Amateur rider Nicole Lakin has been training with Max Amaya and Stonehenge Stables for more than a decade, and like the best longterm coaching partnerships, it’s informed who she is as a horsewoman today—both in and out of the tack. At age 29, Lakin earned numerous accolades in the equitation and jumper rings, including multiple medals in the 2006 North American Junior & Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). In addition to riding, the horse care and management lessons Nicole learned from Amaya as his working student and later barn manager have also had a major impact on her career as the founder of the start-up software company, BarnManager.com.

Here, Lakin shares eight lessons Max has taught her about confidence, learning as you go, and giving back in a sport where generosity is an often overlooked virtue.

1. Don’t be complacent with your riding. 

As a teacher, Max always tells it like it is. He is a perfectionist, and he doesn’t let you get away with anything. He always reminds you that there is something that you can do a little better.

2. Goals evolve over time.

Max knows that everyone has different riding goals at different stages of their life. While he helped me jump some classes at the international level with Alaska, he knows that now, as an amateur, I have my work, grad school, family, and other things that take a lot of my time.

3. Stay confident by being realistic. 

Max always keeps me from getting overzealous when he knows I’m not ready for something.

4. Hard work trumps talent.

Max has had a lot of really talented riders over the years, and he is really good at fostering [that]. But he always has his eye on the people who maybe don’t get it as naturally but never stop working, and I have seen him provide opportunities for hard working people that may not have come across them otherwise.

5. Generosity. 

I’ve seen Max give away horses that he was riding without thinking twice—horses that he has owned himself. I think that he feels like he was given an opportunity with [his grand prix horse] Church Road, and he wants to do that for others as much as he can.

6. Believe in what you’re doing.

Max has a program that he believes in, and that is why it works for so many people. That doesn’t mean that it is perfect or inflexible, or even that it will work for everyone. But if you are going to be a part of something, if you let doubts and questions fester, it will never work. If you can really believe and have some faith, you are far more likely to succeed.

7. No one has it all figured out (really).

It doesn’t matter how well you ride or how many grand prix horses you have—everyone is just doing the best that they can. Some people are better at it than others, but the people who have the most success are the ones that are honest with themselves about what they know, what they think they know, and what they could still learn.

8. Never stop evolving.  

When I first started riding with Max, I believed that at some point you ‘grew up’ and then you just knew things. Now I know that there are always more things to learn, and that is what gets me out of bed before my alarm clock in the morning.

-Photo credit: Shawn McMillen Photography. All images courtesy of Nicole Lakin.