Riding with a Legend

Every rider remembers their very first instructor, as well as they can remember the very first time they sat on a horse. Every rider can also vividly remember that one trainer that made continuing to ride a struggle. And every rider remembers their “legend” — that one trainer who changed everything about their riding for the better. For many riders, their legend is a nobody as far as our sport is concerned, and there is nothing wrong with that. For me, however, my legend happens to be an actual legend of our sport. He may not want to be referred to as such, but this is my article so I get to say what I want!

Amanda Cousins competing. Photo by Swita Photography.

A rider’s first (and sometimes second) instructor is somewhat of a unicorn. They are this force of nature with keys to the secret world of horseback riding. As a child, you cannot imagine a single person knowing more about horses than your instructors. Despite how accomplished (or not accomplished) they truly are at riding, in our eyes they are the most beautiful person in the world on a horse. Often, it feels like just standing near them will transfer their brilliance onto you (even before you’ve learned the word “osmosis”).

As with all growth, the way we see our trainers starts to evolve. Our view becomes more mature and almost businesslike. Sadly before the maturity sets in, due to the tumultuous teen years, it can become expectant. We look to our trainers expecting results, demanding growth in our riding and competing. If you were lucky like me, you had parents who demanded more of your moral code, and you moved on to your mature phase rather quickly.

Generally, our businesslike relationship with trainers lasts the longest, sometimes forever. For adults, this can blossom into friendships. We look to our trainers for guidance, support, motivation, and fun. They foster our love for the sport and help us advance. For me, this phase carried me through my late teens, through college and into my professional career. But if you stick around long enough, you’ll stumble upon an opportunity to learn from a legend. This trainer taps into potential you never knew you had and opens your eyes to an education that others could not.

Leg-end (noun). An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.  Examples: George Morris, Bill Steinkraus, Margie Engle, Jim Wofford, John French.

A legend is just as mythical as our very first instructor. Despite the fact that in many cases we meet them as adults, we find ourselves as bashful as school girls. Legends have also been known to bring on the giggles and blushing in full-blown adults. Ask how I know.

Jimmy Wofford with Eventing Nation’s Chinch. Photo via Eventing Nation Instagram.

The legend of my life is Jimmy Wofford. What I expected to be a one time invitation to a private group lesson ended up blossoming into a still-running regularity in my professional life. I was invited by riders who’d known Jimmy since they were barely considered adults, so to say I was an outsider is an understatement. At every ride, I felt like I was reading the latest installment of The Saddle Club. I’d listen to them joke about competitions and riders of long ago. Push down my excitement when Jimmy would tell stories about Steinkraus or running around Rolex. I consistently wished I could record every word he said, so I couldn’t possibly miss anything. He teaches with confidence I didn’t feel like I deserved and standards I knew I would meet, simply because he asked it (and most definitely deserved it).

Over the years (has it been that long?) in a very subtle way, I realized I was no longer reading The Saddle Club; I was a main character! (…Does that make me “Lisa”?) Jimmy was expectant in the things I could and would (and am!) achieving with my current horse, and what was coming next. The feeling of having such an accomplished rider and trainer care enough to go over videos of my last competition and lament my “failures” and celebrate my successes fueled my desire for improvement. The simplicity of hearing the famous “come again” instills confidence — because if Jimmy believes you know the mistake without his prompting, then you must!

Amanda Cousins competing. Photo via author’s Facebook.

It’s an honor to have become a regular part of the lesson group that has been dubbed the “Dream Team” and a privilege to learn from such a talented instructor. The opportunity I’ve been given to learn from a legend is not lost on me. The effect on both my riding and teaching has been profound. The skills and confidence I’ve gained are something I hope I can impart upon my clients for the rest of my career. I hope every rider has the opportunity to meet a trainer that renews their passion for learning.

So, in a world where handouts are expected, humility is in short supply, and appreciation is greatly needed, continue your pursuit of education. Someday, you’ll be a legend to someone, and all the work will be worth it.

In closing, here’s a montage of the Dream Team — and proof that riding with a legend has big results!

Video by Amanda Cousins.