You’re never in the wrong place. Sometimes, you’re in the right place looking at things the wrong way.


As thorough horse people, we work to balance out how much we interact with our equine partners from both the on and off sides. The on side, left side or driver’s side being the side that all blankets, bridles, saddles, halters and so on buckle or get their last tighten from and the side you typically mount from. The off side, right side or passenger side being, well, the other side. This year has certainly been the off side—definitely not the right side—it feels like we are passengers on this 2020 ride and most certainly from the other side. We will focus here on the on side, the times this year we were in the driver’s seat and making the most out of the year with our horses.

Working from home and online schooling this spring gave way to the ease of slipping away to the barn over the lunch hour, the extra time without the commute in the afternoon and even the quiet roads to get to the barn. We learned to tribe with our horse friends and family and enjoy the numerous trails that surround us, getting the nod by the COVID-19 rules to take ourselves and our animals out for exercise.

Kids spent more time with their animals and not at long days of school followed by driving to sports practices and games. PE at home turned into trail rides and playtime on the roads, land or in the arena.

We learned how to do virtual clinics and lessons, sometimes with nationally and internationally recognized clinicians, who sought out riders to keep their skills sharp. We learned to videotape our rides correctly, found gadgets like PIVO, apps like On Form and virtual horse competitions.

With virtual competitions, disciplines, breed associations and individuals created platforms to submit a pattern, test or whatever to get feedback on your ride and compete with others. At the same time providing some income to the judges who typically make their living off of traveling the country to judge competitions. Class winners sometimes even received ribbons and prizes in the mail.


Not to mention the people who either couldn’t or wouldn’t normally travel to a horse competition actually entered and tried one out. They mustered together the appropriate outfit, recorded their ride and sent it in for judging and comments. Longtime competitors were able to get the feedback they rely on through virtual competitions as they progress with their skills. Being virtual added the ability to separately submit their rides to judges for individual critique.

With the mass cancellations of horse competitions, we stepped back and reevaluated our performance and perhaps found some holes in our training to improve upon as we also improved our relationships with our steeds. Those with young horses around had time to get in some good lessons during a time those youngsters would normally be on the back burner. Some disciplines had a late start up and were eventually able to run competitions with precautions in place allowing for some sense of normalcy for participants, albeit masked. New coaches, who would have normally been traveling the country, were found by riders looking for a fresh perspective.

The previous trend to move to more urban areas miraculously reversed and people started looking for ways to get some space around them in more rural areas. Horses (and lots of other 4-legged animals!) were added at record rates to new families.

2020 seems to have had us awkwardly getting in the saddle from the off side, definitely feeling like passengers. Although, once mounted, we were squarely in the driver’s seat with the best view around, between the ears of our astonishing hooved partners. Here’s to having access to all the controls on the on side as we enter a promising new year. 

Heather McWilliams © 2020