Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
What Makes a Good Horse Rider Great?
While there are many good horse riders out there, there are few great ones. Here are a few qualities I believe make a horse rider great.
Qualities of a Great Horse Rider
- They Put in the Time and Take Every Opportunity Possible
- They Watch Others Ride
- They Soak Up Horsemanship Knowledge
- They Are Not Discipline Snobs
- They Are Willing to Take Responsibility
- They Don't Let Ego Get in the Way
- They are Sensitive to the Horse
- They are on a Lifelong Horsemanship Journey
1. They Put in the Time and Take Every Opportunity Possible
The first thing that I think makes a difference is that a great rider is one who is willing to put the time in. The great riders don't miss an opportunity to get on a horse. If their lesson gets canceled, they reschedule it. They prioritize riding in their lives. I'm not saying a great rider can't do anything besides ride—they just prioritize it. They will always choose to ride over other options. If a day comes that it's either ride or do something else, they will choose to ride.
The great riders are not picky about the horses that they will ride. They will ride anything that they are given the opportunity to—good, bad, flashy, homely. The great riders will ride them all, and ride them happily. They will be grateful for the opportunity to try new horses. They know that they can take something with them from every ride. Every horse has something to teach you. The great riders know that and take advantage of it every chance they get.
2. They Watch Others Ride
I don't mean that they just watch their friends jump courses at shows, I mean they watch any skilled rider and study them. Whether in person or pictures in books and magazines, many times, it helps us to understand what things are supposed to look like by seeing it being done. That way, you can save that vision in your head and try to recreate it when you ride.
You watch the cause and effect. You watch other riders and see what works and doesn't work. What do they do that brings out the best in the horse? You watch and see that if they do a certain thing, the horse will respond in a certain way and understand why. They take it all in. They realize you can learn about riding by watching others ride.
3. They Soak Up Horsemanship Knowledge
Great riders soak up the day-to-day horsemanship knowledge and skills they are exposed to.
They watch the vet do a lameness exam on a horse. They hold horses for the farrier and learn about proper shoeing. They spend as much time as they can in the barn, surrounding themselves by good horse people and learning as much as they can.
The great riders will ask questions, they will offer to wrap a leg, or give a horse medication. They do it because they want to get better at all around horsemanship, not just riding.
Great riders realize the importance of all-around horsemanship. They know that without that, they won't know enough about horses to get the best out of them.
4. They Are Not Discipline Snobs
Great riders know that there is more than one way to ride or train a horse. They are open-minded. They love horses and take little bits and pieces of knowledge from all different types of disciplines and trainers. They see the value not only in how they work with horses, but how others do as well, and they learn from it.
They recognize that each discipline requires different specific skill sets, but on a basic level, they know that a horse is a horse, and there is always something to learn. They appreciate all different kinds of riding and the skill it takes to be successful at them.
If given the chance to try a new discipline—whether it be to ride a horse that is trained that way or to watch a show or trainer—they will take it. They love horses, all horses, and to learn as much as they can. They even take things they pick up from other disciplines and come up with ways to use them in their own riding. They never stop learning about horses, horsemanship, and riding, no matter how old they are!
5. They Are Willing to Take Responsibility
A great rider will look at themselves when something is going wrong with their horse. They will look at themselves and what they are doing and be willing to accept the fact that it might be them. They might be doing something to cause the problem—something like riding the horse crooked or giving him the wrong cue. Maybe they are doing something that is allowing the horse to get away with bad behavior. The great riders are willing to take responsibility, and accept that sometimes they are the problem, not the horse.
Then instead of being frustrated with the situation, they just work as hard as they can to get better. A rider that can look at you and say that something happened because of something they did wrong is a great rider. They are willing to accept responsibility and work hard to understand how to do better.
6. They Don't Let Ego Get in the Way
Great riders don't have big egos. They are humble and willing to ask for help if they need it. I have said it before and I will say it again, there is no room for ego in the riding arena. It just prevents learning and gets people hurt.
7. They are Sensitive to the Horse
A great rider is sensitive to the horses. They are attentive to their personalities. They recognize that each horse may respond differently to the same cues. Each horse needs to be treated as an individual.
They know their horses so well that they can tell when something isn't right—even something subtle. They can feel the slightest lameness or change in temperament in their horses.
8. Great Riders Are on a Lifelong Horsemanship Journey
Great riders have realized that horsemanship isn't a journey. They have made a conscious effort to never stop learning and always be open to new things. They check their ego at the door, they do the best they can for their horse on any given day. They admit if they are wrong or if they need help because they don't know the answer.
