to try to get fit enough to do it! And think I’m crappy the whole time.

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