On Being Dedicated and Teachable

I think Hillary and I have some of the best conversations in the truck driving to/from lessons and shows. A lot of the random stuff that lives in my head gets to come out, and she often brings up other things and additional related points that I maybe hadn’t thought of. If you’re a nerd like me (us?), it’s fun.

almost as fun as doing dressage in shitty weather

One of the subjects we hit recently started as a discussion on dedication and morphed into talent vs commitment, which morphed again into what it means to be teachable. I had recently listened to a podcast with Stephen Bradley that touched on the subject, so I had already been through a lot of it in my head over the preceding days. (What, you don’t find yourself standing in the shower staring off into space while thinking about a random tangent related to riding theory or horsemanship?)

We started out talking about the subject of dedication, and how a lot of folks tend to be as dedicated as the people around them, for better or for worse. We as humans are like that in a lot of ways, as far as taking on the characteristics of the people we surround ourselves with. It’s why I’ve gotten so careful with my “inner circle” as I’ve gotten older. Hillary gave me what is probably one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had, saying that she definitely agrees with that, because she thinks I am one of the most dedicated people she’s ever met, and being around me makes her want to buckle down too. I am keeping that compliment tucked away in my psyche for the next bad day when I need a pick me up, so thank you Hillary for that. She’s not wrong – out of all the things I lack, and there are many, dedication is not one of them. I was raised having to working hard for whatever I want, and I still do, so I don’t really know any other way. I’m an “all in” kind of person, if I’m interested in what I’m doing (of course the down side to that being: if I’m not interested in what I’m doing, I’m 0% “in”… sorry to literally everything else that’s not horses).

Image result for work talent quotes


I’ve thought about this a lot in the past couple years, and I told her that I’m pretty sure I am the way I am because I’ve never been a particularly talented rider or been able to afford fancy or well-trained horses. I’ve always had to show up every day and do the work, and try to make the most of whatever I was lucky enough to be sitting on. I think a lot of us know what that’s like. If we aren’t 110% committed, we won’t make much progress. If I was a little more naturally talented, or if I had a horse that came to me as a “finished product”, would I have the same drive? If my parents had paid for my lessons and shows and bought me a super nice horse when I was kid, would I have the same drive? I don’t know. Probably not, honestly. Stephen Bradley talked about this too, saying that he never thought he was really that talented, but he wanted to learn and he wanted to be better, so he was insanely dedicated and did the best he could with the horses he had. With, um… significantly better results than myself, of course.

From there it morphed into what it means to be teachable, and I have to give Hillary a return compliment here because she is a good example of what teachable means to me. I’ve never heard her argue, she asks questions when necessary, she tries, and she’s respectful. She wants to learn. She’s got grit. She shows up with a “help make me better” attitude and is willing to listen to what anyone has to say. IMO, you can’t stop teachable people from getting better. If you show up every day wanting to learn, you will learn. If you’re open to doing things differently, you will learn. If you dig in when things get hard and embrace the process, you will learn. If you aren’t ruled by ego or pride, you will learn. As we were talking about it I realized that to me, being teachable is head and shoulders the most important quality when it comes to growth and success.

Image result for want to learn quotes

Well okay, maybe equally as important as dedication. But then again, maybe they go hand in hand. We both agreed that talent would be somewhere near the back of the pack.

I always think back to my days of teaching lessons at the barn’s summer camp… without fail I always had a handful of kids who were just as bad at the end of camp as they were at the beginning, and then another handful of kids who were little future champions. It had nothing to do with how talented they were on day 1, and everything to do with the attitude they brought to the plate every day. Guess which ones were fun to teach? Guess which ones I felt more invested in?

I don’t care if I’m the best rider at the show, or if I’m sitting on the best horse. Those are frivolous things, qualities that can come and go at any time and are beyond my control. Instead I want people to look at me and see that I’m dedicated, that I show up every day and work hard, and that I really want to learn. Having this conversation was a great reminder of that, and helped me get a firmer view of exactly what is most important to me. Those are the things I can control, and those are the things I want to strive for every day, which is exactly why I’m “putting pen to paper” now.

This isn’t the part where the work happens, so it’s not the right criteria by which to measure.

It goes along well with a lot of what I got from the book Chop Wood Carry Water, which includes an exercise where you develop a “scorecard” for yourself, to define what you consider to be a truly successful life vs letting society tell you what success means. You’re supposed to write down what characteristics you truly admire, and the ones you want to be known for, and then narrow it down to your top four. I’d been thinking about this in the back of my mind for a while but wasn’t able to really firm it up until after this conversation. Then it came easy. But I’ll get into the details of my scorecard and how I plan to use it more in the next Mental Game post.

