Amy Skinner: You Are Your Best Teacher

Editor’s Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She will present an arena demonstration with fellow trainer and rider, Katrin Silva, at the Best Horse Practices Summit.

She rides and teaches dressage and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

Amy Skinner writes:

Over the years, I’ve studied and worked as an intern under many great trainers. I’ve studied hard and tried my best to please my teachers. But teachers aren’t always right. And the person giving instruction on the ground, no matter how well meaning, does not have to bear the consequence of accident or injury.

You do.

I always say to my students: “What I am telling you is just my interpretation of what I see that your horse needs.”

That means I could be wrong. Or, it could mean that what I would choose to do in that moment may not be right for you.

Here’s something else I’ve learned:

As students, we need to keep one ear on the instruction and one ear on what’s going on more internally. For example:

  • Assess our ability
  • Assess our confidence level in the moment
  • Assess our understanding of the instruction.

There are many ways to work at something. While there are merits to pushing our boundaries and our comfort levels, listening to our gut is an important lesson and one to always keep in mind during the educational process.

I know this personally from a bit of recent hindsight. These past few years of trial, growth, and a handful of injuries, have taught me a lot about rushing, about riding green horses before I or they are ready, and about working on a set schedule. While being laid up, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what this all means.

The phase of my life called “being a good student” is over.  “Being brave” is done, too.

The new phase of my life is called “listening to my gut and being smart” and it has just begun.

Now, my interest is learning from my own instinct.  I throw out pressures to ride a certain way, or to get horses going at any rate other than the horse’s and mine.

It’s my career, my well-being, and my conscience on the line. I wave off memories of:

  • Every time I’ve been told to “grow a pair”
  • Every time I’ve heard “haven’t you ridden him yet?”
  • Every time I have had something to prove
  • Every time I cheapened my horsemanship and ignored what the horse needed and was telling me just to get a job done or keep a client

Now, the only one pushing me is myself, and my horse. The horse can trust my investment in a good outcome in any given hour, day, or month.

I encourage you to do the same. Take all teaching with a grain of salt. Be a Horse Pleaser and a Conscience Pleaser, not a People Pleaser. Because after all, it’s only money and it’s only time. What do you have without your health, your peace of mind, and your relationship with your horse?

Posted in BestHorsePractices Summit, Clinicians.


  1. Very well said. It would have been very nice to know when I was 20 and I didn’t. I’m glad to know it now. Keep spreading the word. For our own sake and our horses’s sake. I think that is what I regret most. The times I pushed a horse too hard to please and instructor.

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