Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: How Do You Define A “Serious” Amateur?

What is a “serious” amateur rider?

This is a question I have thought about quite a lot since I got back in the saddle 13 years ago. Does it have to do with competing, saddle time, how high you jump?



What is a “serious” amateur rider?

This is a question I have thought about quite a lot since I got back in the saddle 13 years ago. Does it have to do with competing, saddle time, how high you jump?

When I first started riding again I was one of those annoying people who didn’t understand the new world of endless 2’6” and under classes because when I showed hunters, 3’ was where you started (children’s or adult amateurs) and 3’6” was where you were trying to go (the juniors or amateur-owners). I realize that to many older people that is laughable since they used to jump much higher, but that was my measure growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s.

I was feeling all superior about it and had my judgey pants on high and tight until it occurred to me that the height other people choose to jump and show has nothing to do with me. Whether their reasons are practical (“my horse is older and does better at lower heights” or “I’m a beginner but really want to show”), or to do with self-confidence (“I don’t want to die,” or perhaps, “my trainer thinks I’ll die”), or anything, really—well, none of it is any of my concern.

Being a serious ammy has little to do with how high one jumps, or even if one jumps at all (outside of the hunter/jumper and eventing worlds), so that is one thing that falls out of the definition.

What does it mean then? I’ve come to understand that the reasons other ammies are committed to riding are as diverse as is the U.S. population. In my case, quite simply, I love to jump, and I love to compete. I mean, I really love to compete—and I really, really like to win. If I can take ribbons from children, elderly people, Santa Claus—let me at ‘em! Mwahahaha!

Seriously, though, competition is what drives me. Riding is in and of itself extremely important to my mental well being, and I get crabby and obnoxious when I’m out of the saddle for too many days in a row—my husband can attest to that, poor guy.


If I wanted simply to have fun though, I wouldn’t spend so much time and money trying to make myself and my horse competitive. I’d be better off lighting some large bills on fire and taking myself out for a nice dinner. Every night. And a fancy lunch, too. Oh, and don’t get me started on the money I spend on horse shoes instead of on MY shoes. It’s too distressing to think about, honestly.

I think my competitive drive does make me a serious amateur, in large part because it is what pushes me to work as hard as I do. I ride five days a week during the school year, and six or seven in the summer. I have two horses, and though Herbie is half-leased out I usually get quite a bit of saddle time.

I recently started running several times a week on our treadmill at home to help me stay fit now that middle age is creeping up on me. I hate running with a passion I usually reserve for hypocrites and people who cut in front of everyone else in line, but I do it because it helps my riding, and that is enough motivation.

I try to take a lesson a week with my trainer Packy, but because I have to trailer out and the whole thing takes most of a day this often stretches to two or three weeks. So my friends and I work with each other at home—my lesson buddy Morgan has a young event horse who jumps the same height Steve and I do and we challenge each other regularly.

Her flatwork is WAY better than mine (sob), but Steve and I can turn faster than she and Nate (yes)! All of this is to keep us sharp, to improve our skills as a team, and to make us competitive. Plus, it’s fun.

OK then—if someone doesn’t compete, is she not a serious ammy? Of course not—some people can’t or don’t want to show due to economics, they don’t have the horse for it, they throw up when they think about stepping foot in a show ring. There are a lot of reasons people don’t show.

What then? It really seems like the important thing is commitment, not to showing, but to excellence. Left to their own devices our horses would be super happy to just stand around eating, looking pretty, and costing us money without doing any work. Therefore, the responsibility is on us, as riders, to be as good as we can be for our horses, who work incredibly hard for us with their giant hearts.


One of Packy’s aphorisms is that you are always training or untraining your horse, every moment you are in the saddle. Another is that doing something incorrectly is stupid.

Really, he says stuff like that—but he’s right! If I want my horse to trot through a line of cavaletti, and I come around the corner and let his butt go off to the side so we aren’t straight to the first one, well, that’s stupid. I’m not training him, and in fact I’m putting obstacles in his way that make his job harder than it should be. I know better than that, and I should be harder on myself to make sure I am riding correctly.

Thinking about being as correct in my aids as I can be every second I am in the saddle is my goal, and maybe that is a good definition of a serious ammy. There is room for all sorts of other riders, though. There are a lot of us out there who really just want to be around horses—in the saddle, on the ground—and that is lovely, too.

I know lots of people whose idea of a perfect ride is on the buckle, moseying through the woods. Why take a lesson? They know how to tack up, brush, and enjoy their horse and that is all they need. Their horses are happy, they are happy, and while I’m struggling with haunches-in, or trying to convince Steve that trot sets are fun—well, other riders are doing their thing and having a great time.

Why do you ride? What need does it fill? After having spent all of this time talking about it, I think the only people who actually should care about this are you and your horse.

Steve and I both love to jump and while he tends to treat ribbons with a distinct lack of respect (he eats them), he does enjoy his end of the show day banana. We have differing views on the importance of dressage but we both work hard and like what we do together. Serious or not, I guess that’s the important thing.

One of our other amateur bloggers, Carleigh Fedorka, also tackled this topic in her recent entry, Three Cheers For The (Professional) Adult Amateur.

Susan Glover is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at American University (D.C.), specializing in comparative politics. She shows her Argentinian Warmblood The Red Spy in the adult amateur jumper division in the Mid-Atlantic area. Read more about her in her introductory blog, Why I DIY, and read all of Susan’s blogs.



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