Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: The Voices In Our Heads

Something that comes up frequently on the Chronicle discussion forums’ hunter/jumper forum is bad experiences with trainers. I’ve had a few of those but what strikes me is how important my trainers, past and present, have been to me.

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Something that comes up frequently on the Chronicle discussion forums’ hunter/jumper forum is bad experiences with trainers. I’ve had a few of those but what strikes me is how important my trainers, past and present, have been to me.

There are certainly some talented ammies who don’t need a trainer’s help, but I think most of us benefit from those expert eyes on the ground and that voice in our head. When you have a good trainer it makes being a DIY-er that much easier, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned from those voices over the years.

I’ve followed a path common to many ammies—ride as a child, stop when college takes over, get back in the saddle later in life. I began riding when I was 9 with Steve Wall, first at a lesson barn and then at his own place, Harmony Farms. Steve married Cookie Beck so she became my other trainer, and I rode with them my entire junior career.

It is difficult for me to put into words all of the lessons I learned from them. Hard work, humility, determination, grace under pressure, exacting attention to detail. Under their guidance I got a fantastic education in bringing along green horses and learned to love the challenge and camaraderie of showing on the A circuit with a winning stable.

I also learned how to muck, braid, poultice, wrap, sweat—I became a horseman. I was incredibly lucky to have these experiences because they helped make me the person I am today.

When I went off to college for some bizarre, unfathomable reason my mother refused to keep my last junior hunter in full training, waiting for me to come home on the odd weekend to ride. So, the riding stopped and “real life” began—all the way through to graduate school.

During the final grind I was ABD (All But Dissertation, or, as we grad students liked to call it, All But Dead), and desperately trying to finish my dissertation. Oh, it was so hard—I had huge chunks of the monster written, but I was soooo tired of thinking about it. One day my husband came home to me mooning around in my pajamas and demanded that I get a hobby. “Do something—get back into riding. You look like a demented cat lady!”

So, I found a barn near me and signed up for lessons. Twelve years out of the saddle is a long time, my friends.

At my first lesson I had a panicky moment when I couldn’t remember how to buckle the bridle. I felt like a cow in my cheap breeches. I thought I was going to get jounced out of the saddle once I finally managed to hoist myself into it…but soon enough my body and mind began to remember.

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And to be able to jump again—well, that was sheer joy.

I stayed at that barn for several months but I wasn’t a client they wanted—and this was a hard lesson to learn. I had no money to buy or even lease a horse, and in this operation that relegated one to a lower status. I rarely got any feedback, positive or negative, during my lessons and would drive home nearly in tears wondering if it was worth it.

I went on the Chronicle’s hunter/jumper discussion forum and started a post about horseless riders looking for riderless horses, wanting to get my mojo back. I’m not the most talented rider but I am a useful one: I can stick a buck, I’m patient, and I work hard.

I found a trainer with too many horses and not enough time, so I gratefully helped her for a few months and regained my confidence, along with some bad habits. I decided I needed to get back into training myself—back to COTH! Forum participants steered me to Mehdi Kazemi, who soon became a very dear friend.


Listening to some of Mehdi Kazemi’s advice about a round on Happy. 

I was with Mehdi for many years and learned much from him, most importantly how to laugh at my mistakes. I often take my riding WAY too seriously and try to remember this whenever I’m going down into that particular rabbit hole.

The first time I rode with Mehdi I fell off, extremely stupidly, when I asked the horse I was jumping for a long spot. She politely declined and came to a nice halt in front of the fence. I was leaning up her neck, of course, so I slowly plopped onto the ground. What I heard, lying there like a fool, was Mehdi’s huge laugh roaring out—it was irresistible and I couldn’t help but join him.

Mehdi was more of a hunter guy, so eventually I turned to Patrick McGaughan, aka Packy, for help with Happy, my ornery jumper. Yes, Happy—I have a dark sense of humor.

He was a big, scopey OTTB who taught me a lot but was incredibly difficult—with Packy we began to see forward progress again. I lost Happy to bone cancer soon after I began riding with Packy. Despite his crabby self I loved Happy and his death nearly broke me in two.

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Packy gave me a Thoroughbred he had saved from the meat man, my wonderful Herbert (whose story I shared last year in The Chronicle of the Horse’s print magazine), and in turn saved me from the grief in which I was wallowing. 

You can read Susan’s heartfelt story about Herbie in the Jan. 12, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse in the article “Herbert’s Homecoming.”


Herbie and I.

Another friend gave me a gorgeous Dutch Warmblood baby; horribly, unbelievably, I lost him to colic two years later. Devastated, I soaked up what comfort I could from Herbie, but it took Packy’s urging to push me forward again. He gave me the project of finding another jumper, which led us to Steve.

I have learned countless lessons from Packy—his is the voice in my head now. He is loud, demanding, hilariously funny, and a perfectionist, which suits me fine. He pushes me to be better than I think I can be, and shows me how to do it.

When he gave me Herbie I gained a friend for life, and when Packy helped me pick out Steve I gained an incredible new partner.

Packy also introduced me to the team at Rolling Acres Show Stable, Mary Lisa Leffler and Patty Foster. I meet up with them at shows and they have graciously welcomed me and my little DIY operation. When I am trainer-less at shows I depend on my friends Jaime Loichinger and Morgan Cillo (herself a trainer) to set fences, walk courses with me, and yell trainer-y things at me in warm up. “Outside rein! Outside leg! GO FASTER!!!”

Maybe it’s a little silly to be starting my jumper career at this point in my life, but that’s the way it worked out. From my first blog I learned there are a lot of people like me—older DIY-ers trying to keep up with (and maybe even beat) the kids in the jumper ring.

I hope all of you also have a really good voice in your head, to keep you looking ahead and having fun. Thanks to my trainers, past and present—you’ve helped me more than I can ever say.

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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