by Nel Sanchez
My grand-father was a stockman and farmer who grew up in country NSW, Australia. What we Aussies call the bush. The stories he used to tell about the things he and his mates did on horses always had me in awe.
He had two phrases I remember hearing a lot. The first was “the best rider is always the one sitting on the fence”. Now as a 10 year old that didn’t really mean too much to me, but as a wiser woman in her early 30s I’ve come to understand it many times over.
The other phrase was “you never stop learning with horses”. And this one resonated with me very early on.
If you have been following The Happy Canterer you would have heard Ali herself mention the famous ‘barn rat’. The kids in the barn that watch everything and ask a million questions. When Ali was growing up, learning everything she could from everyone she could, I was on the other side of the world doing the exact same thing. I talked to anyone who would listen usually, asking about their horses and watching the different things they did with their equines. Every horse magazine I could get my hands on I read. I started pony club at 12yo where I completed all my D level certifications in the first few months of starting.
Me at 17, trying SJ on loaned horse Tonto.
I didn’t have horsey parents to learn from, not one of my school friends had horses or knew how to ride. I delved into Pony Club like it had been created just for me. My horse, Mustang Sally, was young, a 3yo quarter horse/stock horse cross, who was a sensible and quiet trail horse, but who shied at every new scary thing Pony club threw at her. And yes I fell off. And there were many times she walked right over the top of me. She was strong and green, and so was I. But I kept going, and I kept learning and I kept trying. It wasn’t always easy. But we bonded. She was the one that taught me the most. We learnt things together and became a partnership. All the learning that I had engrossed myself with as an excited kid had become not only one of my best investments, but a foundation for my time with this mare and all the future horses I worked with.
My heart horse Mustang Sally at Mounted Games
Having maintained an open mind toward learning has helped me become the horsewoman I am now. And will help me become a better horsewoman in the future. I encourage my daughter, who is 8, in the same way I encourage my friends and fellow equestrians, to never be afraid to ask questions! Ask the vet to show you how to give an injection, ask the dentist to show you the sharp edges on your horses teeth, get the farrier to show you what thrush/bruises/white line disease looks like. A friend’s horse has ulcers? Get her to show you the warning signs that prompted the diagnosis. Attend every clinic you can, whether you participate or spectate, there is always something to be taken away from clinics. Cross train, don’t focus on one specific thing all the time. The race horses I used to ride, used to be broken in and do cattle work before they ever saw a race track. The famous ‘Valegro’ went on regular trail rides. Watch your friends when they have riding lessons. Ride other people’s horses. Try something new. Read articles and books and magazines, go to shows and events to watch. Video your friend’s dressage tests and re-watch them with a copy of the judge’s comments. There are so many different avenues to learning that we can take advantage of. Even if you don’t have a horse yourself. With learning comes confidence and with confidence we learn more.
Flash forward to today and my grand-fathers wise words still ring true. Over the years I have learnt to take the “fence sitters’ with a grain of salt. But no matter how old I get, how much experience I gain, I never stop learning.
About the author: Nel Sanchez is an Australian horse lover living in the Bay Area of California. Her first job out of school as a 17yo was on a Thoroughbred property in the Wollondilly Shire of NSW. It was here that Nel learnt the fundamentals of really ‘knowing the horses’ from a tough, but fair manager, that she continues to build on to this day.