What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

I was reading through some COTH forums the other day, and for whatever reason a topic that kept coming up to the top of the list was beginner riders wanting to go Grand Prix. I think I saw 3-4 different posts about that- either from novice riders asking for advice on how to achieve that, or more experienced riders wondering if the desire to go big-time is a phenomenon in other sports as well (the consensus is yes, lots of people like to dream big no matter the sport).

I obviously scrolled through all of them hoping to glean some useful information to make it to the big leagues. There was definitely some great advice on putting in the hard work, setting incremental achievable goals, finding a good network to work with, etc. And it was heartening to see people giving realistic but positive advice- we all start somewhere, and it’s great to have ambitious goals no matter what level you’re currently at! But I realized- if I had gotten that advice a few years ago, it would not have resonated as much. Not because I’d want to ignore it, but because I didn’t have the experience to understand and internalize it.

You will learn, young grasshopper

So I’m going to address my post to the 2015 version of Olivia, who hadn’t competed in 10 years, had rarely (if ever) jumped over 2’6″, but knew she wanted to do big things. Here’s a few things I didn’t know I didn’t know.

  • Moving up in jump height is not as simple as “improve my eq and be brave enough.” It is only that to a certain point. After that, there are other factors. Having the right horse who can handle the height (and providing adequate care to said horse so they can comfortably do the job), creating a fitness plan for you AND the horse to be strong enough, being able to feel when you have the perfect canter to jump from, developing a consistent eye to the fences, learning how to handle the “drop” as the arc of the jump changes. Heels down and eyes up can take you far, but you need other skills too. I had no idea what those skills were, let alone how to attain them.
  • Holes in flatwork will show up in jumping. I treated my flatwork as a warmup for the jumping, and was happy to rush through it. It was only when I started taking this more seriously and working on real brokeness on the flat that our abilities over fences truly grew. Watch the dressage riders- they’re onto something.
  • You get what you pay for. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s bad- but pretty often the more expensive piece of equipment is more expensive for a reason. It’s worth paying for quality. That being said, there’s no need to break the bank on the most expensive trendy brands. There’s a middle ground of reasonably priced, good quality gear.
  • Know what’s important to you, and cling tenaciously to that. I used to want to move up in jump height, and was willing to ride anything to make that happen. Now I know that my biggest priority is safety. I still hope to continue moving up the levels, but I will only do so on a horse that I can feel safe riding. If it turns out that I can’t handle the blood of a horse at that level, then I will not ride at that level. Simple as that. Safety trumps moving up.
This is really only fun when it’s with a horse I trust [PC: Tracy]
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a really great trainer. I knew that I liked my lessons with my trainer and got great value out of them, but in the years since I have gotten SO MUCH more out of our relationship than one hour a week in lessons. She has worked with me to set achievable but ambitious goals, helped me lay out a plan financially to pay the bills that come along with pursuing those goals, introduced me to a network of horsewomen, talked extensively about the greater industry as a whole, lent her perspective as an R judge, and shared advice that I’ve even applied to my life outside of riding. A good trainer won’t just teach you how to ride well, they will help forge a path for whatever it is you want to do with that improved riding.
  • Be ready to obsess. Obsess about your tack, about your equipment, about your schedule, about your fitness, about your finances. Getting better takes time, and if you want it to happen faster you have to be willing to obsess. A lesson every week is great. Two is better. Two lessons plus a pro ride for your horse is even better than that. Obsess over finding the right tack, and then let it be. Until you need to change it, and then obsess over figuring out the right change. Create ever-more-elaborate financial tracking tools, because this sport ain’t cheap and improving doesn’t just take time, it takes money. Obsessively track your progress to ID the problems you didn’t know you had, and then obsess about fixing them. Obsess about your horse’s conditioning and soundness, because he’s the ticket to all of this.
  • Be ready to sacrifice. That time and money you want to invest in this sport will inevitably be taken away from other things. It is possible to have it all, but it depends on how you define “having it all.” I thought I would be that flawless girl with a thriving career, glowing social life, steadily moving up the ranks at shows, and well rested. Turns out I get to pick 2.
As I work remotely from horse shows, I’ll let you guess which two those are

The last and biggest one: someday, you’ll know all this, and you’ll start to know what you don’t know. Stay humble, ask questions, show up. There’s no guarantee that you’ll achieve every goal you thought you had, but that knowledge will open doors and help you understand what goals you truly want to set.

Tell me: what did you not know you didn’t know? What advice would you give your younger self on pursuing your dreams?

30 thoughts on “What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

  1. Liz 04/11/2018 / 8:34 am

    I love this. What a well thought out and written post. Definitely makes me think about the same question for myself. If I can put words to the great thoughts, I’ll do a post!


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 9:24 am

      I hope you will, you have such a diversity of experiences that I love to read about!!


  2. Emily 04/11/2018 / 8:42 am

    The one thing that stands out to me is, “A great trainer once a month is better than an ok trainer once a week.” (a great trainer as often as possible is best, but life is what it is)

    And, “The horse really doesn’t care what level it’s competing at. Give yourself a break when you need one.”


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 9:25 am

      Amen to both of these! Quality over quantity, and knowing where the pressure is truly coming from. For sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth 04/11/2018 / 9:15 am

    We need to make this required reading.

    The difference between the aim and kick at 2′ and the adjustments needed to make it through the combinations at 3’6″ is so extreme as to be inconceivable until the first time you fall off because you didn’t have enough stride to get out of the one stride!


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 9:26 am

      Agreed wholeheartedly! You also managed to name my big bugaboo haha- combos are HARD man!!!


  4. Holly 04/11/2018 / 10:01 am

    YUP. To Holly a year ago?
    “You’re going to fall off and get hurt. Actually hurt, not just bruises. And it will impact your entire life and you need to be prepared for that. It’s going to suck and you’re going to cry and pout, but you need to not rush things. Take the time to heal. You only get one body and you can ride for years to come – but not if you ruin your body.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 1:12 pm

      Sending major calcium vibes to your skeleton ❤ Seriously though, yes. Excellent advice.


  5. Centered in the Saddle 04/11/2018 / 10:28 am

    I love everything about this!
    I didn’t know that it would be so hard, and cause so much stress financially until I started trying to do it myself. I also didn’t know that I had so much grit and fierce determination to make it happen anyway.
    Even now, having been at my new barn for a year and a half, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about good horse care. My previous situation was much more about letting horses be more ‘natural’ and now I’ve learned so much about care after workouts, from when to wrap with poultice, when to use liniment, and even how to use rubbing alcohol. It sounds so basic now but I just had no idea.


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 1:12 pm

      Gah yes- knowing that doing this is a huge test of determination that you didn’t realize was there.


  6. Stacie Seidman 04/11/2018 / 11:28 am

    I’d probably warn me about all the heartache that happens along the way too. Like when you send your entries in for WEF for the first time, but your horse gets hurt. You’ll lose a few thousand dollars, but your horse WILL get better. And it will be worth the wait.
    Or when you lose your equine partner far too soon. But you’ll meet a new one. And you’ll still keep learning and improving and loving with a new horse.
    Also, sometimes you have to change your goals to suit what you’re horse’s goals might be. Even though he CAN easily jump 1.5m, he may prefer to do the 3′ equitation. Happens! The choice is tough: sell the horse and find one that wants to meet your goal, or keep him around and change your focus.
    And also the importance of your village. It’s not just a trainer (which you’ve touched on) or just a vet or farrier. Or just a riding buddy. They’re super important in achieving your riding goals. And that riding buddy? Probably the most important, because they’re your therapist.


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 1:57 pm

      Oh man, all of this. Especially that last bit- my barn bestie has been there for all the highs and lows, and seen us at our best and our worst. And they get it more than anyone else does, because they care too.


  7. Genny - A Gift Horse Blog 04/11/2018 / 2:49 pm

    This is so good, and so hard. This sport is not just taxing physically, but mentally, financially, and emotionally as well.


    • hellomylivia 04/11/2018 / 3:04 pm

      For real, there are so many ups and downs in so many aspects. I should’ve added “keep a sense of humor” haha


  8. Tracy 04/12/2018 / 7:11 am

    Great post! I’ve found that there’s SO MUCH I don’t know, but it excites me — I want to learn! I want to grow and I want to improve.


    • hellomylivia 04/12/2018 / 7:54 am

      Isn’t that the best feeling?? Of just being hungry to learn. Love that!


  9. jkberger1006 04/12/2018 / 9:27 am

    I saw some of those posts on COTH too. This is a great response. So many good points. It’s easy to be that person caught up in a goal, but with this sport there are SO MANY facets to it. It helps to know there’s people out there like me, and that goals can change and that’s OK. Everyone is struggling with lots of similar things, and time-it takes so much time (and $). And to know that I’m not the only OBSESSIVE horseparent out there when it comes to their animal-but then to leave it behind when its over.And most importantly-when we do all the things-we will continue to grow and learn. Sometimes I think Im’m stuck-but I won’t be stuck for long! Cheers to learning and enjoying the journey!!


    • hellomylivia 04/12/2018 / 9:29 am

      Yes to all of this! I think it’s natural for goals to change and evolve over time- life happens, priorities shift, remaining static is almost impossible. And really good point- progress can sometimes plateau, but the learning keeps going!


  10. L. Williams 04/17/2018 / 12:12 pm

    Very, very true! Great lessons to take away. I know the more I learn about riding and horse care the humbler I become and the more I realize I need to know. I know personally early on I knew it would all be extremely hardwork and I’m personally happy I was never demoralized by it.


    • hellomylivia 04/17/2018 / 12:44 pm

      That takes a lot of fortitude to understand the mountain of work it takes, but still be eager to tackle it. Rewarding for sure, but definitely daunting.


  11. Rachel - For Want of a Horse 05/08/2018 / 3:56 pm

    This may be one of your best posts yet! One thing I would tell younger self would be that progress is not linear. You will soar at times, get confident, then fall and be humbled. You will gain, lose, and gain confidence multiple times but never give up!


    • hellomylivia 05/09/2018 / 9:10 am

      So glad you liked it! And that’s SUCH good advice- those breakthroughs and confident moments make all the pitfalls and setbacks worth it ❤


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