Just a few short weeks ago 27 horses entered the ring for the Academy WTC 11 and Older Championship at the North Carolina State Championship Horse Show. Yes, you read that correctly…27 horses in academy. No splits here, and everyone came out happy, healthy, and exhilarated.
Much of the credit goes to those 27 American Saddlebreds who did what they do best, proving that they are a noble and trustworthy mount for children and adults alike. But in addition to their fabulous horses, these academy riders had another amazing asset to anyone honing their riding skills – a rail full of “always at the ready” trainers and instructors.
Now I grant you many of these instructors had a couple, if not multiple, entries in this class, but each rider seemed to feel confident and supported with their instructor nearby to add words of encouragement such as “perfect,” “YESSS!” “You GOT it,” and “you are FINE.” These words of positivity were interspersed with words of, shall we say, motivation? “Sit a bounce,” “LOOK AROUND,” “Shorten up,” “more snaffle,” and “bump, bump,” to name a few.
Trainers and riding instructors, especially those that teach new riders, have a language all their own. This personalized language helps their riders to identify their instructor’s voice and translate the instruction from the stable to the show ring. You can tell an instructor on the rail by their lightning quick movement through rail side traffic jams, their ability to leap fretting Show Moms in a single bound, all while exhibiting the instructor stance…a combination head tilt with crossed arms and balled fists.
They use a multitude of metaphors, such as, “don’t drop your ice cream cones” for hand placement. They are sign language masters more skilled than any Major League catcher in a World Series final game. They point they, smile, they wave, they hold up a numerous fingers, they make “X” marks and they whistle like songbirds. The ever-popular V is for victory, and L is used to identify how elbows should be placed. They even invoke auto racing: “STAY IN YOUR LANE,” “trim the end,” “go in strong” and countless others. It is amazing how little use of full sentences is needed to convey instructions to even the smallest rider.
These skilled professionals have managed to provide novice academy riders with a support system as they enter the show ring for their first show. They hone the skills of an intermediate rider to begin to sense their own missteps and to correct them with verbal triggers. For the experienced rider this rail-side interaction provides always welcomed fine-tuning and support.
This support will be most appreciated at the National Academy Championship Finals in Murfreesboro, Tennessee this weekend. For academy riders it is the crowning moment of their season, where the good become great and the great become champions thanks to the support and dedication of their amazing instructors and trainers.
If you stand rail-side at Tennessee, you may hear some of my personal “Things Trainers Say” favorites: “Dog Bone Pattern, Dog Bone Pattern,” “Stop sticking on that rail like Velcro, get out and get seen,” “Get out there and ride…you can’t just sit on the horse and look pretty, this is not a pageant,” “Are you even aware you are on a horse?” “pray A LOT, A WHOLE LOT” “There are no drippy eyes at a horse show,” “Your horse tried his best to win, you did your best to talk him out of it,” and one of my favorites ever…“I am so proud of you!”
These trainers and instructors give so much with limited financial rewards; they pour who they are into these kids. They remember that they were once horse kids and their greatest joy is to inspire another lover of the American Saddlebred. They speak a language to young riders that sits in their heart for years, and possibly a lifetime.
In fact, as someone who is not a rider, I still hear my daughter’s beloved trainer in my ear when my day is not going well saying, “Sit a bounce.” It reminds me that when life’s rhythm is off a beat there is always a chance to correct it.