In my opinion, there are things that great riders do that good riders don't. They are little things, but they make a big difference.
Putting the Time in and Taking Any Riding Opportunity Possible
The first difference between a great rider and a good rider is the willingness to put the time in. The great riders don't miss an opportunity to get on a horse. If their lesson gets canceled they reschedule it. They prioritize riding in their lives. I'm not saying a great rider can't do anything besides ride, but they do prioritize it. They will always choose to ride over other options. If a day comes that it's either ride or do something else, they will choose to ride.
The great riders are not picky about the horses that they will ride. They'll ride any horse they're given—the good, bad, flashy, and homely. The great riders will ride them all, and they'll ride them happily. They will be grateful for the opportunity to try new horses. They know that they can take something with them from every ride. Every horse has something to teach you. The great riders know that and take advantage of it every chance they get.
The Great Riders Watch Others Ride
I don't mean that they just watch their friends jump courses at shows. I mean they watch any skilled rider and study them, whether in person or pictures in books and magazines. Many times, it helps us to understand what things are supposed to look like by seeing it being done and understanding the way it is supposed to look. That way, you can save that vision in your head and try to recreate it when you ride.
You watch the cause and effect. You watch other riders and see what works and what doesn't work. What do they do that brings out the best in the horse? You watch and see that if they do a certain thing, the horse will respond in a certain way, and understand why. They take it all in. They realize you can learn about riding watching others ride.
They Soak Up Horsemanship Knowledge
Great riders soak up the day-to-day horsemanship knowledge and skills they are exposed to.
They watch the vet do a lameness exam on a horse. They hold horses for the farrier and learn about proper shoeing. They spend as much time as they can in the barn, surrounding themselves by good horse people and learning as much as they can.
The great riders will ask questions, they will offer to wrap a leg, or give a horse medication. They do it because they want to get better at all around horsemanship, not just riding.
Great riders realize the importance of all-around horsemanship. They know that without that, they won't know enough about horses to get the best out of them.
They Are Not Discipline Snobs
Great riders know that there is more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. In this case, they know more than one way to ride or train a horse. They are open-minded.
They love horses and take little bits and pieces of knowledge from all different types of disciplines and trainers. They see the value not only in how they work with horses, but how others do as well, and they learn from it.
They recognize that each discipline requires different specific skill sets, but on a basic level, they know that a horse is a horse, and there is always something to learn. They appreciate all different kinds of riding and the skill it takes to be successful at them.
If given the chance to try a new discipline—whether it be to ride a horse that is trained that way or to watch a show or trainer—they will take it. They love horses, all horses, and they love learning as much as they can. They even take things they pick up from other disciplines and come up with ways to use them in their own riding. They never stop learning about horses, horsemanship, and riding, no matter how old they are!
They Are Willing to Take Responsibility
A great rider will look at themselves when something is going wrong with their horse. They will look at themselves and what they are doing and be willing to accept the fact that it might be them. They might be doing something to cause the problem, something like riding the horse crooked or giving him the wrong cue. Maybe they are doing something that is allowing the horse to get away with bad behavior. The great riders are willing to take responsibility and accept that sometimes they are the problem, not the horse.
Then instead of being frustrated with the situation, they just work as hard as they can to get better. A rider that can look at you, and say that something happened because of something they did wrong, is a great rider. They are willing to accept responsibility and work hard to understand how to do better.
They Don't Let Ego Get in the Way
Great riders don't have big egos. They are humble and willing to ask for help if they need it. I have said it before and I will say it again, there is no room for ego in the riding arena. It just prevents learning and gets people hurt.
Sensitive to the Horse
A great rider is sensitive to the horses. They are attentive to their personalities. They recognize that each horse may respond differently to the same cues. Each horse needs to be treated as an individual.
They know their horses so well that they can tell when something isn't right, even something subtle. They can feel the slightest lameness or change in temperament in their horses.
Great Riders Are on a Horsemanship Journey
Great riders have realized that horsemanship isn't a journey. They have made a conscious effort to never stop learning and always be open to new things. They check their ego at the door, they do the best they can for their horse on any given day. They admit if they are wrong or if they need help because they don't know the answer.
Great riders take their relationship with the horses and commitment to riding to a whole different level than the good riders do. That is why the great riders go farther on their horsemanship journey.
What about you? Are you a good rider or a great rider?