Riding, and the Practice Dilemma

“Hey cabbie”, goes the old joke, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice”, answers the Cab Driver

It`s no deep dark secret that a key method for the acquistion of skill sets is to repeat and repeat the action until the person “owns” the skill. Two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, declared, “For things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

This is true in sports, in music, in writing, in public speaking, probably in stacking cans of peas on a grocery shelf.

Which bumps the aspiring rider face first into a hard dilemma. The rider may need to jump thousands of jumps to develop timing, feel, precision, and correct form in the air, or the rider may need hours of sitting trot without stirrups to acquire the independent seat, we basically know this is true. However—-A golf ball doesn`t care how often you hit it, a piano doesn`t care how many hours you pound on its keys, but a horse DOES care how hard you ride him.

If a rider has only one “practice vehicle”, one horse, it limits the amount of available practice time to what the one horse can take, both physically and mentally. When Jack Le Goff described the old cavalry school method of endless drill, he wasn`t talking about riders with just one horse. Each aspirant was allocated a string. When one horse got tired, you hopped on the next.

Many of our top riders, similarly, jump more fences in a week, on a string of horses, than most riders with one horse, jump in a month. That`s a simple, but depressing reality. The rider needs the practice time, but the one horse can`t provide it.

It`s not as if there`s any magic answer. The aspiring rider either has to find a way to ride more hours each day, each week, each month, or progress will be slower than that made by those with more saddle time. Don`t get bogged down by the the word “fair”, as in “It`s not “fair” that Carol has 7 to ride, and I have 1″ Instead of worrying about what is or isn`t fair, study this conundrum, and figure out how to solve it.

How well you solve this will probably determine almost more than your skill and desire how far you`ll be able to climb.



Filed under In the News

3 responses to “Riding, and the Practice Dilemma

  1. Lena Lopatina

    Dear Mr. Emerson,

    I understand this is off topic, but you have a huge experience and I was hoping for an advice. Let me start but honestly saying that I am proud owner of the book, and I believe it is the best book for the rider I have even read, and it is the most inspirational book for the rider too.
    I don’t have very much experience yet. This spring I had a pretty bad fall but it never stopped me from the riding. But last Sunday something very sad happened. My first and most loved (omitting very promising and talented) gelding passed away. It was a terrible accident. May be it could have been prevented may be not, it is hard to tell. But the pain of loosing him, the fear of loosing other horses, the wonder if I could have prevented it, and the worse fact that I can’t change it really holding me down, and making it hard to go back to the barn. I assume you have heard a lot of stories about situations like that. What would be your advice? I would really appreciate the advice, and I am sure it will be valuable for a lot of readers and riders.


    Lena Lopatina

    • Hi Lena,
      You aren`t alone in feeling stunned and defeated and hopeless at the sudden death of a horse. The first thing I would say, is take some time to get accustomed to this hard new reality. Take some time to recover. I`ve had this happen a few times over the last 55 years, and every single time, my first reaction was like yours, too much pain, so just wanted to get away from horses.

      The pain will get better, probably not entirely, but better. When you want to start to reinvolve with horses, you will know. Don`t think you should be Superwoman, and just be able to shrug it off, and get back to business as usual. Allow yourself some time to heal.

      If you didn`t feel this way, I think that would be unusual.

      • Lena Lopatina

        Dear Mr. Emerson,

        Thank you for words of wisdom. Feeling support from people that have been through alike situations is encouraging.

        Thank you

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