There will never be a moment in my career with horses when I can say "I know how to ride.", because there will never be an end to my learning. Every horse is different. There are lessons that I have learned from particular horses that will help me when working with another horse but there will never be two horses that are exactly alike to ride.
One Summer, when I was a teenager working at a local stable, I made it my goal to ride every horse on the farm at least once. I almost made it, but I was too big to ride the Shetland ponies so I was short by 2. Whenever I was given the chance to choose which horse I could ride, I always chose the most difficult one. It didn't always go well, but I never backed down from a challenge. It was from those difficult horses that I learned the most.
When Scout came in for training last year, he certainly qualified as difficult. He'd been ruling the roost at home and had some terrible and dangerous bad habits. I've come a long way from my indestructible teenage years, and I still don't back down from a challenge, but I go about things with more caution and less ignorance. For the first few days, just to get Scout from his stall to his paddock safely, I wore my helmet, gloves and jumping vest.
Scout came back again this year, but now to be sold. To make sure he is going to be a good all-around pony, I've been working with him before putting up any advertisements. He is a different guy now. Even the kids can lead him around, and without any body armour. When he came to me, he was a very angry little guy. He did everything with his ears back, he wanted to push people around, he wanted to get out of every situation by fighting and he complained about everything that was asked of him. He is well on his way to becoming a good citizen but I can't take all the credit.
The cranky old school horses, Gretchen in particular, quickly took the wind out of his sails. Gretchen has passed on now but Jolly and Rocket and Henry still make sure Scout knows his place in line. Being in a herd situation and having to be a part of a society has given Scout his horsieness back. He is happier, has his ears up most of the time now, is more relaxed and more respectful.
In his work with me, he has learned that he needs to stand when asked to stand and move when asked to move. This includes, under saddle, on the longe line, leading or standing on crossties. He is so good that he rarely needs a reminder now. But what he reminded me of the other day is that horses learn to behave a certain way while in certain places or situations. If you don't expose them to different places/situations they don't learn to transfer the behaviors over. In Scout's case, I moved him from the crossties to the tie post outside to do grooming and tacking up. He immediately set about fidgeting and complaining as he used to. He had learned that those behaviors were not acceptable on the cross ties, not learned that those behaviors were unacceptable period. I had gotten complacent and forgotten that.
Horses need to able to stand for grooming whether in the ring, in the barn, in the stall, at the trailer, at the circus, in a train station, on an elevator... anywhere! Not just on one set of crossties in one barn. Too many people try to shelter their horse in an effort to not spook them. I say, take them places, show them stuff, expose them to as much as possible. My horses are used to hay being dropped out of the hay loft behind them as they are crosstied. They don't blink as my son rides his back past the ring They don't mind if people run up behind them or drop things or rattle things... Well, there are 2 exceptions but they are "special needs" Thoroughbreds. Then there is my horse, who spooks at the immobile barrels every single time he sees them even though he sees them daily and has seen them daily for the past 7 years. Like I said, every horse is different, and some are more different than others.