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December 15, 2011

Taking A Step Back

The author explains how his choice to downsize his business has helped him see his real priorities in the sport.

This past winter I found myself in a position to step back from my business and take the time to assess where I stand in this sport and in my life. At the time, during the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), I was lucky to have great clients, wonderful horses and a staff that was top of the line. We were having a good time together and enjoying quite a bit of success. In my mind this made for the perfect time to stop and reflect on what I was doing and why.

My first step, once I decided to slow down, was to make sure that all those around me—horses and people—were well taken care of. With careful planning we made arrangements for all horses and riders to move on to new trainers who were more than up to the job. In all instances I believe that the changes for my clients have been quite successful. They’re all riding well, competing successfully, and the horses are well cared for. In addition, my staff has found new and interesting opportunities which have turned out well for them. Although this took some time and effort, it was well worth it to see everyone continuing happily in the sport.

Knowing that I could not just walk away from horses and horse shows, it was time to understand better which pieces of the sport were important to me and how I could continue to do them. I was absolutely certain of my love of riding. I couldn’t give up riding a nice horse most every day. I think that this is the first and foremost reason any of us get into this business, and for as long as I’m physically able I will continue to ride.

I plan to have a small group of nice horses in my care and under my supervision and training. I love putting together the whole program that allows the horses to be comfortable, sound, happy and to progress steadily and confidently in their training. I like the occasional show to assess their progress, and ultimately I enjoy finding the right rider and situation that allows them to go on to more accomplishments. I like seeing the horses I’ve started competing at the shows and also talking to the people who own and appreciate these same horses.

My second love is teaching. I don’t have to teach people to compete at horse shows to be happy. I love teaching students at all levels to ride to the best of their abilities and to understand and enjoy their horses.

I was lucky enough to have been started in this business by people like Mike Kelley, Gordon Wright and George Morris, so right from the beginning I understood the importance of a systematic approach to teaching and also how important and enjoyable good teaching is. I was exposed to teaching all levels in all conditions. I learned how to teach beginners to ride outside of a ring on the leadline and how to teach people to ride cross-country, foxhunt and to show at all levels. I’ve been lucky enough to watch the very best teachers teach the very best riders at the highest levels. All of my teachers had in common a love of teaching and enjoyed watching their students learn, understand and progress. They have passed this passion on to me.

I’ve maintained a very small group of students at home, of all ages and levels, who are interested first in learning and second in competition. Many of these students are just starting out, and many of them are moving toward the end of their careers, but we’re all having a good time studying the art of riding. I’ve also started giving clinics across the country again. Clinics are such a great way to get away from competition for a moment and get back to the basics of good horsemanship and training. This can be inspiring for student and teacher alike.

Because of the new U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Trainer’s Certifi-cation Program, I’ve also given a lot of teachers’ clinics. I’ve been very fortunate to have been helped by the very best people so it’s my responsibility to try to pass on this knowledge. Teachers’ clinics allow me to do this on two levels, with both students and teachers, which is particularly rewarding for me.

Judging horse shows is another real interest of mine. I get real pleasure and satisfaction from watching a class and putting that class in an order of preference based on my opinions, background and training. Judging is an important job that requires taking the responsibility that goes with it seriously. As judges, we have to realize how our actions can influence not only individ-uals at the moment, but also the sport as a whole. The hunter and equitation divisions rely on fair and impartial judging to maintain interest and participation. This is an awesome responsibility for judges, which we take on and enjoy. It’s a good feeling to walk away from judging a show knowing that you have done your best and been completely fair. Judging is a great experience at any level and one that has taught me as much as anything I have done in this sport.

Finding Solutions

The last piece that has taken up more of my time since “downsizing” my business is getting more involved in the governance of our sport. Hearing from people all over the country about what they see as the problems in our sport is interesting. Having the time and the opportunity to work on finding solutions to these problems that could work for the whole country and at all levels is even more interesting. This opportunity allows me to work with and learn from some incredible people. We’re not going to solve all of the problems—certainly not quickly or to the satisfaction of everyone—but to be part of the process is an educational and satisfying experience. I feel fortunate to have more time to devote to these issues.

Learning is the most important thing to me. I learn from teaching, giving and taking clinics, judging, and talking to people about the future of our sport. I always learn from riding. I also know that what’s really important is to do things for their own sake. I like to ride for the sake of riding, and I like to teach for the sake of teaching. I look forward to getting up in the morning when I’m at home to ride and school some horses or to teach some interested students whatever their level. I also look forward to showing occasionally at the appropriate time as both a rider and a coach.

I’m worried that the number of horse shows, the level of competition, and the great expense of our sport is leading people away from the real reasons for what we do. I think we have to keep in mind that we do this because we love horses, riding and jumping. That has to be No. 1.

We also like competition, but I think we have to constantly remind ourselves that we’re involved in friendly competition and sport. We need to treat the horses and each other with more respect. We need to try to keep the importance of winning in perspective. And at the same time, we need to enjoy ourselves and enjoy the process and the learning that go along with this sport. We can compete, have fun, earn a living and be respectful all at the same time.I am thankful to have taken the opportunity to step back and look at the big picture.  

Geoff Teall, of Wellington, Fla., has trained in the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions—with an emphasis on amateur and junior riders—and shown in the professional hunter divisions. An R-rated USEF judge, he has presided over the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, USEF Pony Finals, USEF Pony Medal Finals and many prestigious horse shows such as the Washington International (D.C.) and National Horse Show. Teall also co-founded the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Taking A Step Back" ran in the December 12, 2011, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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