The author believes there are many riders out there who have reached this milestone—and should be recognized.
I read Denny Emerson’s Between Rounds column “The 10,000-Hour Club: Are You A Member?” with interest. Stating that the competence of a rider is directly related to his or her time in the saddle is absolutely true.
The more hours we spend on the back of a horse, the more jumps we jump, and the more half halts, shoulder ins and extended trots we practice deepen the well of subconscious, correct reactions we strive to perfect in the saddle.
The McLains and Beezies of the world have no doubt logged their 10,000 hours and are reaping the rewards because of it.
However, I have to point out that this column insinuates that few riders have reached 10,000 hours, and what’s more, that there are few riders in our modern horse community who would forgo shopping and sleepovers for saddle time. I beg to differ.
Has Denny not considered the life of an assistant? The path to becoming a professional in this industry is paved with the hours that legions of assistant trainers spend in the saddle. They are those children who began riding one hour per day at age 12, and kept riding more and more. They are the aspiring professionals whose dedication and singular obsession with horses keeps their rear ends in the saddle for thousands of hours in pursuit of the legitimacy that Denny references.
As a mid-20s professional who has yet to reach the limelight, I need only to look to the experiences of myself and my peers for proof. In 2005, I went to work at a large hunter/jumper sale barn. I rode 10 to 12 horses per day, six days per week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour break for lunch. So for seven hours per day, 42 hours per week, and 168 hours per month, I rode.
I rode when I was sore, when I was sick, when it rained and when I was injured. At this particular barn the owner was fond of standing in the middle of the ring, giving strict, intimidating instruction to his five full-time riders for at least four of those seven hours per day. That meant plenty of schooling, plenty of jumps on all types of horses, from greenies to international competitors. If you were tough enough to stick it out at this barn for a year, you got 2,016 hours of quality riding in; at that rate it would take only five years to reach 10,000 hours!
I have to admit, I only lasted three years working full time as an assistant. Living paycheck-to-paycheck, cleaning stalls on Christmas Day and enduring constant berating from less than stellar trainers took its toll on me as a writing and editing career beckoned.
I now ride part time as a professional, which cuts my hours in the saddle down to just one or two per day. But while my own march towards 10,000 hours has slowed, my comrades from that sale barn are still out there, riding their butts off, often for far less than they’re worth.
My friend and fellow professional Maja Lindemann immediately comes to mind. For four straight years, Maja has worked six days per week, with two weeks of paid vacation per year. As assistant trainer for Willow Tree Farm in Woodside, Calif., she rides six to 12 horses per day, teaches lessons, and estimates that she spends 24 to 36 hours in the saddle per week. She spends 25 weeks per year on the road at horse shows, where she rides about seven rounds per day. Now, Willow Tree is a jumper barn, so with roughly 14 jumps per jumper course, Maja jumps approximately 294 jumps per show, and 7,350 jumps in competition per year. That’s not counting warm-up jumps.
Would Denny also like to consider Maja’s substantial junior and intercollegiate years in the saddle? Added to the 8,064 hours she’s spent riding during her professional career, Maja spent well over 2,000 hours in the saddle from when she began riding at age 7 to when she turned professional at 23. Today, at the age of 27, Maja has far surpassed 10,000 hours of riding, competing and training.
Is Maja the exception to the rule? I say to Denny that she is the rule. Today, right now, you can go to any A-rated show in the country and see how thousands of Maja Lindemanns go about their day. Riding is what they do, and they do it well.
Maja and every assistant trainer like her deserves far more support in wages, health insurance and simple gratitude than they actually receive, but that’s a topic for another commentary. At least they can say they’re part of the 10,000-hour club.
On her own path to 10,000 hours, Erin Gilmore, San Francisco, Calif., has worked in barns all over California with stints in Europe and Florida, diligently performing the roles of assistant, stall-mucker, groom, instructor, therapist, crash-test dummy, indentured servant and even show rider. She now works as a proofreader and writer and keeps one foot in the horse world by riding professionally for McIntosh Stables in Menlo Park, Calif. Her life’s goal is still to ride in a grand prix class.