Great riders take their relationship with the horses and commitment to riding to a whole different level than the good riders do. That is why the great riders go farther on their horsemanship journey. What about you? Are you a good rider or a great rider?
The Rocky Mountain Horse Breed Profile
Learn interesting facts about the Rocky Mountain horse an American horse breed.
Equitrekking interviews Ron Hatcher, a breeder of Rocky Mountain Horses at his Rebel Ridge Farm. Find out what makes the Rocky Mountain Horse unique as an American horse breed. Is this the right horse breed for you?
A rider takes to the trails on her Rocky Mountain Horse, a breed that's known to be sure-footed and easy-gaited.
Raina for Equitrekking: What are the origins of the Rocky Mountain Horse?
Ron Hatcher: The Rocky Mountain Horse originated in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The story is the foundation sire was brought in the late nineteenth century by a traveler returning to his native Virginia. He traded the horse in order to acquire the funds and supplies necessary to get home. As a result, the Rocky Mountain Horse we presently know evolved.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, rural inhabitants of eastern Kentucky used horses during all seasons.
Equitrekking: What are the general conformation characteristics of the Rocky Mountain Horse?
Ron Hatcher: The Rocky ranges from 14.2 to 16 hands. They can be any solid color with limited white on the face and below the hocks. These horses are short backed with a wide chest and a well-set neck. Rocky Mountain Horses also have properly angled rear feet, as they are gaited horses. They have “teacup” chins and “foxed” ears.
A Rocky Mountain Horse under saddle on a trail ride. Throughout history, Rocky Mountain Horses were a mount of choice for postmen, doctors, and traveling preachers in Kentucky.
Equitrekking: How has the Rocky Mountain Horse been used and ridden throughout history?
Ron Hatcher: The horse was originally utilized as a versatile farm animal. They could plow or pull wagons during the week, and then be ridden under saddle to take their owners to town on Saturdays. They safely pulled the family buggy to church on Sundays. This history lends itself to the Rocky motto of “One Horse for all Occasions." Most Rocky owners are trail riders. Rockies are popular for endurance riding and are also seen on the show circuit. The Rocky Mountain Horses have been recognized as a breed since 1986.
Equitrekking: What are some fun facts people may not know about Rocky Mountain Horses?
Ron Hatcher: Today there are approximately 20,000 of these unique horses in the world. Half of them reside in Kentucky, even though they are owned throughout the world. The Rocky Mountain Horse Association wants to spread the word among the equine world. This horse merits consideration. The smooth and lateral four-beat gait not only allows the horse to cover distance without tiring, but is also comfortable for the rider. Baby Boomers are you listening?
Gaited horses were needed for travel where there were no roads in mountainous terrain and thus developed stamina and strength.
Equitrekking: What kind of temperament is this breed best known?
Ron Hatcher: A standard joke among owners is, “You can’t own just one." Once introduced, people tend to “collect” them. These are very people-friendly, rideable horses. My experience is that when startled, they stop rather than bolt. They have an innate ability to adapt to the skill level of their rider. Send the right signal, and enjoy a great relaxing ride. Most Rockies are curious about the field in which they are working. If allowed, they would peer over your shoulder while you work. An owner of another breed, serving as a Rocky show manager, once told my wife, “I’ve seen 200 of your show horses and you have the Labrador Retriever of the horse world."
Equitrekking: What style of rider best suits the Rocky Mountain Horse?
Ron Hatcher: One who enjoys their horse as a reliable companion whose horse comes to the halter and is alert. A rider that enjoys a horse that's not flighty when ridden. Someone who will enjoy the fact that others will admiringly ask, “Is that a Rocky?" They are ridden both English and Western. Plantation style (Saddle Seat) is particularly popular.
A Rocky Mountain being ridden Saddle Seat. This breed is known for its versatility and endurance.
Equitrekking: Has the Rocky Mountain Horse evolved over time?
Ron Hatcher: Responsible breeders always breed to the best they can afford. Hopefully, they aren’t breeding unworthy mares. Breeding is probably more discriminate in economic slowdowns. That being said, our time as a breed has been short, and more effort is rightfully devoted to preservation rather than “change.” The books of our registry are closed to all, except the offspring of registered Rocky Mountain Horses.
Equitrekking: Are there any famous historical Rocky Mountain Horses?
Ron Hatcher: “Tobe,” a stallion owned by Mr. Sam Tuttle, is well known and shows up frequently on pedigree papers.
A rider heads home after a day on the trails.
Equitrekking: What makes the Rocky Mountain Horse unique as a breed?
