So you’re thinking about “taking the reins,” so to speak, when it comes to training and caring for your horse(s). You have your reasons – and there are many possible reasons – but the little voices in your head have been gradually getting louder, telling you to become an AOT.
It’s a big step, a lonely road. A road with many potholes and few pit stops. But it’s also a road with beautiful sunsets and awesome traveling companions – your horses. So how do you know if you have what it takes to navigate this path?
Training horses is not for people who are easily frustrated. Oftentimes, horses have to be shown something many times before they get it. Quitting or getting angry when they don’t understand or don’t perform as expected won’t make the light bulb go on – in fact, it will usually cause the horse to shut down or, in worst case scenarios, fight back. A good AOT understands how horses think, and understands that different horses think differently. You might have to break down a new skill into very basic parts and teach one part at a time, very slowly. Progress might not happen as quickly as you want. If you’re patient, it won’t matter, because your reward comes with each little step in the right direction. Each step in the wrong direction presents a puzzle you enjoy working through.
Desire to Improve
Your current skillset may or may not be up to the task of training a horse. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I started training my first horse when I was 14. Do you think I knew what I was doing? No way! Did I make mistakes over the years? You bet – too many to count. But that’s how I learned! Don’t be afraid to screw up. You might not win as many blue ribbons as you used to; your horse might pick up some bad habits along the way, but you’re going to learn. Keep taking lessons, and if you can, have a pro help you out once in awhile. If you have a constant desire to improve and learn, the AOT life is a good bet.
Being an AOT means you’ll have a lot on your plate, so time management skills are a must. Many of us have full time jobs and a family. Meeting the needs of everyone can sometimes be difficult, and you might have to reprioritize things. Sometimes my horse doesn’t get worked enough, so I might skip a show – but sometimes my husband has to cook dinner (so we eat takeout). Farriers and vets need your attention, too. Think about your current schedule, and make sure you can dedicate enough time to achieve your goals.
Being an AOT is sometimes a very lonely life. I often miss the cameraderie of my former barn mates at horse shows and on weekends when we all hung out at the barn all day. When I’m struggling with a training issue, I have to try and figure it out myself instead of relying on someone else to fix it. When I haul my horse to a show, it’s just me loading and unloading all of my gear and setting up/tearing down. I might not have anyone at a show to help me get in the ring, or to feed my horse at the crack of dawn after I was up late the night before. If you’re an independent spirit, being an AOT is perfect for you.
It’s tough to lose, especially when you find yourself losing to horses trained by pros. It’s so easy to tell yourself they win because of who they are. They get the nicest stalls at the shows, they have customers with money, the judge is in their pocket, it’s all political… when what I’ve experienced is pretty much the opposite. Trainers get the best stalls because they bring a lot of horses. Their customers can afford to buy nice horses – nicer than mine – so it stands to reason that the nicer horses will win, even if they make a mistake and I don’t. Politics don’t usually play a role. I’ve lost to many BNTs – but I’ve beaten quite a few of them, too. So instead of blaming everyone and everything but yourself, take an honest look at your performance. Is your horse strung out? Uneven moving? Not wearing his bridle well? Looking “dull” while the others were bright? Poorly groomed? There are a lot of reasons we all get beaten, and the only way to improve your odds of winning is to improve what you’re putting in the show ring. If you can take an honest, unbiased look at yourself and your horse, and use what you see to improve, you’ll be an awesome AOT.
Being an AOT is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s definitely one of the most difficult, too, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! What are some traits you find help with being an AOT?
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