Oftentimes, the moments that seem ordinary and unimportant are the ones that impact you the greatest. These moments can hold the blossoming of an idea or the utter of a simple phrase. They can be said in passing, with no intention of becoming a truth you will carry for the rest of your life. During my first working student position, I vividly remember a moment that I would hold with me everywhere I went.
“You are in charge of your own learning.”
I sat in silence on the back of The Wonder Pony, grasping at straws at first, unsure of what to do with this true but very new idea to me.
I was sitting in the “horse playground” of one of my first mentors, TJ Hiebert. I will forever be in her debt as she beautifully introduced Kelso to his first 3 months of human interaction while participating in the 100 Days Trainer’s Challenge. I looked up to her with expectant eyes as a 14 year old. My experience with instruction to this point was being placed on the back of a lesson horse and being told to ride a certain pattern; otherwise, I was left to my own devices to learn how to stay on the back of barely trained Welsh Ponies. They also happened to be barely trained by me.
Before we met in the middle of the field, I watched her ride her own black horse bareback and bridleless in the round pen. I was supposed to be warming up, but I was mesmerized. When we did meet, I expected her to tell me something to work on, but was shocked to learn she had no intention of this. Instead, she gave me the greatest gift that she could have. (Besides Kelso, of course.)
She empowered me by challenging me to be responsible for my own learning. She allowed me to ask questions that would have otherwise been unanswered. She gave me room to play with tasks that I had only dreamed of trying, but lacked the ability or courage to try on my own. I found room to grow, and relished in the support. She gave me the ability to step out of my comfort zone.
Though I spent a short week with TJ, the simple phrase reminding me I was responsible for what I learned is something that completely transformed my horsemanship journey. Instead of opting for a complacent and comfortable ride in which I could have been told what to do for the rest of my life, I embarked on an adventure. It has become even bigger than I could have imagined.
This journey, with my trusty black steed by my side, has taken me to Wisconsin, Colorado, and now Pennsylvania. In each unfamiliar and often uncomfortable learning situation, TJ’s words float through my mind. They push me to dig deeper to understand the ‘why’ of what was happening, and encourage me to take risks, even if those risks meant failing at times. In each encounter, I have been blessed by teachers who were willing to support me if I fell or if I flew.
As Kelso and I prepare to leave for The Pennsylvania Riding Academy to apprentice under Paul Belasik and Andrea Velas, these words are truer than they have ever been. I am humbled and honored to be able to learn from such incredible horsemen, and I intend to take full advantage of the knowledge they both possess. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but the greatest risks reap the greatest rewards, right?
I am so incredibly grateful to every person who has been a part of our journey so far, and I am excited to meet more friends as it continues to unfold.
To The Wonder Pony who makes it all possible and makes me look like I know what I’m doing.