Editor's note: Veteran show jumper Melanie Smith Taylor, who is currently co-chairman of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program, spoke to the group of young riders who were selected to participate in the 2008 George Morris Horsemastership Training Program in Florida. Here is a transcript of her talk.
To quote one of my favorite philosophers, Ayn Rand: "'To be or not to be' is 'to think or not to think.'" The mind is our greatest resource. We can choose to use it or not. Think with your mind, and your body will follow.
I want to cover three main points as I share my experiences with you. The importance of becoming an independent thinker, learning to use your own judgment and counting on your own judgment is number one. Number two is learning from others. Take every opportunity to learn from the people around you; develop role models. And third is the importance of education--developing your own intellectual curiosity. Educating yourself throughout your life is so enlightening, empowering and rewarding.
In the early days, when I first started riding with George Morris back in the 1970s, he used to come to Germantown, Tenn., where I was raised on a farm, to do clinics. I would dread his visits for two reasons: First of all, my mother and I could never control the crowing roosters and the gaggle of geese and goats and things that would just go marching through the covered arena unannounced. As we know, George loves order and organization, and it was chaotic during his lessons. So we would just cringe, but that was out of our control. Secondly, George would use these opportunities to stretch me--to challenge me and stretch my courage and confidence. We would ride up on this flat clearing up on the hill--it was very primitive--and he would start by building lines of complicated, complicated lines of jumps. But the problem was that we didn't really have much in the way of jumps, so he'd pull out benches and buckets and barrels, plywood panels, limbs that had fallen--whatever--and he would build these jumps, these lines. I would have to say they were not just primitive and airy, but trappy. And our jump standards were never high enough, so we'd get these concrete blocks and put the standards up on blocks. We didn't have enough jump cups either--we would drive nails in to hold the poles, so we would just have to have our hammer and nails ready.
On one such occasion, I happened to mention to George that I had this horse who could really jump, but he was so unorthodox. "Let's test him," George said. So we pull him out of the stall and I get on him. The reason he was so unorthodox, I think, is because he was a Tennessee Walker, so just as you saw your distance to the jump, he would lapse into a running walk, a rack, a single foot, whatever--and the distance you had was obliterated. That intrigued George even more, and up went the jumps. To this day, I don't think I have ever jumped bigger fences than up on that hill on plain dirt footing over barrels and two-by-fours hanging way up in the air. So my point is, who was George testing? The horse or me?
I'm telling you this story because we all learn good judgment from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Therefore it's of the utmost importance that we use our minds to differentiate between what is a challenge and what is unnecessary risk. It's all about trust: I totally trusted that George would never ask me to do something beyond my ability, just like the horses we ride shouldn't be asked to do something beyond their abilities. It's about trusting the people who are giving you direction. Later on, as I developed as a horseman and had more experience, George encouraged me to develop my own sense of awareness. With independence--or being an independent thinker--comes with it the acceptance and the awareness of your own judgment. You have to take responsibility for your own judgment. George encouraged me to question him--he never discouraged me from that, because that's how we develop as horseman. We learn from our experiences and use those experiences to give us the wherewithal to make that transition to making decisions on our own. It's how we grow, how we blossom, bloom and mature.