What Makes a Good Rider?

In June 2021 we hosted an online conference on the topic of good riding. By inviting several experts with different backgrounds, expertise and knowledge, we were trying to answer an age old question: What makes a good rider?

This simple and yet profound question has many facets and one can spend their entire life getting to the bottom of it. We started the conference off by listening to an inspiring lecture by world renowned trainer, veterinarian and author, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. Here is what he had to say on the topic:

“Although it is a difficult question, the information on what makes a skilled rider is old knowledge. There is nothing new here, it has all been described by the old masters. If you want to learn how to become a good rider, you have to study the old masters.

Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to read books, so not many riders are willing to pick up an old book and learn from there. I strongly recommend anyone who is serious about becoming a good rider to dive into the teachings of the old masters. It is not an easy task, but the lessons are very valuable.

Let us look at some of the important questions. What is a good rider? How long does it take to get there? How should we even start the journey?

Skilled Riders Love their Horse

First of all, a skilled rider is a rider that loves his horse. If you don’t love this animal, you have no chance of becoming a good rider. The definition of a good rider is closely related to having a partnership with the horse and you can’t have a partnership without love.

Here is the first rule. A good rider is someone who is in harmony with his horse, both on the ground and in the saddle. Achieving a harmonious conversation is tricky, because what we are doing is we are dancing with a big flight animal. Anyone who has had dancing lessons in the past knows it’s tricky enough to dance with a human partner, let alone a horse. And yet, this is what we are trying to do.

You can be a wonderful, harmonious rider simply hacking out in the woods, you don’t need to achieve success in competitions to achieve harmony. There are many successful competitors that are far from having a harmonious relationship with their horse. If you are in harmony with your horse, you are a good rider.

Skilled Riders Get things Done

The second part of being a good rider is getting things done. This can either mean being able to control your horse while having fun outside in nature, jumping small jumps, doing lower level three day eventing, or being a high level competitor. This technical part, getting this done, this is your decision – what do you want to do with your horse. You look at your horse and ask, what is this horse bred for, what is he built for? This gives you direction.

Working with your horse’s nature rather than against it will make it easier to get things done. But getting things done will be much easier if you first achieve harmony. If you have to fight with your horse every day for an hour, or if you have to force him into performing certain maneuvers for you, then you are missing the point. First, there is harmony, then you can get things done.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Skilled Rider?

Another very common question is how long does it take to become a skilled rider. The answer to this is very simple – it takes your whole life. If you are 25 and you are successful in competition, you might think you are a perfect rider. But success in competition can be misleading, because then you might think you know everything. Unfortunately, what often happens is these riders end up ruining horses, because they don’t remain humble. Becoming a skilled rider is a very long process, with no quick fixes possible. This can be especially difficult for young people to understand. 

In my opinion, the mental aspect of becoming a good rider is easier when you’re older. Your body is stiff, your joints are stiff and your back might hurt, but your mind and your heart are more ready to do this. A young person is always excited and wants to get results and wants the horse to do the flying change now. It’s funny, the shorter the lifespan in front of you, the more time you have. When you are young you are always in a rush, you never have enough time. But when you are older, you have all the time in the world. And that makes it easier.”

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