What do you think on the subject of talent vs dedication vs being trainable? How important are these things to you? And, maybe more interesting, what would the top four things on your scorecard be?


22 thoughts on “On Being Dedicated and Teachable

  1. I really think that talent is at the bottom of the barrel for most real-life things. In the horse world specifically you can have all the talent in the world, but without the other things you talk about you will have very limited success. So many talented riders come and go, but the ones with tenacity/dedication/work ethic are the ones who stick around and make it. Perhaps talent matters at the very upper echelons of horse sports, but they still have to have the other ingredients to actually be successful. When I say successful I mean they are able to make a living in horses.
    My scorecard? I’m really not sure what would be my top 4 things. I still feel so entry-level at this jumping thing, but I’ve been riding horses since before I could walk. Chop Wood Carry Water is on my reading list, so maybe I will flesh out my scorecard soon!
    I really enjoyed this post.


    1. The scorecard is really hard! I’ve been thinking on it for a while, and even then I feel like it has the potential to change over time. I really like the idea of the scorecard though as a way of helping me stay focused on what really matters.


  2. One of my favourite mantras ever is “Practice makes talent”. I believe that most of what we see is learned skill rather than talent, and it can be achieved if you are dedicated enough and the right opportunities cross your path.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the compliment. More now than ever I realize the importance of the people you surround yourself with and that attitude can be everything. It would be so easy for me to say that I can’t do this. That it’s too hard. Which honestly I came back a bit like that. No more excuses though!

    I know that this year is going to be slower than we both maybe planned for but I feel like the hours we put in will make next year even better. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

    Our road trip convos are some of the best! Here’s to many more as I get to see what feels like all of Texas 😂


  4. I’m interested in hearing more about the score-card before I make a decision… It’s hard to think of yourself in a positive light sometimes, and even harder to say “Yes, that is a good quality of yours!” At least for me it is.


  5. ” If you aren’t ruled by ego or pride, you will learn.”
    THIS. This is one of the main things that have driven me out of the horse world and to other sports. I started getting really frustrated with the ego and pride of many equestrians and Equestrian professionals. So much drama. So little standards. They aren’t required to be licensed by any org. to teach, so there’s no consistency or standard of quality.
    Equestrians can be such an unapproachable group of people. Blegh. I got sick of it, but I’ll never get sick of reading about Henny and PestoPasta. People can disagree with me, that’s totally fine! But this is just my experience.


  6. I’m with you. I think being a dedicated learner and being trainable definitely stand out before talent. Having talent is great, but if you aren’t dedicated and cannot take learning and implement it, you’ve got nothing and you’re going to be left behind the rest of the pack in short order.

    As for the scorecard… Boy-o, that’s tough. Honest & stubborn come to mind quickly because the former is something I’ve strived to be most of my life and the latter is something I am without fail, for better or worse, and while it sets me back sometimes, it always helps me get where I want to go because, for me, stubbornness goes hand in hand with tenacity and determination. Something else I’m working on currently, but is so freaking hard for me, is compassion. I think I’d want “compassion[ate]” on there though because it’s something I really admire in others and hope to improve upon for myself. As for the fourth thing, I don’t know. A handful of words come to mind, but it’s something I need to ponder more.


  7. The people you surround yourself thing is so interesting as I try to figure out where I want to settle in my still-new-to-me horse zone. Talking to my trainer from two states ago, I realized that while she and I were on the same page, most of the rest of her clients are not people I would ever let sit on a horse of mine – most of them not because they couldn’t ride it, but because they have clear issues that they still haven’t fixed even in the years I’ve been away. On one hand, I appreciate that I am one of the lucky ones where when someone tells me to do something, I can do it. I may need reminding 30 seconds later, but I can change when told and work on it, which makes me one of those teachable types. On the other, I feel like if it’s something you’re still doing 3 years later, why would I keep you around in my circle? Same with those ‘oh, I’m an adult ammy, I cant be expected to do x y z’ types. Ugh. So it’s been interesting, as a horseless AA with some lofty goals, to try out different barn cultures and see the types of people they attract.


