This really is an awesome thread, and it was a great post to read. Like you I'm a beginner (about 2 years in now), but I don't have my own horse and still fit in with the kid group most times. :)
When I first started out I actually thought I knew something about how all this worked, even though I had not worked with horses a day in my life, of course I'd learned everything I needed of basics from books and the internet.
Boy was I in for a shock! I realized I had no idea how to lead a horse, pick its feet, or halter it, much less ride or correct behavior. The only things I really knew how to do were clip on a lead rope and not get kicked.
A few weeks ago I made first of several realizations about how far I'd come since I got a permanent horse to work with (over a year ago). Before I was struggling just to get him moving (since he had a bad habit of stopping and planting his feet), and could barely do anything with him. Several months later he was far from the perfect gentleman, but behaved better for me than anyone else. Found out that some of the issues I had with him (backing, trotting, and lifting feet) were ones that he'd had with his previous rider, so therefore were long term and not totally my fault. Then we went again to a period of time where every day was a struggle and frankly neither one of us liked each other much.
Now I can get him trotting (granted not consistently, only occasionally but still better than before), back him up consistently, and while still not great he's getting better with his feet. I also got him backing under saddle and a lot softer while doing groundwork. On top of that his owner told me that she trusts me to handle all of her (15) horses, and I am working on building trust with her Thoroughbred who she will not let anyone ride right now and who nobody can do much with. I've now gotten to the point that she will follow me in the pasture, I've managed to pick up 3 of her 4 feet, and a couple of weeks ago there was difficulty in getting a blanket on her. She stood quietly with nothing but a rope tied around her neck and some food while she got blanketed, no fuss.
I don't pretend I did it all on my own, but I'm pretty proud of where I've gotten so far.