Ron Hatcher: The Rocky is a naturally gaited, solid color, medium sized horse, known for its friendliness and willingness to please. They are cold blooded and came from an environment requiring durability. The result is a surprisingly stylish, easy keeper with heart.
Rocky Mountain mare and foal, Sugar and Lora Lee.
Equitrekking: What are further resources for people interested in this breed?
Horse care knowledge and riding experience
A rider who is unrealistic at the outset about their ability and confidence may end up “over-horsed” (having a horse beyond the rider’s capabilities) and in difficulty. They can become unable or reluctant to ride the horse and as a consequence the problem escalates.
A rider wishing to improve their riding skills should avoid choosing a young or inexperienced horse. An older horse or schoolmaster (a horse that is appropriately schooled, experienced and a consistent performer in a particular discipline) provides the confidence and experience needed to help a novice or nervous rider improve. Such horses are equally beneficial for the more capable rider who lacks the time to spend training.
A potential first-time keeper should attend a horse care course before starting to look for a horse. Where a pony is intended for a child in an otherwise “non-horsey” household, it is essential that one of the adults in the family attend such a course, as one parent or guardian will be ultimately responsible for the welfare of the animal.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Owning a Horse
Horse ownership can be very exciting and rewarding. The primary benefits from horse ownership are companionship, recreation and relaxation, but many people do not often realize the health benefits that can be gained from owning a horse. Keep in mind that raising and maintaining a horse can be expensive, requires a lot of attention, and requires plenty of land for the horse to run.
Here are the Top 10 from Health Fitness Revolution and author of the book ReSYNC Your Life Samir Becic:
- Keeps you physically active: Riding and other activities that require you to be outdoors in all kinds of weather will certainly keep you moving. Cleaning stalls, grooming, feeding, raking hay, pushing wheelbarrows – all of these barn chores actively burn calories and build muscle.
- It builds self confidence: While horse riding is an independent sport, it’s actually a partnership in which the owner is a teacher and leader who works with the horse. Nothing builds self confidence better than “leadership training.” When you tell a 1,000-pound animal to move in a certain direction, and then to follow you, it’s a feeling of accomplishment that you successfully taught it to do that. And when the horse does not comply, you are responsible for administering the proper discipline. That’s a form of empowerment that’s only found working with large animals.
- Reduces stress: Recent studies have shown that even limited interaction with animals may provide a decrease in blood pressure and in the hormones associated with stress reactions. Physical exercise is a scientifically recognized mediator of stress and it is clear that equine activities may provide exercise, again highlighting the potential for equine activities to reduce stress.
- Keeps you socially active: Taking riding lessons helps you meet many friends with similar interests. Most horse people will attest to meeting their best, life-long friends at the barn. These peers will have the same passion and devotion to horses. That connection creates a stronger bond just in itself.
- Helps disabled individuals stay active: When supervised by certified instructors, riders with disabilities may have the chance to safely perform physical activities with the horse as a tool. Early research is showing that riding a horse may provide physical benefits for people with disabilities. At the same time, interacting with horses may provide mental benefits, as well.
- Engages the creative side of your brain: Training a horse brings up daily challenges that will force you to think creatively about how to train it and how to solve a particular problem. If something worked in the last lesson, but it’s not working now, how else can you solve this issue? Being faced with such situations helps you engage your creativity to solve problems and find what works best.
- Builds character: Character building is a natural part of horse ownership, teaching responsibility, punctuality, sportsmanship, frugality, patience, commitment, confidence and self-esteem.
- It promotes a union with nature: Being outside and enjoying the fresh air can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Plus, the dose of vitamin D you get from being in the sunshine is essential for your body.
- Maintains bone mass: All of the weight-bearing exercise that you do, including hauling barn equipment and carrying saddles, helps maintain bone mass, which important as you age.
- Improves digestion: Riding a horse at a walking pace stimulates the internal organs just as walking on foot does. This aids in liver function and digestion.
Click to read our article on the HEALTH BENEFITS OF HORSEBACK RIDING
Gypsy Vanner History and Origins
The Gypsy Vanner horse’s history begins with the Gypsies of Great Britain, who sought a horse with the strength and build to pull their caravans. They wanted a horse that was not only strong, but that was also mild-mannered, gentle, and easily trained. The Gypsies carefully bred their ideal horse, relying on the Shire and Clydesdale for their size and strength, then incorporating the Dales pony and the Fell pony into the bloodlines.
With time, these horses became more refined and the breed started to solidify. Gypsy Vanners were first brought to America in 1996. That same year, the breed’s registry, the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, was established.