What we see in top equitation rings around the country may appear to be poetry in motion—from spotless horses and impeccably still, seamless riding, to the flawless execution of difficult tests. But as Big Eq guru Coco Fath, 17, explains, what we see is the end result of thousands of hours of hard work, dedication, and attention to even the smallest of details.

While training with Beacon Hill’s Stacia Madden, Coco has learned to appreciate not just the finer points of the sport, but bigger life lessons as well. Here, she shares 10 of them with NF Style.

1. Organization

Riding at Beacon Hill has shown me how much advanced preparation and attention to detail is required to run a large and successful show barn. Stacia expects a lot from her staff and riders and has the respect of everyone in her barn, so we are able to deliver results. Schedules are determined months in advance and practice schedules, orders of go, and virtually every other detail is decided and communicated as soon as the information is available over countless emails and texts.

2. Respect

When entering the show ring, spectators see the horse and rider. However, behind every horse/rider combination is a whole team of people making those two minutes in the ring go as well as possible. Stacia sets the tone. Everyone’s job is important. One of the highlights for me this year was to see my groom Rene written up. He spends way more time with my horse then I am able to and is the main reason that “Puff” (a.k.a. Class Action) feels relaxed and confident in the show ring. Stacia leads by example through her actions; it’s not just about saying “thank you”, it’s about being on time and prepared and sharing the victories both small and large.

3. Think!

When on course, it is easy to get nervous and not think through or rush your decisions. This is a problem that I have when it comes to testing in medals. Stacia has taught me to be smart in these situations and try to have the sharpest test possible by being confident in my choices, taking risks when necessary, and completing the directions at any cost.

4. Preparation

At Beacon Hill (BH), every horse and rider has a specific program that is considered and reconsidered constantly. Every possibility is practiced, whether it be variations on a medal test or simply how to enter the ring. Small things matter. This means showing up to a course walk early, watching all possible early rounds, having clean and polished boots, making sure your horse has done whatever is necessary for a great performance, and knowing your order of go. When showing, you want to have every tool possible to win. Preparation plays a huge role in winning.

5. Go for it!

It is important to enter every class with a goal in mind.  Even if you are showing a young horse or you are just starting out, achieving your goal is important whether it be getting around gracefully or taking all of the inside turns, risks, or whatever it takes to win.

6. Have Fun

This attribute can be particularly hard to follow as the equitation can be quite stressful at times. I have learned that just because you did not have the best round ever, or you did not receive the results you believe fit, remember that the goal is to learn and enjoy. There are definitely times to be serious, but for the most part, coming out of the ring with a heartfelt smile on your face is just as important as a first place ribbon.

7. Reality Bites 

Equitation is a judged sport—or better or worse! In the divisions like the equitation and the hunters, you will never be able to understand fully why or why not [decisions are being made]. You may have the round of your life and get a score of a 80, or feel like you rode terribly and receive a 90, but that’s the sport for you. Accept the gifts and shake off the losses. There is always another day and another round!

8. Time Management

Time management is another form of organization that is particularly important for the equitation. Feeling rushed before entering a ring can completely change your temperament as well as your horses’. Being able to manage time a schedule down to the minute is something Stacia and the team at Beacon Hill are especially good at. I always have more than enough time to ride all my horses and make sure both myself and my horse are ready to go.

9. Teamwork 

Everyone is important. Yes, this is mainly an individual sport—especially in the equitation division—but in the horse world, it really does take a village. From your barn mates to the staff, everyone around you can make a difference in your overall performance as a rider. Stacia and everyone else at BH emphasizes the fact that we are ultimately a team. I am lucky enough to be able to ride at a barn that acts like one, big family, and riding with this many people around me has definitely shaped my riding. Watching others in group lessons, spending time at the barn with grooms and horses, and knowing there are so many people behind me has certainly altered my definition of what a family is.

10. Appreciation for These Amazing Animals

It is not every day that you find a horse willing to jump over sticks and large puddles of water all while having a human sit on their back. It is even more rare to find a horse willing to do this at 3’6 height, for 3+ classes, while being as smooth as possible—which is basically the job of an equitation horse. Being a show horse takes hard work, and should never be taken for granted. Stacia reminds us that these are horses, not machines, and that we should be grateful for every ride that they give us.

-Photo credit: The Book LLC courtesy of Coco Fath.