Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Thoughts on hard work

I follow Tamarack Hill Farm on Facebook - I know a lot of you blogger friends have talked about Denny's style before, but I wanted to add my own thoughts.

I love his posts. They're take no holds, bull forward, sensible horsemanship. Or life-man-ship really, because the stuff he talks about? It's applicable to any skill.

He writes:
You think it's a fluke? The greatest riders are the most dogged, inveterate practicers.
Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of jumps later, and, guess what? Suddenly, you are a good jumper rider.
What is it about this simple reality that so many fail to grasp?
And then later today I see:
Brooke Stevens Stebner: "And a large part of those thousands and thousands of jumps is having lots and lots of horses to do them on. Unfortunately not a lot of people have the opportunity to gain that access. I was lucky enough to have people who helped me, but I could never have done it otherwise."
The above is Brooke's reply to a post I wrote about the best riders being the most die hard practicers. Brooke, I am NOT picking on you, but I have to say that your response is typical of those I get when I stress the importance of practice. INVARIABLY someone will reply, as you did, that you can't practice if you don't have horses upon which to sit, and in this you are entirely correct.
Where I take issue is that these responses imply that only the sponsored or the rich get the opportunities.
Over the last 30-40 years, I can't tell you how many barn owners have told me, over and over, that they have BEGGED kids to do extra barn work, in exchange for being allowed to ride more horses, to spell the normal workers, and far more often than not, the kids WILL NOT DO IT.
They have proms or sleepovers or parties or shopping or whatever kids do, and they squander the chances given them to work for rides.
Ask people who have horses they need exercised how many kids will show up in any reliable way.
By the time I hit 21, I figured out a while ago, I had ridden about 60 different horses. And I owned Paint, Bonfire, Lippitt Sandy, Lippitt Raymond and Lighting Magic between the ages of 10 and 21. The others I "begged, borrowed or stole" rides on.
You can take "no" for an answer, or you can buy into that Yiddish saying, "No for an answer I already got."
Meaning if you ask to ride a horse, and the owner says "no", you are no worse off than if you hadn't asked. But so often, when I asked, I got "yes", and it gave me the chance to ride another horse. So, what will it be, give up, or hustle rides? For me, there was never a flicker of doubt.
I rode every school horse at Stoneleigh School when the girls were on vacation. Clyde Taylor let me ride the Smith College School horses. I rode about a dozen Lippitt Morgans when I worked at the Green Mountain Stock Farm. Mac Williamson let me ride some, so did Bob Lamb. Joe Mc Laughlin let me ride lots of the Hitching Post camp horses. Oliver Ferguson, Betty Booth, Lester Welsh, Mrs Hilts, same, same. All of the kids I rode with, we'd swap horses. Any chance, you grab it.
You want it, you go get it.
I am very lucky to have the students I have - they work hard, they listen, they accept coaching gracefully.

Earlier this year I read this lovely post on working students:
10 Tips for working students:
By Kimberly Bench, Benchmark Dressage
Hudsonville, MI
1. Never get caught doing nothing. If you think you have “nothing” to do, pick up a broom and start sweeping or de-cobwebbing
2. Always pay attention. If you see something that needs to be done, don’t wait for someone to ask, just do it.
3. Be indispensable. If you want to be kept around for a long time and given opportunities, make yourself a “can’t live without her” asset. Once you know your trainers routine and how he/she likes things done, always try to be 2 steps ahead. Have that horse ready BEFORE she has to wait while you finish tacking. If you notice he/she walked to the arena without their gloves, bring them out before they even notice they are missing them!
4. Open ears, closed mouth. You will learn a LOT by listening and observing. Even just being around the barn while chores are done can be a learning experience. From bandaging to emergency care to a specific way to clean a stall…you’ll constantly be learning. You are not there to show us how much you already know, you are there to learn MORE. And if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you may even get to cool out that top horse!
5. Be reliable. Be on time – no – be early! Show up every day ready to work and plan on being there for your entire shift. Things at the barn almost always run long…. Sticking around until the work is done shows commitment. Commitment shows dedication. Dedication earns respect and respect earns you opportunities.
6. Go above and beyond. If you are asked to clean tack, clean it like it’s going on freakin’ Steffan Peter’s next Olympic horse! Always do better than expected. Those who stick out as the best of the best are the ones who are given more responsibility (read: the FUN stuff).
7. Be patient. Becoming a top trainer does not happen overnight. Be prepared to do the grunt work for a long time. You aren’t going to be riding the nicest horses in the barn by week or even month 2. Heck, even after you are a “trainer” you will still have to clean stalls sweep aisles.
8. Take advantage of EVERY opportunity. That little stinky, grumpy-ass pony? Ride it if given the chance!! Great riders aren’t made on the backs of easy horses. EVERY horse will teach you something. Sit on EVERY. SINGLE. HORSE. you can get your butt on. Watch your trainer ride and give lessons, you will pick up a lot observing from the corner of the arena.
9. Pay attention to detail. If you are asked to groom a horse, groom him till he SHINES! Prepare that horse like he’s going to a show, even if he’s just going to be lunged. Be thorough; check over every inch of his body from nose to tail to hoof. If you notice something out of the ordinary make sure you let the barn manager or trainer know. Notice a gate that needs attention? Say something. A water bucket is low? Fill it. A fly sheet has a strap hanging? Buckle it.
10. Be grateful. Very few trainers got where they were the easy way. We all started out shoveling poop and hauling hay. Don’t act like you are miserable, under-appreciated or above the hard work. We’ve all been there. It’s called paying your dues. Smile and keep sweeping.
 This is all just a reminder to myself that work is hard and to improve requires fighting for every increment. 


  1. +1

    I ride anything offered to me, I have owned 2 horses and have ridden over 100. I remember as a working student, when trainer left for whatever she did in the middle of the day I bathed lesson horses, cleaned lesson horse tack, practiced wrapping legs, moved trunks and swept underneath them. That was back when my friend whose now a trainer rode the 1st string horses and I rode the second string ones, I was happy to get to ride, I was happy to learn. When I was the only working student I got their early to turnout the turnout horses and lunge the ones that needed lunging or bringing the babies inside to brush them. Happy days.

  2. There are some pretty talented kids at my barn that want to go places, but there are two in particular that will consistently make the time to ride anything and learn anything they can. They are both so mature and focused it's unreal. Both are already successful at a much higher level than their counterparts even though at first look they don't have the advantages of some of the others.

  3. i've definitely been that kid begging to work in exchange for rides, and have done it at tons of random farms. anything and everything.