Congratulations, you’ve decided to take on a new challenge! Learning a new hobby or a new skill is a great way to discover things about yourself. It’s also a great way to re-ignite your passion for something you already enjoy. While the adventure is exciting, it can also come with some frustration as you manage expectations, practice, and gain mastery. To make the process enjoyable, which is usually part of why you’re choosing to try something new in the first place, it pays to be a good beginner.
At the core, a good beginner is coachable. They’re open and receptive to information and they’re engaged. You can break it down even further into specific practices or skills that a good beginner embodies. Learn and commit to these five good-beginner attributes to make your transition from newbie to mastery as fun—and hopefully, as productive—as possible.
Attribute No. 1: Be a Learner
First and foremost, if you’re starting something new, whether you’re a newer rider or experienced and taking up a new discipline, you’ll want to do some research. Research the sport you’re interested in thoroughly, be it reining, ranch riding, trail riding, or Western dressage. Fortunately, online resources make it easier than ever to find the information you need to get started. Read articles and watch videos. If you can find local shows or events, go watch riders do what you want to do.
Experienced riders starting something new will greatly benefit from observing professionals or serious non-professionals. This will help you get an understanding of what’s expected. If you’re a newer rider, an event or show will help you get a sense of the basic attire, setting, and length of the ride. Events and shows are also a great way to pick up the energy of the sport. It’s fun to watch talented riders and horses and this can help you get excited about your own journey.
Read More: Be a Good Beginner
Next, find a trainer or expert to learn from. If you don’t have a network of contacts, search online for well-known trainers. Look for ones that specialize in the discipline that you’re interested in. Even if they’re out of your price or skill range, or you aren’t looking to train your horse, a professional will still be able to steer you in the right direction. They may also make a referral. Even a big-name trainer outside of your area can typically point you to someone nearby.
They can further help you hone your options, so it’s worth making a call. (Find more in “How (and Why) to find a Trainer”) When you talk to any professional, be honest and open in your communication about where you’re at and where you want to go. A good trainer will want to get you there, even if it’s not with them. Then, when you pick someone, be open minded and choose for the best fit. Also, know that you can advance in trainers as your goals and skill-level change.
Attend a Clinic
As you start to get your feet wet, attend or audit a clinic. It’s usually a relatively low-cost way to learn a lot in a short period of time. Most clinicians are knowledgeable and willing to help, even with basic questions or skills. If you can participate in the full clinic with your horse, you’ll also benefit from extra practice time and hands-on experience. If you choose to audit, it’s usually more affordable but you compromise your ability to immediately apply what you learn.
Attribute No. 2: Ask for Help
It can be tempting to want to do it all yourself either because you have a strict budget, or you want to feel accomplished in your personal achievement. Know that getting help will allow you to progress much faster than if you’re on your own. You avoid some of the common pitfalls and have someone who can objectively point out areas for improvement in your riding or your horse. What might take you a decade to learn on your own might only take years with the support of a knowledgeable resource.
If you don’t have a horse specifically suited for the discipline or your goals, you can ask for help to find one. You can often find a suitable lease situation through a trainer or someone within the horse community. If you have the option and experience to care for your own horse, you can ask a professional to accompany you to shop. Typically, the commission for this service is low and the seller is often responsible for paying it. Investing in the right horse, at a price point and skill level that’s appropriate and realistic for you, will make the learning experience more enjoyable.
Along with a trainer, find your community of horse people. Join a club or local show or events association where you can find others in your area who are interested in the same discipline. Most experienced horse people you meet will also guide you if you’re new to riding or to the sport. They can share or connect you to resources, whether that’s places to find gear, magazines or online articles to read, people to contact, and even horses. They are also a source of support as you work through the kinks at events. From last-minute grooming items you overlooked to sharing their first show stories so you can commiserate in moments of disappointment or celebrate a hard-won success, your community can be a helpful support system.
Learn More: Horse&Rider OnDemand
Attribute No. 3: Be Goal-Oriented
Goals are a great way to stay accountable and motivated to practice, participate, and show up. A trainer or knowledgeable friend can help you set goals that are lofty, yet attainable given your circumstances. Be mindful of your time, finances, and your ability to achieve your goals, and try not to watch the clock. When you’re starting out, it can be tempting to compare yourself to others or your expectations, thinking you’ll have achieved something specific over a given time. This can steal some of the joy. Instead, focus on your own goals and progress, and ignore how long or little it takes.
Work with your trainer or someone trusted who’s experienced to set goals. Along with setting a realistic long-term goal, someone with experience can also help you develop a plan to get there. Long-term goals are best paired with a series of short-term goals, which can
give you a sense of accomplishment along the way as you achieve them. Short-term goals don’t necessarily need to be outcome-oriented either; they’re only intended to challenge you. Something as simple as aiming to ride one more day a week, or attend a lesson or clinic once a month can keep you working toward your bigger milestone.
Attribute No. 4: Be Willing to Work
If you’re an experienced horse person, you know how much time and effort goes into being successful with horses. You know it’s not just about time in the saddle but also the regular care and maintenance that goes into ownership and basic care. If you’re newer to riding, you might be surprised at how much additional time and energy goes into the sport. Like other sports though, it takes practice to become fluent at it. Only time in the saddle and around your horse will help you improve. While everyone is different in terms of how long it takes to master a skill or milestone, everyone must put in time to get better.
Read More: Goals That Get You There
When you put in the work, you expect to experience the outcomes, which is usually when you might become frustrated. Allow yourself to be upset or have those emotions without becoming judgmental of where you’re at or the fact that you’re upset. Since it’s a process, you will build skill over time that may not be readily seen or felt. To keep yourself excited and enjoying the process, try to film yourself occasionally. Video is a great way to track your progress and gives you indisputable feedback for how far you’ve become. Celebrate the changes you see and the work you’ve put in to get there. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency and effort; give yourself grace and enjoy it as much as possible along the way.
Attribute No. 5: You Know When to Have Fun
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. The joy of the hobby of riding is that you get to be on a team with another living, breathing autonomous being. You get to work together to master skills, and perform and develop a relationship with that horse. Even though it can be quite competitive for even non-professionals, you develop friendships with your horse. The people you meet are unforgettable. Plus, it’s not your day-to-day job so you get to embrace the challenge. You can make mistakes, improve, and overcome obstacles without any expectation or pressure. If you can learn to put in the work while embracing the process and not judging yourself, you’ll get the most from your riding journey at every stage.