It’s a question that most riding instructors have had to answer. There’s a simple, one size fits all answer, but it brings to mind a plethora of questions. And answering a question with a question is purely annoying to the questioner.
The basic answer is, “Well, it depends on what you want to do.” And this is true.
I love young beginner students. They’re horse crazy, they want to learn about them on the ground and mounted. Young riders live in that bubble period – you probably remember it, birth to about mid teen when we’re learning everything from how to “take turns” to political science. When beginners arrive at your stable for their first lesson, they’re not concerned about how long it’ll take to learn to ride, they just want to ride. Not to say a little further into their lesson series they won’t want to know how long it will take to learn to canter, or jump, or be “good enough” for trails or shows, but that’s enthusiasm speaking and it’s not the same question.
Adults are different. Adults view things according to schedules, achievements, and finances. An adult riding student usually has a clearer grasp of their own learning process. Non-horse adults who are parents of dancers, gymnasts, soccer players, and bicycle riders are usually the ones who want to know how long it will take for their child to learn to ride a horse.
As a parent/grandparent, I know what it’s like to walk naively into sign up for an activity my child wants, not knowing anything about it. For us it was Suzuki Violin, gymnastics; oh yes and Pony Club (which is another story for another day).
The parent of your prospective beginner says, “How long will it take for my daughter to learn to ride?” In my mind I’m saying, “Oh my, do you know what you could be in for?” because I know how it goes when a horse crazy child is given the gift of riding lessons. Slowly, but surely, at least one parent will be involved in a new hobby that they didn’t know existed. In Suzuki, by the time your child has progressed, you’ll know more about the violin than you ever wished, and you’ll stretch your time and budget to give her what she needs to succeed. Riding is like that, but on steroids.
But I smile and say, “Well, it depends on what your daughter wants to do.” And I explain learning to ride requires developing muscle memory and strength, as well as learning new skills. I compare it to a child learning to ride a bicycle, from tricycle up, then I add the third facet: the horse. We talk about the child learning to communicate her wishes to an animal who may not always have the same goal, doesn’t speak the same language, and one who doesn’t start and stop by pushing pedals. We talk about the relationship with the horse. Riding horses involves lots of relationships; with the horse, with the instructor, with other kids and their horses, with your surroundings, and yourself.
My goal is to lay the ground work for allowing the child time to develop basic skills in riding before they move on to the next thing; and to give her the opportunity to become comfortable with a group of riders at our barn, which often has as much value as the riding.
We discuss growing and growth spurts. I explain that the growing child will master certain skills at one age and suddenly hit a growth spurt. During a growth spurt, a child’s body can feel like a foreigner to him or her. Suddenly arms, legs, or torso grow; balance and coordination that previously felt terrific, now feels awful and precarious. At these times, kids can lose confidence in themselves. They can feel awkward and unattractive; even clumsy. This is when it is important to encourage young riders to “hang in there” and wait to meet the beautiful version of themselves that will emerge on the other side.
I offer two options to parents of potential students; a “Try it” class and a block of lessons. A “Try It” class is a one time emersion experience that includes handling and grooming, as well as riding. The riding is done on a line.” The “Try it” class is especially good for the child or parent who isn’t sure the child will “like” the whole horse experience. It’s also great for the timid rider. The second option is a block of basic lessons that cover getting to know the horse, learning basic start, stop and turning skills, graduating to riding off the line at a walk and trot. By the end of this group of lessons, I’ll have seen the child under a variety of circumstances and gotten a firm sense of the child’s goals and ability for riding. Then we revisit the “How Long” question in more detail, directly relating it to their child.
It’s difficult to put a timeline on how long it takes to learn to ride. Jane Holderness-Roddam wrote a book, “Horse Riding in a Weekend: The Easy Way to Learn to Ride”. It’s a clever title because not only does it draw the attention of the “would be” rider, but it grabbed mine, making me angry. I thought, “how dare anyone mislead people this way?” But the title of the book is only a hook to get your attention, to teach the reader about basic riding skills that carry on beyond the weekend.
You can also go online to find a web site that promises to teach you to ride in 4 days; that is IF you’re an adult and IF you spend from 9 AM to 5-6 PM in the saddle for those 4 days, on the trainer’s well trained horses. After 40 hours, an average adult should be able to ride a reliable horse on a trail. They might not be able to walk the day after, but they will be able to ride a horse!! Seriously, can you imagine anyone who has never ridden putting in about 10 hours a day on a horse for 4 days in a row? Oh, the pain of it!
The length of time it takes to learn to ride boils down to who you are, what you want to do, and how much time you’re willing to invest. Learning to ride a quiet horse on trails can be achieved in 6 months, opening the door for a lifetime of enjoyable rides. Learning to ride a green horse on trails? Learning to jump, rein, dressage, event, train, compete or anything else that goes beyond the basics? Well, that just depends on how “good” you want to become. If you’re like many of us, it’ll take a lifetime (plus some) from the first time you put your foot in the stirrup until you reach your goal. But it’s a good ride; one that is worth all the effort.
There is no specific answer for the question, because it’s all relative to the rider. I’d love to hear from readers about how you answer the question, “How Long Will It Take To Learn To Ride?”. If you reply in the comments box other readers can learn from your good answers, too.
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor