No matter your age, riding level, or discipline, there are many ways you can improve your abilities as a junior rider —and a lot of them take place outside the saddle. Whether your goal is to make it to ASPCA Maclay Finals, ride or train professionally one day, or just better enjoy time spent with your horse, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your horsemanship and become a more competent equestrian. Here are just a few.
1. Study Up
Ask the best professional riders in the business and they’ll tell you: you never stop learning. As a young rider, now is the time to soak up as much knowledge as you can about all things horse-related—from horse health and anatomy, to management and care, training techniques for your discipline, and more. Ask your coach for a list of his or her favorite riding books and videos;watch as many rounds as you can at horse shows, on competition livestreams, and on YouTube. Next, put your know-how to the test through taking annual quizzes such as the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Stable Challenge.
2. Train Your Body—and Your Mind
Riding is a technical sport, but it’s also a physical and mental. Developing healthy habits outside the saddle is essential to improving. Working on your fitness, stamina, and core strength at home or inthe gym will help you meet every challenge you face in the ring head-on. Consider strengthening your mental game alongside your physical one, by working with a sports psychologist or mental coach to build your confidence, manage fear or stress, and more fully enjoy what you do.
3. Become a “Joiner”
One of the best parts about being a junior: taking advantage of the wide range of riding groups and teams available to young equestrians of all ages, levels, and disciplines.Here are some of the most well-known national organizations from coast to coast, but ask your trainer about recommended groups for your specific discipline or local area as well:
• 4-H : For more than 100 years, 4-H, delivered by Cooperative Extension, has offered juniors the chance to engage with a hands-on curriculum focused on raising and showing horses and developing life skills for Grades 3-12. https://4-h.org/parents/curriculum/horse/
• Pony Club: The largest equestrian educational organization in the world, Pony Club is dedicated to all-things safety, sportsmanship, and fun-related in equestrian sports, and is available to kids of all ages. https://www.ponyclub.org/Discover.aspx
• Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA): A great option for kids without the financial means or ability to lease or buy a horse of their own, IEA gives juniors in hunt seat, western, and dressage the opportunity to develop their riding skills while becoming a part of a competitive riding team. Additionally, it’s great training for those juniors who aspire to oneday ride on a college team. https://www.rideiea.org/• Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund/USHJA Emerging Athletes Program (EAP) – As part of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA), the Emerging Athletes Program (EAP) gives aspiring junior riders across five zones the opportunity to work with top hunter/jumper clinicians and some of the country’s leading stable managers during five-day, Regional Training Sessionsand at select clinics and competitions around the country. https://www.ushja.org/foundation/how-we-help/ushja-program-support
4. Details, Details, Details
At the top of every sport, the devil is in the details, and equestrian events are no exception;from clean tack and proper turnout at shows, towell fed, managed, groomed, and conditionedhorses. This starts with a dedication to the basics of good horsemanship, but extends much further than that. In your own day-to-day, you can ensure your boots are polished, your horse’s coat gleams (thanks elbow grease!), and that you’re organized, prepared, and on time for riding lessons. Paying attention to the details of your craft shows respect, not only to your judge or trainer, but to the people in your life that support you, and most important of all, the horses that make it all possible. At the end of the day, a little extra effort can go a lotfurther than you might think.
5. Embrace Your Inner Barn Rat
There is no better time to be a barn rat than your junior years. Soaking up that extra time at the stable can help to improve your riding skills in the process. If you don’t have or lease a horse of your own, or you’re looking to earn a couple extra rides on the side, ask your trainer if he/she would consider trading working student hours for lessons or additional horses to hack. Many may be open to working with you in exchange for grooming horses, assisting with lessons, cleaning tack, or mucking stalls. The best news?No time spent at the barn will ever be wasted!