What makes a great rider? Is it something that some people are born with or is it more to do with knowledge and skill acquired through lots of practice?
It is also worth nothing that the definition of a great rider is very subjective. To one person it might simply mean having the ability to comfortably control a horse and ride smoothly whereas another person might define it as someone who competes at a high level in an equestrian sport. Whatever the definition there are some specific traits that we commonly see in riders who are generally accepted as highly skilled and talented.
The following list details the traits, skills, and qualities that we think many great riders share:
1. Problem Solver
As a horse rider you will regularly encounter issues and problems that require a solution. For example your horse may develop a bad habit when riding that you will need to address. The solution for such a problem may not be straight forward and will require you to try various different things before something works. For example it may be a tack issue, behavioural, or even rider error. As a problem solver you need to be able to step back and analyse the problem and select an appropriate course of action.
This ability to problem solve as a horse rider is underrated as a skill. It requires experience, knowledge, and a persistence that many riders lack initially.
From my own experience this is the most common trait of top level competitors and athletes in most sports and disciplines. The desire to keep showing up and persisting with practice even when you don’t really feel like it is crucial if you are to excel. So many people take up horse riding as a hobby but so few actually stick with it in the long run. The people who do not stick with it will usually have a legitimate excuse about why they can no longer ride. However the person who goes on to truly excel may also have these same obstacles and reasons to stop but instead choose to keeping going. This drive to persist ensures that they maintain a consistent momentum of practice and learning for many years which ultimately makes them a superior rider. It is that simple.
3. Fitness & Conditioning
In horse riding you can get away with a certain level of deconditioning and still be able to ride to a good standard. However excess weight, lack of strength, limited mobility, and poor cardiovascular health all limit your ability to excel as a rider. A healthy well balanced diet, and a customized strength and condition program under the supervision of an experienced trainer will ultimately help you reach your true riding potential. Better physical health will also improve your reaction times and will also improve your cognitive ability which will keep you sharper in the saddle.
4. Willingness to Learn
This means that you regularly study your own form and skillset in an attempt to identify gaps and areas that can be improved. A willingness to learn in horse riding means that you also take note of good riders and attempt to identify things that they do that could be incorporated into your own way of riding.
5. Ability to find and Create Strong Learn Environment
Becoming a great rider is something that is very hard to achieve on your own. Like any discipline it is very important to find a good mentor who can help to develop your skills. It is also a good idea to try and surround yourself with other people who have the same goals and mindset as you.
You may be lucky and already have a family member or close contact that has sufficient knowledge to help you to become a great rider. However in most cases you may need to search a bit further to find the right mentor and learning environment if you are to reach your potential.
6. Ability to stay calm
Horse riding can be a very emotional past time. You will have off days and you will have other days where you feel invincible. You will encounter challenging situations and will feel many highs and lows. The ability to maintain your composure through these all emotions is key trait that many top riders exhibit.
If you compete then it is likely that your level of stress will significantly increase in the lead up to a competition. An ability to stay calm and handle the stress will ultimately result in a better performance.
Top Horse riders have a confidence that allows them to ride uninhibited. This confidence is usually the result of years of experience and knowledge developed from consistent practice and learning. A confident rider does not have the same fear of the outcome when they ride and this allows them to be present in the moment. This presence of mind means that the rider has full focus on the task at hand.
Rider confidence is immediately sensed by the horse. They can feel it in our aids, balance, body language, breathing and others ways of which we are not be aware.
Personality type is a factor in confidence and some people will naturally be more confident than others even when they have a similar level of technical skill. However confidence is something that can be built through time, practice, and coaching.