I have spent this evening saying goodbye to a very dear friend. Jack taught me to ride, correctly, after I’d taught myself to ride very badly. And now, he is gone.

He was never really gentle in his teaching, at least not as he taught me.

I was often scolded for doing things incorrectly that he knew I could do correctly. And rightfully so. Jack always expected us to do our very best and would be angry with us if we did not. Not because we’d let him down, but because we’d let ourselves down. He only wanted us to succeed. I remember him exalting our successes in insignificant lessons and I remember him cringing, contorting his whole body in an effort to keep us safe, when we really got it wrong. He would scream at us when we did something that jeopardized us or our mounts because he loved every one of us and he couldn’t bear to see us come to harm. But he also praised when it was appropriate. The highest praise we ever received was when he would allow us to keep going, to jump again or to jump higher, and higher because we were “on”. It was crushing when he would walk over and say “That’s enough for you tonight.” Because it meant that you were not “on” that day and it would be best for you to try again another time. But, even though at the time we were saddened, in the end it was for the best.

Jack lived for his horses and his students, but only after his family. He taught, literally, hundreds of kids and a few lucky adults (like me) to ride. But it wasn’t just about riding…If you were lucky enough to get the message, he taught us about life and how to live it well. Nothing in his life mattered more than his family and that was lesson one. After that, he taught us to care for our horses and to do our best every time. Because almost wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t about how many ribbons you won or what color they were so much as it was about how hard you tried. Jack’s charges amassed countless year end awards and tons of ribbons and championships, but the ultimate measure of success was did you ride your best? And if you did, you were a champion, regardless.

I know that many have trainers like Jack. Trainers who care and who want you to succeed. Trainers who get involved with you on many more levels than just riding. And if you are so fortunate as to have one of these saints to teach you and look out for you, cherish them. They are what it’s all about. You will see, in retrospect, that they influenced your future in ways you could never have imagined at the moment. And if your trainer is like mine, the effects will reach to every part of your being.

So, go hug your pony, but if your trainer is around, give them a hug too. I cannot possibly tell you how much it would mean to me to be able to hug mine right now…

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Allie Sowden

Allie Sowden

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