Learning Horses in College

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By Samantha Andrews

Growing up in love with horses is a special thing. There’s nothing I looked forward to more than lacing up my paddock boots and sliding my half chaps on for my afternoon lesson. I remember days I missed school for being sick, and then crying when my mom told me “If you’re too sick for school, then you’re too sick for the barn.” It was always fun to think about which lesson pony I would be on that day, and to think about what new exercise I would be learning.

Eventually, my first horse came along and we started competing in dressage schooling shows. Even though I had my own horse now, my instructor made me ride her different school horses every other lesson. At the time I didn’t understand why, but she explained that riding as many different horses as possible would make me a better rider in the long run. Now I believe her.

As I began my college career (as an Equine Studies major), I made sure to sign up for the riding class where I would be able to ride three times per week. In the beginning of the semester, my classmates and I rotated horses a lot, while our instructor decided which would be the correct fit for the rest of the semester. As I continued throughout the semesters, I realized those first few weeks weren’t just for the instructor to decide on a horse for us, but for us as riders to learn about each horse and how they were unique as individuals. Each one had different strengths and weaknesses, quirks, and methods of getting out of that difficult ten meter circle. I continued to learn more and more about how to help each horse use their body correctly, and I began having quicker results on every new horse I was riding.

The UNH IDA Team with the UNH lesson horses pose for a photo after practice

In my junior year of college, I decided to try out for the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) Team. I had shown through First Level in high school, at recognized shows, but that was on my personal horse that I’d had for years. At IDA Shows, each rider draws a horse in the morning and watches them warm up for ten minutes while another rider is on them. Then, at their assigned warm-up time, they mount and have exactly ten minutes to correctly get the best work out of the horse that they can before entering the show arena.

My first show was intimidating to me, but I ended with a 68% and a yellow ribbon at the end of the day, which boosted my confidence. As the seasons progressed, I noticed my average percentages slowly climbing at nearly every show. At my most recent IDA competition, I ended the day with a 74% on a horse I’d never ridden before, and took home the High Point Rider Award. Looking back, I thought about all the naughty lesson ponies, the dull school horses, and the steady but demanding schoolmasters I’ve ridden over my career. Although I’ve owned my own horses throughout this process, I will never take for granted the knowledge I’ve gained from all the horses I didn’t know a thing about, but swung my leg over anyway. Trainers are so important to all of us as riders, but so are the lesson horses. Each one can teach us something different.

Whether you are a college student who has the ability to try out for an equestrian team, or an adult amateur taking lessons, don’t take for granted all of the horses around you. Even the ones who aren’t your favorites will teach you something, on any given day. I’m only twenty-two and I have years of learning ahead of me, but I look forward to all the horses I will be able to work with. I will always remain so thankful for IDA and all those lesson horses from my past.

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