lthough I loved horses from an early age, my mother was convinced that my personal safety would be compromised should I set foot into a barn. And so, I made do satisfying my interest in all things horses, with a wistful dream and a child’s imagination.
Determinedly, I set up jump courses crafted out of furniture, gymnastic mats, and other pieces of rejected fixtures that had been relegated to the basement to gather dust. I also collected instructional riding books from the library and read them cover to cover, voraciously. I learned the concept of posting at the trot, how you’re always supposed to lead the horse from the left side, and how you should be appropriately mounted on a horse for your size and ability.
My parents had a small workout station in the basement. It wasn’t much — just a bench, some dumbbells, and one set of cable weights with various attachments for versatile use. One night, I sat astride the workout bench, the dog-eared pages of my favorite “how to” book open next to me. I grasped the cables attached to the weights and fumbled with my hand position, attempting to learn how to hold the “reins” as pictured in the book. The next night, I fashioned stirrups out of a jump rope and slung my invention over the bench so I could practice posting. Sadly, the bench was too low to the ground, and the only iteration of real stirrups I could manage were what could be considered racing length.
Several years later as a teenager, I took my first riding lesson. I won’t say that my workout bench horse was instrumental in helping me with my riding (how could it be?), but what did help was the reading and the knowledge I’d obsessed over for years before even setting foot in a real stirrup.
Photo by Stefano Grasso for NoelleFloyd.com.
Now, two decades removed from the little girl jumping courses built of household items, I find myself once again in a similar situation: The horse, gone. Coaches, gone. The barn family, gone. Two years ago, I sold my off-the-track Thoroughbred to a talented young rider and stepped away from the sport. Finances mostly prompted the break, as is commonly the story, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss the riding as much as I thought I would. Yet I’ve always had a natural sense of curiosity and a desire to learn as much as I can about the subjects that interest me. This includes the art of riding, of training a horse, of completing feats of athleticism I could only dream of. That desire didn’t leave with my horse as he got on the trailer bound for his new home. And so, though I’m still removed from truly wanting to dive back into the sport (it’s nice to see more than $3 in my bank account. I’m hesitant to go back, truth be told), my thirst for knowledge hasn’t dried up.
All of this to say: if you find yourself without a horse or a way to ride, removed from the sport you came to love, or otherwise without opportunity, don’t despair. Resolve to never stop learning. Resolve to stay “in” it, even when you aren’t “in” it. Here are a few of my favorite ways to learn and participate in the sport, no horse necessary.1. Watch Live Streams
If you’re not currently riding or competing, live streams are your best friend. Watching live streams serves a dual purpose. Not only are you absorbing information from commentary and from pure observation, you’re also helping equestrian sports grow.
Live streams are becoming more accessible for all disciplines and bringing the sport to a wider audience. While some of these streams may charge a nominal fee, consider supporting it. After all, funding matters, and without it the stream may no longer be offered.
That aside, there is so much to be gleaned from a live stream. Between commentary from accomplished riders (have you ever listened to Karen O’Connor or Ian Stark analyze a five-star cross-country day?), the opportunity to watch riders from multiple angles, and the access to disciplines other than your own, the learning potential is truly limitless.
2. Attend Clinics
If there are any clinics offered in your area, get off the couch and go audit. Clinics are like free courses for the hungry rider looking for education. Additionally, many clinic organizers are grateful to have extra hands on deck! Offer to set jumps for a clinic or show up early to help set up the dressage court — your efforts will not go unnoticed.
One thing I like to do is identify a rider in the clinic who resembles my body type and/or riding style, and watch them during their lessons. Or look for a horse who seems to be my “type” of ride and watch how the clinician helps that horse improve over time.
Photo by Ben Clark for NoelleFloyd.com.
However you choose to audit, watch the clinic actively. Look for what the clinician is talking about when they make a correction. Don’t simply let your eyes glaze over or scroll through your Instagram feed while the clinician teaches. Listen. Take notes. Take video. Review it all again later. Just because you’re not riding in the clinic doesn’t mean you’re not learning how to be a better rider.
3. Become a Bookworm
In today’s social media-focused age, it seems that the concept of sinking your teeth into a nice piece of great writing has faded in favor of instant gratification and filters. Don’t underestimate the value of taking the time to read.
Pick up a copy of Doug Payne’s “The Riding Horse Repair Manual” or Charlotte Dujardin’s biography, “The Girl on the Dancing Horse.”
Save articles that stand out to you from equestrian media outlets (hint: Noelle Floyd’s Masterclass program is also a great educational tool). Take the time to sit down, without distraction, and read, even if it’s for 10 minutes while you wait for your Uber. Added benefit: reading is a great tool to teach the mind to focus, a version of mindfulness in itself.
4. Ask Questions — Lots of Them
At the end of the day, we’re all stumbling around the corners of this small world together, figuring it out one step at a time. No one has every answer, and no question has just one single correct answer.
While you’re learning, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Did a rider you respect post a gymnastic exercise that looks interesting, but you struggle to understand what the exercise is meant to improve? Send them a message and ask! Worst case, they don’t respond. Best case, you get a golden nugget of advice from a rider you look up to.
Attending a clinic and having a hard time grasping one of the exercises? Wait until an appropriate time and ask! Instructors and clinicians are teachers — just because you don’t have a horse, you are not excluded from the ability to learn and ask questions.
5. Become a Superfan
I’m a self-professed eventing nerd. These days, my weekends are filled with live streams instead of competing. I love attending shows as a spectator and soaking in the atmosphere without the fuss of having to worry about preparing my own horse. And each year, I still try to make it to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day to watch in person. Want to go next year? Start saving those vacation days!
These fans pulled out all the stop at the Rio Olympics. Photo by Erin Gilmore for NoelleFloyd.com.
Remember: Being involved in horses and being part of the community doesn't only mean having your own horse or taking tons of lessons. Opportunity is always available to those who are looking for it. Do your best to have an open mind and look for those opportunities, whether it’s volunteering at a show, getting a job assisting the show photographer, or even making some side cash braiding at competitions. You could also look into dipping your toe into some other sports — I might be taking a few polo lessons this summer!
Of course, all of these tips are applicable to those who are actively riding and competing, too. Even the best riders in the world still ask for help, take lessons, and learn.
In our sport, there is always something new to learn and opportunities to be around horses and horse people. And one day, when you’re ready, you’ll be that much more prepared for your next horse and your next adventure in life.
If you’re currently horseless or taking a break from riding, tell us, how do you stay connected to the sport?
Read this next: I Tried to Convince Myself That Horses Were Part of My Past
Feature graphic by Cadre Collective for NoelleFloyd.com.