Riders: can you image if instead of having Horse for Sale websites, we had Riders for Sale sites? Horses picking
and choosing from a selection of riders to find the one that they thought matched their skills and goals, do you
think you would be picked?
Owners/riders can be so judgemental of their horses, yet rarely are willing to look at themselves and their own
limitations and issues. Frustratingly very often the rider finds the next horse has the same issues and they go
through one horse after another not realizing that they are the root cause.
Alternatively though, there are the riders that beat themselves up about their lack of riding skills to the point that
they make it difficult for themselves to progress and actually enjoy riding!
To be a better rider, it is important to understand your own limitations as a person and a rider and be able to
accept your physical and mental boundaries and work within them. Riding should be about being the best you can
be so that you can enjoy a healthy partnership with your horse.
I am lucky enough to be able to teach a variety of riders; from beginners, to advanced riders, as well as many with
confidence and fear issues. It is very interesting for me to see the preconceptions and pressures each type of rider
tends to put on themselves. Really, for most of us, riding isn't how we pay our bills, it won't solve world hunger,
and it shouldn't be how we define ourselves yet so many riders seem to put a huge amount of pressure on
themselves to perform at a certain level and to progress at a certain rate.
If I have two students start at the same time it can be very hard for one to see the other progress faster and with
more confidence, particularly if they are kids of more or less the same age.
For adults who are returning to riding after taking time off, it can be very frustrating for them to not be able to ride
at the level they left off at, and they tend to push themselves to frustration (and soreness)!
There are many factors which affect a rider's ability to learn the concepts of riding, and their body's ability to
master the physical skills required;
o We aren't all built the same! Some people are blessed with an agile body that flexes where it needs to flex and
has strength where strength is needed. Different body types are more naturally suited to riding than others and it
can be very frustrating to have the desire but to realize nature did not intend you for riding. Occasionally I am
faced with a rider who for whatever reason is just not able to use their body in the ideal way for riding. As an
instructor I can either continue to force them to contort into the visual ideal, or I can work with what I have and try
to compensate for the rider's limitation. I may suggest at home exercises to try to help with the rider' weakness,
but I do have to be careful I don't make the rider fixate on a particular "flaw".
Somehow it is often easier for trainers to accept a horse's limitations due to conformation and work around them
than it is to accept a rider's limitations due to their conformation, yet rider conformation affects their balance, feel,
o Outside factors such as work stress, stress at home, and psychological issues can greatly affect someone's
ability to learn and to focus. Stress in particular can block a rider's ability to feel. Something that is very important
but at the same time hard to teach. Relaxation and focusing techniques are a great idea for riders who think this
may be an issue for them. It is also very important to let your instructor know if you are having a stressful day, or
have an issue with nerves.
A consistent pre-ride routine to switch your mind from work/school/family to riding is a very useful tool. For me
the routine of brushing is very important as it allows me to decompress from what ever else is going on in my life
and makes me focus on my horse. For this reason, I feel it is important that lesson students, particularly adults,
should be allowed to brush and tack up their own horses.
If you have an overwhelming issue with fear when riding, then your riding instructor may not have the knowledge
to help you overcome this issue and you may also have to enlist the help of a professional. The most important
thing in instances like this though, it is to look at why you wish to ride and to try to accept that you may need to
take it slower than you originally hoped. Patience now will pay off later.
o How we learn vs. how we are taught can also greatly affect our ability to progress as riders. Some people learn
best by hearing, some by seeing, and some by doing. Knowing this can help you find an instructor that teaches in a
way that will be effective for you. If you feel you are the only one of your instructors students that just doesn't get
it, it could be that their teaching style just isn't a good match for your learning style. This doesn't make you a bad
student, or them a bad teacher, just a bad match for the both of you!
o The equipment and horse you use for your riding lessons may also affect your progress as a student. It is
important that you ride in a saddle that fits your body and is reasonably comfortable and that is suited to the style
of riding you are trying to learn; learning to jump in a dressage saddle for example, may make you feel
uncomfortable! Cheap quality tack will also tend to be slippery and may make you feel looser in the tack than you
would like. It is difficult to expect a lesson barn to have high end saddles, but they should have a selection so you
can pick one that fits you reasonable well.
