Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
If your goal is to be the best rider you can be, then ride a lot. Read books, listen, and get as much experience as you can. Try to learn how horses think, because a horse giving you everything he has will outperform a somewhat better horse that is doing enough to get by.
If you want to become a world champion...that is a bit different. The advice that follows is distilled from two books by champion riders, plus my experience in the military - both as someone who was very good at what he did, and someone who watched others with even more talent and ambition.
Dick Francis, a champion jockey from the 50s, would have told you it is too late. He wrote that he received letters about this all the time, but he felt that at the highest levels of competition, someone starting in their teens was too late. He said someone starting in their teens could become a good jockey, but wouldn't be a great one because they had already lost out on learning horses at 5 or 6. He felt it was like learning a language - you could get very good if you start at 15, but you would never be as good as someone raised in that language. I don't know if he was right or not.
There was another book I skimmed thru but don't own. However, the main point that rider made rang true with my experience in the military - if you want to reach the very top, you need to be willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING. Work, money, friends, family - there are others out there with as much raw talent as you who are willing to sacrifice those things. If you aren't, you will be under a handicap.
In the military, my job needed someone who could look at a 2 dimensional picture and see it in 3-D. I am very gifted in that area. But I wasn't the only one...
And while I was willing to sacrifice a lot - too much, I think - I wasn't willing to sacrifice my pride, and wasn't completely willing to sacrifice my family. I spent 6 months/year deployed, but I wasn't willing to ignore them during my months home. And if a senior officer 'rode me' hard enough, I'd tell him to go to hell...and worse. One Army officer I was temporarily working for smiled briefly when I did that...and gave me an Army Commendation medal at the end, which was very unusual for an Air Force officer to receive. Some of my USAF commanders, however, didn't take it quite so well...
My biggest problem in my career was keeping my mouth shut. But I also didn't want to become one of those guys who retired and found himself living with a stranger who was supposed to be his wife. And if you are serious about going all the way to the top, then you need to be ready to sacrifice everything else for your goal - because there is someone else out there who will.
My advice? Focus on being the best rider you can be. As you get older, you can figure out how much you are willing to sacrifice. My personal values say you should always put your integrity and family ahead of your career, but you'll have to decide that for yourself.
"There goes Earl!"