There is a usual trajectory of growth in the horse world....a path that goes something like this for someone getting into horses for the first time, who's drawn in...
The horse world has a standard way for getting involved. It' s usually through horseback riding lessons. You sign up with a farm for an hour lesson and show up to "ride". This is just the usual way it's done, but "riding lessons" are still learning lessons! Riding is just one piece of the horse puzzle. It's a fun piece, the one that is the easiest sell and draw, but it may not be the best and most effective approach to getting folks started out with horses.
As kids, we went to school to learn. We learned, we practiced, we applied what was taught. In horses, we often start in the application phase...the act of physically riding a horse before learning the full curriculum. In math class, did you learn fractions before addition or subtraction? So why in horseback lessons do we jump right into riding a horse before we learn more about the actual horse? Why don't we take time learning more about the type of riding there is, what the differences are?
What about the history of the horse? How has the horse human relationship over the years evolved and what are the different ways that horses are connected to humans in our present day? What are the different disciplines? How are they different? Why know about them? How do horses impact the environment and how does the biodiversity of the environment in which they live and we live impact us?
Because for lots of folks, this is boring....we want to jump right in and have fun and go fast and start doing what we see other horse people doing. We want to be like that person or this person, it looks cool, never mind we have no clue what is actually going on. Let's just jump in and hang on for the ride!
Literally, I've seen it....you've likely seen it....riding lessons with folks no joke, hanging on for the ride...like for dear life. Doing way more than they should be safely for the lack of having any clue what they are doing, or how they should be doing it- safely. I've been at horse shows with teensy-weensy kids slouched forward gripping mane like a life-line, going around the arena on saintly horses but feeling compelled to say "whoa" to the ponies on autopilot passing by because their jockeys were just a slight movement off from face-planting in the dirt!
I'm too much of a control freak for such lack of discipline. I realize the impressionability a fall or scary out of control moment on a large unicorn can have on a small kid or adult not having the hand-eye coordination, balance, mental awareness, or skills taught to handle a 1000lb creature when turned loose in an arena and left to their horses devices. A scary and often avoidable experience at this impressionable time, turns many away from horses for good. And that is a shame!
We feel a strong responsibility to set those we teach up for success. What we teach at the foundation, sets the stage for each student's future. We take great pride in knowing this. It's important for our students. It's important for our horses. It's important for our program and it's reputation. It's important for our future program. It's important for our local horse industry....it is important. We believe in taking time to build a strong foundation.
Our program is based on education. On knowledge. On understanding what to do and why to do it. We question. We answer. We don't just do for the sake of doing, because that is what everyone else does. We aren't here to educate followers. We are here to educate leaders in horsemanship. Showing is NOT the only path to success when it comes to horses! It is a piece of a business model based on competition that many gravitate towards out of ego.
Our ideal student comes to us out of a different motivation. A desire to know more. A desire to learn about unicorns and how to connect with them. How to behave around them and discover how through aligning with a horse, how we can align and connect to ourselves and feel more empowered. More understanding. More control. More awareness. More joy. More fun!
If you want to know more about our unique and different approaches to starting out with horses or how to enhance and improve your existing knowledge. Get in touch! We will be offering many blended learning courses (combined in barn and online/virtual) clinics and sessions in 2022 that focus on building blocks with horses that when taught earlier than later, lead to greater success with horses than many traditional "riding, competition, and horse show focused" models focused on building a business instead of building a solid, well-rounded horseman/woman who can exist independently of "the business" because of their own education, knowledge, and skills learned.
Stay tuned too for upcoming Personal, Career, and Corporate Leadership Consulting offerings that we have partnered together with Memphis Training Consultants to roll out and offer in 2022! These unique life skill trainings straight from the horses mouth, and my interpretations from a few years experience will be unlike any riding lesson or coaching program you've experienced before.... click here to stay tuned for more to come in 2022!
As 2021 comes to a close, it's that time of year to re-evaluate. To reflect on how things are going, what's worked this year, what's not worked...what learning opportunities are available that can help us start off 2022 on the right foot, headed in the right direction for our goals.
We should all have goals- hope's and dream's are something everyone needs in these challenging, uncertain times. In our odd COVID world, with a resurgence inevitably upon us, hope gives us the coping mechanism and a little glimmer of light to work towards to help get us through challenges.
Horse barn operations from the inside-out, do have many challenges- despite looking from the outside as a "fun" easy job. Keeping track of each horse's complex and different needs, along with managing multiple bodies on different days, add in owner "simple" requests at the last moment or changes in turnout, feed, supplements, blanketing, leaving in or out for whatever reason may seem easy....but doing it on top of managing life and other responsibilities can quickly begin to feel like living in a three-ring circus! There isn't often much gratitude for the majority of effort, but let something slide and you sometimes find yourself getting yelled at....a post for another day.
