The Joy of Horsemanship

I’m a dedicated, hard working Adult Amateur who loves my horses, and enjoys showing a little more than my budget realistically allows. My animals come before my ambitions. This is why my 30 year old retired show horse has a forever home in my barn. I know that I will never show at the highest levels of the sport, because, even if I had the money, that’s not where my ambitions lie and that’s okay.

I’ll be honest, some days it sounds pretty amazing to have a horse in full-care training. It must be fascinating to just hop on a fully tacked, warmed up horse, and ride in a set weekly lesson. When I travel to shows and see those horses, I think back on my days as a groom and realize that I’m not jealous in the least. I remember tacking up horses for owners who couldn’t tell you which bit their horse used and why. I understand now that, for so many of us, joy comes from day to day horsemanship.

It would be amazing if we could all make it to the Olympics, to FEI levels, to Grand Prix, to the Tevis Cup, to NFR, to whatever the top level of your chosen discipline is. But hear me out here: how amazing would it be if, instead, we all knew how to care for our horses? What if Pony Club and 4-H weren’t mercilessly mocked by the upper level Hunter/Jumper crowd? What if amazing “horsemanship” wasn’t praised every time someone hand-grazed or lunged their own horse? What if working hard and learning the fundamentals of care and riding mattered more than what level you were showing at; if everyone grew up feeding, cleaning, bathing, braiding, and hacking ? Sure, you can put anyone on a packer and send them into the ring, but does that mean the rider has any business being in the ring at that level?

Personally, I have “big” goals, but they aren’t Olympic-level goals. I want to jump medium sized jumps, ride mid-level Dressage tests, and maybe win a couple of ribbons along the way. I want to do all of this to the best of my ability, and I want to take amazing care of my horses along the way. I’m not saying if my horse and I have a crappy day in the ring you won’t catch me feeling sad, but you sure won’t see me throwing ribbons in the trash because they weren’t blue enough. (Ever checked the trash cans after a major show? You’d be appalled.) What you will see is someone who pats their horse, works their tail off, and tries again later. My horse doesn’t owe me a ribbon or a clean round. I do owe them the best life that I can give them, and the hard work that comes along with that.

For many of us, this is the reality of horse ownership and showing. Sure, not everyone can keep their horse at home and, let’s be real, everyone can take the time to learn how to be a better horseman and not just a passenger. I love learning. I love picking my vet’s brain, talking to my hay guy, auditing clinics, and reading articles from trusted trainers. Some days it can range from frustrating to exhausting.( If you’ve ever stayed up all night walking a colicky horse, you know.) I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and for real equestrians this is where the magic is.