The Working Amateur

Recently there was a blog entry on the Chronicle of the Horse magazine’s website by Catherine Haddad Staller Train the Trainers, and it created a firestorm of comments on the COTH forums, madder than wet hens. I don’t feel like jumping into the melee on COTH, but I figured I’d just write a post.

First off, I am that amateur who had terrible basics, I still work on them every ride. But, there aren’t any trainers to blame for that. Back when I got my first horse as an adult, Romeo, I had stars in my eyes! It was May of 1989 and I was going to Event and I was going to make it to the big courses! We can ignore that I was in Texas, had about two dozen bad Hunter style lessons under my belt that taught me to lock my elbows, and had spent years riding ponies bareback with no instruction. I also spent under $150 a month to keep my OTTB, that was with 4 shoes ($40) and self care stall+pasture board ($25), I paid the neighbor to turn out and feed ($15/month) and life was good. I was also 19, finishing college, working full time as a prison guard and married.

Most can imagine that it was not shocking that I did not make a lot of progress in the horse world. I moved with my husband to Virginia, with Romeo, and suddenly my horse bills were not so reasonable. Yikes! I boarded in a barn with a lady from Britain, and she knew everything!!! You know the type. The pictures of Romeo in draw reins…only, no other reins, were when I was listening to her. I bounced around with Romeo to all the low cost options, while I started my career. I had left Texas with 18 hours to finish on my degree, so I took 2 classes in DC, the cheapest out of state tuition I could find…had signed up for 2 classes correspondence course, and had a job. Shortly after I got the job, I found out I was pregnant…so suddenly I was the poor, 21 year old, married amateur with an OTTB horse, no lessons, and a kid on the way. I probably should have sold the horse, but horses are in my blood. I love them, love riding, and have made several life choices that put me squarely in the insane box to have not only one, but several horses.

I put Romeo down this past March. I had him for 24 years and he taught me loads of things, good and bad. But the reality is, I could not afford lessons at all for about 5 years. I would get in one, and the reality of trying to schedule a lesson when you lived far away, had a long commute, a baby, a husband and a farm, because how else could I have afforded to keep the horse and pay daycare?! To say that time was tight, would be an understatement.

My first ever dressage test, in a horse trial, on Romeo. Yeah, I was pregnant in this picture.

I didn’t know diddly about hunters, eventing or dressage. But, over the past 23 years, here is the list of people I’ve taken lessons or clinics with, in no real order and I probably have forgotten one or two…and some were only one lesson because there was not a lot of quality instruction and when you don’t have any education, you need someone who can teach a rank beginner. Some were as many as I could afford and schedule.

Bert Mutch(H/J), Ronnie Mutch(H/J), Joe Fargis(H/J), Ernest Dillon(H/J), Stephen Bradley(Eventing), Joerg Eichmann (sp?)(Eventing), Mark Rashid (horsemanship), Charles De Kunffy(Dressage), Arthur Kottas(Dressage), Linda Zang(Dressage), James Houston(Dressage), Lauren Sprieser(Dressage), JJ Tate(Dressage), Ashley Perkins(Dressage), Sherry Ackerman(Dressage), Jec Ballou(Dressage), Denny Emerson(Eventing), Thomas Ritter(Dressage), Mike Schaffer(Dressage), Scott Hassler(Dressage), Lendon Gray(Dressage), Pascal Martin(Dressage), Allison Head(Dressage), Michael Bertozzi(H/J), Jane Savoie(Dressage), Jean Claude Racinet(Dressage), Bent Jensen(Dressage), Debbie Craig(Dressage), Kim Frey(H/J), Brian Murphy(H/J), Kevin Babbington(H/J), Inga Janke(Dressage), and Richard Williams(Dressage). I know I’ve forgotten a few. Some of those listed are good local trainers that few will have heard of, but a lot of those have written books, ridden at the top levels of their sport, etc.

Why did I go to clinics? Logistics. There are two things that were limited. Time and money. Even when I could scrape together the $40 or $50 for a lesson, I was severely limited by the real job. I wanted to improve, really I did. A clinic was perfect. I could go for a couple of days, maybe three if I could scrape enough money together and take notes, study and work on that for the next 6 months. While there are a few trainers who are willing to teach at 7am or 7pm, most are either riding their own horses, or want to be done, and it is hard to schedule these things. Lots of them go to shows.

I spent a lot of time doing stuff like this!

The other little detail on a lot of those clinics, I would fill them at the last minute. It seems that clinics are not so easy to organize and it is difficult to find enough people whose stars aligned for them to fill it.

Showing was simply too expensive for years, so I kept riding. Clinics gave me motivation.

Some of the instructors listed above, I would not ride with again for free, others, I will ride with again when the stars align, and the stars that have to align are free time, free money, and location.

My son graduated college recently and when he started high school, I was able to find the time and money to finally start taking more lessons, and I also made that goal of riding a minimum of 365 times a year.

I would like to say I am glad for all those clinicians who taught me the basics. I still have a lot to learn, but I earned my USDF Bronze medal last year! It is so much fun to apply all those things I’ve learned to fresh off the track thoroughbreds, or my newest young horse.

I’d like to say some of it has sunk in…


About Mel

Random musings in a riding journal
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One Response to The Working Amateur

  1. Hairball says:

    Good summary, Mel! My list of BNTs is not very long, but like you said, they have a way of ginning up your enthusiasm and at least give you another tool for the box. Sunday tends to be the only day I can count on having off, and not surprisingly, that’s the day most regular instructors want off. Time and money, sigh.

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