Horses don't know if it's a holiday. They don't care about social plans, they have the same routine day in and out. They rely on us to keep them on point...meaning at the expense of living life sometimes to those responsible for their care. Never mind the surprise injuries or illnesses that seem to mostly happen after hours, weekends, or during emergency hour times. Regardless, it is a passion for me to do that is just in my blood and what I enjoy.
What I am intent on focusing on in this upcoming year at Meadowthorpe Farm, however is education. Giving back and collaboration with community horse endeavors that are aligned to our vision, and promote learning above all else. I have been disappointed in seeing a dwindling dedication and passion in some of our endeavors this year, and a lack of true alignment to what we promote here. I have been observing and taking note, and what I have noticed in response to opportunities I have presented, is a lack of enthusiasm for our core values and an interest in traditional showing and competition that to be frank, does not align with why we are here and what we are trying to do.
Going to horse shows, and winning top ribbons is something that can be achieved anywhere at any barn. We are not interested in that here in 2022. What we are here to do is expand your knowledge and education about horses, horsemanship, and all things such. If you can go to a horse show, win a top ribbon out of many of your friends, have the latest and greatest equipment, look the part, ride the part, pay for the part....BUT you have NO IDEA WHY you won...you can't explain what you are doing, how it applies to the horse, or to you, what is the point? If you aren't sure how to care for your horse, what to feed them, what they are eating, why they are eating it, and spending as much time on the before and after care of your horse as you do showing up and riding the horse, that blue ribbon doesn't mean very much.
One benefit I have seen this year from offering and running several of our students through our Global Equestrian Level 1 Horsemanship and Riding curriculum is that our youth need more education! As a coach of an IEA team having students participating from barns from all across our area, one thing rang true....top riders and competitors didn't know as much as I assumed about basic horse care. The kids who went through any of these lessons admitted they learned a lot more than they thought they would and were shocked as I was at the lack of basic knowledge that is often just "assumed" top riders have because they win "blue ribbons"
Blue ribbons are a misconception of actual knowledge. Riding skill is just one piece of the pie that makes up a well-rounded horsewoman or horseman! Honestly, it's a small piece of the pie, unless you have the funds and money to "cheat" in my opinion and buy the whole pie. Paying to play does cheat learning the whole story and having a complete toolkit and skillset to help you truly stand out- on your own. So that you can make the pie yourself, from scratch!
This year, I discovered a bad spot in the pie. I discovered a spot that isn't aligned to our vision of well-rounded horsemanship here at Meadowthorpe or for the Memphis Youth Equestrian Team. I discovered that my passion had back-fired. My attempt to give kids an opportunity to horse show through IEA was still catering mostly to those who can afford to "pay to play". Because of the format with so many newbies coming into the sport through this entry point, many of my team members are getting more focused on competition and developing and unrealistic expectation of what good horsemanship really is. Even worse, the format so grossly skews the amount of work and preparation that REALLY goes into getting a horse to a show....and the work afterwards. Kids can just show up, dress up, get on the horse, ride, dismount, and boom, done.....
EXCEPT FOR THE HORSE OWNERS AND THOSE PROVIDING HORSES FOR USE AT THIS FORMAT......
Parents and kids get to pack it up, leave, and skip on out, leaving the "horsemanship" and horse care up to others.....
Hum....this is a misrepresentation of priorities that we want our clients to learn and isn't serving horses in the manner we prefer....
Horses are NOT machines to be used, used, and used again for benefit of a blue ribbon pursuit. At least, not here. Not with my team, and not on my horses! Parents and kids are wanting to put the cart before the horse and insisting on jumping more, jumping higher, riding longer, cantering sooner, skipping to higher divisions because they want to keep up with their friends, or because other barns they ride at don't have the strict safety guidelines we do and are letting riders do things that quite frankly, are unsafe! If you can't stay on a horse without stirrups at a trot, insisting on cantering and even jumping on MY horses will quickly and consistently get you a "NO". Here's why"
Events we offer will be merit-based. You do the work, you perform the required milestones, you get the privilege of next steps on horses owned and provided by us in our program and at this farm. Pay to play doesn't work here without the work and effort and milestones put in too.
Participation and use of our time will be offered to those who give back to horses and our community by participation in the new BridgeUpGiddyUp program with our partner Global Equestrian counterparts. This program offers diversity and inclusion in our local community by providing 48 deserving students from the Whitehaven community access to equestrian education and riding. Collaboration is the real world. Our group will experience how to collaborate with the many different faces and backgrounds from our community gathered together because of our passion for horses. Diversity makes us better and more enlightened....real world lesson #3.
More to come. This is just the tip of the iceberg for us in 2022. But seems a fitting close for this post. Hope to see many of you stick around for the ride...AND the ground lesson!