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A.K.A. "Michael's Meanderings"

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Taking, and Making, Your Own Opportunities

goals tips Dec 06, 2023
olympian mike plumb walks next to me out on cross country

Let me just start with saying that I have been extremely lucky and fortunate to have the opportunities and support from many people (but particularly my parents) over my riding career.

However, many of those opportunities also arose because I made them happen. I am most definitely an introvert by nature (go figure, as I create a massive video masterclass for all sorts of people to see me). But I fight against those instincts for the betterment of my riding knowledge.

Unfortunately, far too often I see people at competitions with their faces buried in their phones or making plans to go on social outings in their down time. If that's your cup of tea, that's fine. But if you truly want to be a student of the sport and truly want to progress in your riding, put your phone down and watch. Watch how the upper level riders warm up. Watch their methods, the patterns, why they may do this instead of that. Watch their rounds/tests/etc. It's pretty simple and free for you to do. You'll gain invaluable experience that you otherwise would not have seen.

In terms of creating your own opportunities (as that one is basically presented to you, you just have to take it while you're already there at a competition), even if you can't ride in a clinic either due to injury, finances, lack of ability to haul your horse there, etc., you should still go audit. It's a shame, I feel that most clinics nowadays have almost the same, or even fewer, number of auditors as they do riders. Meaning that oftentimes there may be only 6 or 12 auditors. I completely understand that the cost for riding in the clinic is prohibitive (that's a whole other topic, as I feel that clinic costs have gotten outrageous in recent years), but auditing is typically either free or available for a low fee. 

And heck, even try reaching out to the organizer of the clinic to ask if they need help (particularly for show jumping clinics - as they need help picking up rails, moving jumps, lowering/raising heights, etc.). Not only could this get you in for a free spot, but this is actually my preferred way to audit. Because not only do you get up close and personal to the clinician, but oftentimes they will pass along tidbits of information and knowledge to you that those sitting on the sidelines wouldn't get. (Or sometimes they speak too quiet or turn off the mic, but you can hear them as you are right in the middle of the ring!). This is how I got ride into the thick of the William Fox-Pitt clinic in Aiken one year. They asked for volunteers to be show jump crew and I jumped right away. It was shocking to me to see the reluctance and slow trickle of a few more people from the crowd who didn't want to be up close and personal to his teaching!

Another great thing about the equestrian sports is that the Olympic caliber riders are ridiculously accessible to the average person. No random basketball player off the street is going to be able to get lessons from LeBron James, but you can reach out and get lessons from Boyd Martin. Send that email, make that phone call. So many of my experiences have come from just asking. I've ridden with (and sometimes stayed with) Mike Plumb (shown in picture), Denny Emerson, Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Sally Cousins, Doug Payne, Lendon Gray, George Williams, Ryan Wood, and so many more of the past and present greats of our sport, all because I just reached out and asked. Not due to a clinic, but reaching out on my own and asking.

Unfortunately, I had tried to do this with one more eventing legend, Jim Wofford, and my schedule ended up getting in the way and he sadly passed away shortly afterward. It will be one of my biggest regrets in not being able to ride with him.

Another way you can create your own opportunities is to try to spend time watching and auditing regular lessons. Ask your regular/local instructor if you can come watch other lessons of theirs, ask if you can come watch them ride their horses in training. Ask if you can pick their brain about their approach or why they do something a certain way. I'd say 99% of instructors/trainers are happy to pass along their knowledge. I've done this many times, especially when I am down in Aiken. I typically get a slightly puzzled reaction at first, as the rider isn't used to anyone asking if they can just hang around and watch lessons or watch their rides. But I often also try to make myself useful if I can: picking up manure in the arena, helping with show jump poles, etc. They appreciate the help and I appreciate just being around and seeing how they teach or ride through a certain subject or issue, or their program, etc.

At the end of the day, it is ultimately up to you on how much of a "student of the sport" you wish to be. Clearly there are some time/financial restrictions, but there are a lot more opportunities out there than most people think, and many of them are free, you just have to put yourself out there and ask.

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