There is a blurry line from one level of riding to the next that can cause problems in the instructor / student relationship particularly if the student is a child. The blurry line is a magnet for dissension.

But before I can explain why the blurry line causes problems, I’ll define the levels the way I view them. This definition is very general. For early rider levels I use old fashioned definitions: beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate.

The Beginner Rider

The Beginner rider is the newcomer to the horse world. They can be any age. They’ve probably never ridden. The may never have  been up close to a horse. Or they might be an adult that has always loved horses and has a mind teaming with information. They start riding for a lot of different reasons— they love horses— mom wants them to ride—it’s something they’ve waited to do most of their lives.

The thing that defines them is that you would not turn them loose by themselves, in the open on an ordinary horse. 

In very broad and general terms they need to learn :

    • to control themselves and a safe horse at a walk and trot in a safe place
    • basic horse care and handling
    • simple terminology
    • many safety rules

What about different seats?

In general the beginner rider needs to learn the same thing no matter what style you teach. The same basics are important for every seat

Control, how to handle the horse, basic horse speak and safety is where all beginners start, regardless of seat, style or quality instruction.

Is that all?

It sounds simple, right? But inside of those very general requirements are specific skills that students must learn before they can move to a new level. My curriculum is very thorough because I want these new beginners to have a solid foundation.  They may become the next show ring riders or horse owners. Who knows? Some day they may teach riding.

The Advanced Beginner

This student is going to begin to demonstrate some proficiency: She can do basic horse care without my constant hovering. She can get the horse ready and into the arena on time for a lesson. She has steady hands and understands how to sit on the horse— performs certain exercises and games— pays attention.

This student is ready for a little pressure:

The advanced beginner will work on:

  • riding in the open on a cooperative horse
  • beginning to canter or lope
  • developing the seat with exercises such as no stirrups at slow gaits
  • learning to use independent aids
  • quality school figures
  • deep grooming and tack cleaning
  • ground poles (and small cross rails if that’s the venue)
  • How to ride with others
  • more horse care including simple vet and feeding
  • simple obstacle courses/ courses
  • leads, diagonals (if applicable)
  • group riding and arena manners

The list goes on

The above is truly a partial list. Curriculum for advanced beginner riders is more involved but these highlights give you an idea of the goals.

What am I going for?

The advanced beginner is usually the group that starts wanting to compete.  They dream of owning their own horse. Plus they want to hang out at the barn with other kids. And they are becoming stronger and self sufficient.  If they’re in Pony Club they’re talking about the next certificate. If they show they might be working walk/trot classes, cross rails, academy, or intro.

I want to know that I can look away from the advanced beginner and not worry.  After all they will be on a busy show grounds and will go into the arena out of my reach and with other advanced beginners.

Intermediate Riders

Intermediate riders are very active.  In my mind this is the Pony Club person who is moving out of the Ds, the stock seat rider who’s working on more serious patterns, the Saddle Seat rider who’s moving out of Academy, the Dressage student moving up to Training level, and the event student moving from beginner novice to novice. Or the trail rider who loads up and goes out for a quiet ride with friends.

The things they have in common:

  • they’re committed
  • they’ve chosen a direction
  • they are becoming self sufficient
  • they have foundation

Why the blurry line is a magnet for dissension

I haven’t given you the details of my criteria and curriculum for these levels because it goes way beyond the scope of this post.

The burry line between the levels of riding can be confusing for students.  It can be especially confusing for parents who want to see their children advance.

Students progress at different rates because of  their age and development, fears, body type, personality, natural ablities and a host of other things.


In order to illustrate my point, let’s just say I’m an instructor who only takes students to shows when they have reached the advanced beginner stage. And I don’t start teaching jumping until students are advanced beginners.  This is just for the purpose of illustration

Susie is a beginner and she’s bold and athletic.  It’s not long before she’s strong enough to canter on my very nice lesson horse.  But Susie has not been able to groom, clean hooves and tack up  without a lot of help. In my mind she’s a beginner because she cannot get the horse ready and to the arena by herself. (Remember that was one of my criteria above).  So she stays in the beginner group.

The way Susie (or her parents’s) see it, she’s cantering.  That must mean she’s ready to move into the advanced beginner group. Advanced beginners go to shows and they start jumping. But I haven’t even thought about moving Susie up or asking her to show because I know Susie can’t tack up and get ready on her own. As a result, Susie thinks I like the other students better and that I’m holding her back.  She and her parents think I’m playing favorites.

Do I give in to Susie and take her to shows when she can’t even saddle up safely?

The purpose here isn’t to tell you how to solve this problem, although one of the answers is good communication.  Another answer is to explain your criteria to parents and students ahead of time. A third might be to find a compromise and adapt.  Most problems between students and instructors are solvable.

Be Prepared

Riding instructors need to decide ahead of time how to handle the blurry line or else Susie’s scenario will play out many ways and multiple times.

Think of a Creek

Just for fun, think of riding as a series of creeks. The creeks are the blurry line.  Some people gallop their horses to the edge, leap in  and plow through the water.  Other race ahead and clear it in one huge leap. Some get to the edge and their horse balks, refusing to go forward, or worse it turns around and leaves.  They haven’t  developed the skills to keep the horse going forward. If I step in and help them through this creek, they will have to face another one down the line and it could be a lot deeper. And they will still need the skills they didn’t have at the first creek.

If you know ahead of time what it’s going to take to get through the water and you take whatever time is necessary to teach those skills to your student— the creek isn’t a problem.

Has the blurry line ever cause a problem for you? How did you handle it? Or how about a creek? ?Ever have a problem getting through?

Thanks for reading

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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