Once you have your own horse and need your own saddle, be very careful to shop around and find a suitable
saddle; as much fun as it is to shop for new equipment, a used saddle may give you better quality for your dollar.
Having a horse you feel safe on, and that is able to perform reasonable well for your level of riding will also make
learning easier. Remember though, that horses are not robots, nor should they be; if you are on a horse that
doesn't make you actually ride them properly then you may not be learning properly.
Having the proper riding clothes can also make a bigger difference than you expect; cheap boots will pinch your
ankles, riding in jeans will rub your legs, half or full chaps will give you additional grip, and gloves will help you
keep a feel of the reins.
Now that we have looked at some of the basic issues that riders may encounter when learning to ride, let's look at
some of the pitfalls that seem to trap some riders and prevent them from getting to the next level.
o First the most common and obvious; being able to set aside adequate time to ride. It is difficult to develop
muscles and feel for riding if you are inconsistent and sporadic with your riding times. Can't commit? There is
nothing wrong with that as long as you accept that you will not be able to progress much past the basics. Riders
are athletes who need to be able to develop physically and mentally by riding on a regular routine.
o Setting unrealistic goals. Although goals are a great motivation, it is very frustrating to set a goal and not be able
to achieve it. All too often people set their riding goals in the comforts of their own homes and are overly
ambitious which sets themselves up for failure. You also have to be careful to make sure your goals are something
you have the power to achieve; for example a goal of winning a 3'0" class at your next show is a poor goal as it is
dependent on the judge and the level of competition as well. You may feel like you failed if you only place second,
even if you had the round of your life!
Setting goals such as "I want to jump 3'6" by the end of the month" may be realistic, but it may also prove to be
more than your horse is ready for. Pushing to reach that goal may end up damaging your horse and setting you
Better goals are things that are within you, and do not rely on judges, the competition, or pushing your horse's
ability. You should also discuss your goals with your instructor to make sure both of you are on the same page.
Good riding goals could be: I want to ride 5 times this week and not loose my temper, I want to be able to ride
for 10 minutes without stirrups by the end of the month, or I want to not go off course in my lessons!
Training goals should always be based on working within a systematical fashion and not based on an arbitrary time
line. For example your next goal for your horse could be to be able to leg yield both ways at walk, then trot,
before moving on to trying it at canter.
o Riders, particularly ones that show, start to worry too much about what others think and trying to mimic what
looks right and what wins that the shows. This can really restrict a rider's ability to ride as they may be fighting
their own natural conformation, their horse's style, or even what is sound horsemanship! Just because it wins,
doesn't mean it is right or effective. Sometimes the "pretty riders" need to have exceptional horse that will tolerate
the stiffness that goes along with the look.
o Sometimes when a rider gets advanced enough to be able to know what they or their horse is doing wrong, they
start to fixate on an issue. This fixation rarely solves the problem, and may actually create new ones, as many
issues that are easily identifiable are usually just symptoms of something else going on. For example a rider whose
leg keeps coming too far forward may spend their ride fighting their leg position and as a consequence develop
stiffness in their hips when the issue is likely in their upper body!
If the issue is with their horse, then the gadgets come out trying to force the horse to"obey"rather than trying to
figure out why the horse is doing what it is doing and the entire ride is spend fixated on this one issue, not much fun
for horse or rider! Just like with the rider, a horse's training issue is often a symptom of something else; a high head
may be soreness, or a poorly used back; not something draw reins will fix, only mask!
Finally, a rider discovers a tool, such as a whip, spurs, or draws reins, and the overwhelming human reaction is to
over use that tool. For some reason it is just hard for a person to hold a whip and not use it. As I will discuss in
later articles, many of these tools can actually cause more issues than they fix and lead to a downward spiral in the
horse's training. To the rider though, it will just seem like they have gotten worse and feel that they need even more
tools to fix the issue!
At the end of it all though, it comes down to compassion; an instructor's compassion for the student and the rider'
compassion for their mount. If you want to be a trainer or rider that a horse would pick out of the classifieds, than
open your mind, heart, and be ready to be humble and never stop learning!
Wanted: Compassionate Rider - August