This may come as shocking news to some, but most of the people who learn to ride at Harrogate (or anywhere else for that matter) are not going to go to the Olympics.
In fact, a startling proportion of riders who learn to ride in their youth will not be riding by the time they reach adult hood. Some won’t even be riding by the time they get to college or even by the time they reach high school.
There will be, of course, those who carry on a lifelong habit of riding horses (at Harrogate we call them Janet) but they are the exception, the top of the pyramid so to speak. At the bottom, the base, the entry level; that is where we find the largest numbers of riders.
So, what is the point one might ask? Why poke around in a discipline that really takes a life time to learn? What purpose can it serve to only try for a few short years?
Well clearly, I have an inherent bias about this but my bias comes from watching results through all these years. And over and over again, I watch as young riders evolve. They start where we all start, struggling to communicate, struggling to keep their balance, struggling to coordinate their requests to the horse. So far, that is pretty much like any sport or activity one might decide to dabble in.
The evolution that I love to watch is that moment when the rider realizes that, after basic skill acquisition, riding a horse can be a remarkable mental game. I know I can sound like a broken record about this but the horse desires a leader. He is hard wired that way. When students learn to act in a way that causes the horse to want to trust and follow them, they have acquired a skill that will serve them throughout their life.
The horse does not respond well to being bullied by an incoherent, undisciplined rider. Nor does he react well to signals that are conflicting and confusing. The horse sees through any attempts at phony bravado and is quick to lose his nerve when he senses his rider is losing his.
To be a rider then, is to be brave and strong in character. It is to choose to do the work, even though it is hard. It is to strive for excellence all the time because the goal is worth achieving. To be a rider; to be someone that the horse chooses to follow, is to practice self-control, empathy, and kindness in all activities.
It goes without saying that riding horses is not for everyone. But it seems to me that for everyone who ‘gets it’, riding horses becomes a way of life, even when those days spent in the saddle were spent a long, long time ago.