Commitment, Coordination, Communication, and Confidence
Mary Waickman has been around horses her whole life, which makes her a perfect teacher for aspiring riders. She offers lessons at Destiny Farm in Medina, where she passes on her knowledge and expertise to a wide variety of students.
Though riders are gaining a plethora of skills from working with Waickman, they may not realize that many of the skills they have acquired translate into their daily lives.
“Horses teach a lot beside just how to ride,” she says.
Unlike many sports, working with horses requires an individual to devote a great deal of time to caring for an animal.
“This is not like some sports where you can put your equipment away and come back to it whenever you want,” says Waickman. “The fun comes with work and responsibility, too.”
While a rider needs instruction on a regular basis to gain a set of skills, a horse requires daily care. As riders progress beyond learning basic riding skills and begin to transition into competitions, their responsibilities will grow.
“You have to be all in on this, and you have to be focused. You cannot be distracted, as it is important to operate in the here and now. Your horse will not know that your friend dissed you, or that your girlfriend went out with your best friend. They don’t know that, and they don’t care. That is not something that is in their world. You have to put everything aside and focus on the task at hand.”
This is very similar to the way in which the working world operates, she points out. When an individual commits to a job, they must leave their distracting thoughts and problems at home if they wish for their career to grow. As a career grows, so do responsibilities.
“It is a long-term commitment as well as daily,” she says.
There is much more to horse riding than casual rides through a forest trail. For many, horse riding is an athletic endeavor. Riders must be fit and coordinated to be successful in a competitive world.
“We train riders for everything from intramural to national level conpetitions, and there is much that they must accomplish before they can get to that point. And believe me, riders feel a push to succeed.”
When competing, riders and horses work in a partnership. Both must work in unison to produce a smooth transition from movement to movement.
“It should look flawless, as if the horse is reading the rider’s mind.”
When it comes to competitions, practice makes perfect. A great deal of physical work and training goes into preparing both a rider and a horse for a competition.
One of the benefits of horse riding is that self-driven individuals can still participate in a sport without working on a big team. However, they do form a partnership and bond with their horse, and that requires them to create a line of communication between horse and rider.
Before communication can be established, a rider must create a mutual understanding with their horse.
“You must feel empathy and understand something that is not going to speak your language or assess your skills,” explains Waickman. “You need to communicate ideas with them, and that communication has to be something that the horse understands. You must learn to communicate on their level.”
Waickman has worked with students of all ages and has observed an immeasurable change in many of them.
“Throughout it all, you build faith in yourself with the help of a horse,” she says.
In competitions, riders must go in front of strangers in a new place and effectively ride their horse. A great deal of preparation goes into each competition, but the outcome is heavily reliant on the rider’s confidence.
“It’s the same thing as making a presentation in the corporate world. You have to prepare, rehearse, and repeat until you feel confident with your work. I have observed personalities blossom as people find themselves through working with horses.”
Horses can also be a very calming presence to many people. In the past, Waickman has had groups come to Destiny Farm through the Medina County Juvenile Drug Court for therapy sessions at her stables.
“Watching them interact with horses helps a counselor observe how these troubled teens go about problem solving, communication, and working with a team. It can be a very therapeutic experience. I have seen people undergo remarkable changes here at Destiny Farm.
“I love watching somebody transition from an awkward kid to a young, confident rider. Sure, my instruction is important, but it is up to them to build confidence in themselves and to form a bond with their horse. I’ve been offering lessons since 2002. If it was not incredibly rewarding, I would not be doing it. Luckily, horses are great teachers of both skills and life lessons.”