The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. This can cause a crisis of confidence, because you see your own competence as a relatively small thing, and there’s still a high peak to climb. You stand at the bottom and look up, and despair of ever getting there.
The other side of the coin is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. That’s an oversupply of confidence with an undersupply of competence. It can get a person into trouble anywhere, from politics to the classroom. Add a large herd animal with its own views on the matter, and it can cause real trouble.
Rent-a-horse proprietors everywhere can see him coming. He’s the guy who swaggers up, declares he’s an “expert rider,” and insists on being given a horse well beyond his actual level of skill. In less litigious times, he’d be given the horse named Satan and turned loose, and nature would take its course. These days, if the release form is sufficiently ironclad, the same thing may happen. Or someone will have to make an executive decision, eyeball his evident as opposed to avowed skills, and help him heave himself onto old Sofabed.
At the rental stables, there’s at least some protection against the the Dunning-Kruger problem. But what about the riding academy? In the US, where there’s no universal accreditation system (versus the UK and Europe, where instructors are vetted and approved before they’re turned loose to teach), anyone can put up a sign and call herself a trainer. The situation described here, as potentially dangerous as it is, is not at all unique. In a jumper barn you’ll get the “trainer” who has students flinging horses and themselves (often separately) over fences long before the students can either steer or balance reliably. In a show barn, the trainer does all the prep work and training, and the client puts on the outfit and (hopefully) steers the horse around the show ring to a ribbon.
Such trainers may or may not be able to ride particularly well themselves. Those that do ride well are feeding off their poorly educated clients, while inflating the clients’ sense of competence. They may, too often, choose horses for those clients (at the clients’ considerable expense) that are suitable for a professional trainer but not for an amateur rider. Such as, for example, the wealthy parents whose 10-year-old daughter’s trainer purchased an Olympic-level high jumper for the child. The horse was far, far beyond the child’s ability to ride. I never did hear the sequel to that story, but based on experience I would speculate that either the child was so intimidated by the very spirited, high-strung animal that she gave up riding altogether, or else Dunning-Krugered herself, abetted by the trainer, into accident or injury.
It’s not always the trainer’s fault, either. At the other end of the cash spectrum, an inexperienced rider on a budget may go out on her own without the trainer’s input and buy a nice, cheap horse that (bonus points) is really pretty and she fell in love. Better yet, she may get a “free” horse, and bring it proudly to the trainer. “Look at the great bargain I found!”
There’s a saying: “Ain’t no such thing as a free horse.” There’s another one, too: “Costs just as much to feed a bad horse as a good one.”
Cheap or free horses are often that way for a reason. Frequently because they’re untrained or mistrained. Ms. Dunning-Kruger may be an novice or intermediate rider, and may not consider that a green horse or a rehab is more than she can handle. She may not know how much work and skill training requires, and won’t have figured professional training into her budget. There’s a saying for that: “Green horse plus green rider equals black and blue.”
With horses, pride really does goeth before a fall. Hard. With broken bones.
What’s the solution?
Education, of course. A solid dose of (un)common sense. A good match of horse to rider. Clear eyes and an honest assessment of what the rider can do, and what he aims to do as he progresses. Choosing the horse to fit that assessment, with room to grow. Confidence without arrogance.
Sound like a f ew other fields people get into around here? Writing, for example. It’s meant to. Taming the wild word-beast has a lot of the same parameters. With horses it’s a lot more organic, but it comes from some of the same places.