  8. Our main goal with our pony club is to give the kids exposure to as many knowledgeable instructors as we can, and just be open to what they suggest. We were shocked how many kids spent all their time arguing that “it’s not the way they did it in their regular lesson.” But over the years it’s become our mantra and just part of our club’s culture and I realize now how rarely I see that anymore. I think learning to be open to other ideas, trying things out, keep some/lose some, think thru what works for you (and your horse) is such an amazing opportunity to learn as a kid for all of life. So 👍 to being teachable, dedicated and surrounding yourself with others who embrace those qualities!


  9. The inner circle has probably been my biggest problem in the past 10 years. Love having horse out my front door, but am definitely not in the barn very often by myself. Having an 80-100 hour a week job doesn’t help, but when I had someone come ride with me, there was no excuse not to saddle up. Now there are a dozen excuses. Dedication isn’t my problem, but dedication to the horses surely has been for many years. Listening to Pound the Stone this week and waiting eagerly for the start of DST to remove on more barrier from my list of excuses.


  10. This is a very interesting topic and I definitely agree with you guys. If you aren’t teachable and have very little dedication, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have you aren’t going anywhere. But i do think that teachable and dedication go hand in hand b/c you can’t have just 1 of those traits if you want to really move up the level. You eventually hit a stopping point where it runs out and you won’t make it to the next level with out the other. (If that makes sense)
    I’ve met a couple or naturally talented people along the way and for all the ones I’ve met their talent eventually hit a plateau, usually when they reached a new “level” of riding where they talent ran out, or if they got a new horse that was trickier/different than the last one and they either had to have the dedication to push through it or they quit b/c it was no longer easy for them. I’ve also met a girl who doesn’t have a lot of talent and has all the dedication in the world but I swear she must not be teachable because she has bounced around various trainers over the years and there was always an excuse why the trainer didn’t work out. Every trainer I’ve seen her with she is out there cleaning stalls, riding all the horses, trying to make things work, basically doing all the things that make you think she’s dedicated, (heck she even homeschooled herself so she could work for her trainer) until something happens and she leaves that trainer for whatever weird excuse she has for it not working out. I’m sure there are more examples out there but those are a few that I’ve run into why you need dedication and teachability!


  11. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last day, it’s super interesting to consider. The point about your inner circle influencing you definitely resonates – mine has shrunk over the years but is now filled with people that I really admire for different reasons. I genuinely love meeting new people and honestly like most people, but that inner circle stays purposefully quite small. That scorecard is interesting to consider too, my goal-oriented type-a competitive heart loves the idea of tracking my progress as a person. I think for me the hardest thing would be distilling down to 4 qualities. It’s easy to want to be amazing and wonderful in every way, but considering what aspects are truly linked to my own success and happiness is way harder.
    Also, dedication and teachability over innate talent any day of the week. In my mind that applies so much to Francis; he’s got meh conformation, had very rudimentary training as a youngster, and is not flashy or well-bred. What he has is a willingness to learn and a willingness to keep trying, and it’s turned him into a really really special horse.


  12. In a lot of ways, I think horse showing weeds out a lot of people that aren’t dedicated or willing to learn (at least a little bit). I look around at a lot of people I compete against and around the blogosphere of those who compete and I don’t think I can name a single one who ISN’T dedicated and DOESN’T want to learn. You just don’t get very far in competitive horse sports if you don’t want it badly.


    1. I dunno, I can think of plenty of people that just want to show up and win ribbons but don’t really have any interest in doing the day to day HARD WORK that it takes to truly learn and get better. I can also think of plenty of people that I’ve shown with who are very “fair weather” or quick to give up/not participate when things get hard or inconvenient or uncomfortable. They tend to not really move up the levels very much, but they definitely exist.


  13. I agree completely with you. You can have all the talent in the world, but without drive (dedication) and being teachable, that talent won’t blossom.
    I was somewhere in the middle as a kid as far as what was handed to me. My dad expected me to work hard, and riding was a privilege I needed to earn. But he did pay for my lessons and eventually horses. We didn’t have a lot of money back then, so I wasn’t mounted on fancy imports or even made horses. I just stuck with it and learned what I could from what was available. I got really lucky that my five year old, green appendix quarter horse wound up being really special.
    I had a conversation with my trainer last year about being teachable. I try very hard to be a good student. That’s why I take lessons right? To learn? What’s the point if you’re not going to listen and try. Trainer said she’d rather have someone like me who has to work a little extra hard to learn new things, than someone with natural abilities that doesn’t listen or try.
    Sorry, I got rambling. Summary: yes. All of what you said.


  14. This is an awesome article! I would love to feature this on my website (with a link back to your blog, of course), if you would be so kind to allow that?


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