If you have followed The Riding Instructor for any length of time, by now you know that I’m a huge advocate for beginners, their instructors and the foundation that is laid in riding lessons.
The beginner rider is where we can establish a strong foundation of basics. It’s to these basics that the building blocks are added, step by step, to successfully develop confident and effective riders and horsemen. The success of the beginner rider will determine the strength and quality of the riding community because the training these beginners receive has a direct influence on the ability of the Intermediate and advanced rider.
Too often the education of the beginner rider is over looked. It is passed off to the riding instructor wannabees because it is not thought of as enough challenge for the “good” instructors. Or beginner lessons are thought of “easy” to teach, not requiring a very experienced instructor.
It’s true – Steffen Peters does not need to teach beginners how to post or steer. But it’s also true that if the beginner is not taught correctly to post and steer, Stephen Peters will be teaching it at the upper level.
Does it take an Olympic level rider to teach beginners? No. But it takes just as much education and experience to excel in the field of teaching beginners as it does to excel teaching at the upper levels. The training and experience is just different and appropriate for the task.
If I want to learn to sail, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to head out to the bay or ocean with a teacher that has recently learned to sail. I want to go with someone who has spent their life dealing with all kinds of conditions and situations. The same way if my 16 year old son wants to learn to drive, I’m not sending him out for lessons with his best buddy who passed his driver’s test 3 months or even a year ago. I want someone who knows not only about driving and all that can go wrong but I also want someone who understands teenagers. And 7 year old Susie? She wants to learn to swim. . . I’m looking for someone who has at least achieved lifeguard status, not someone who just earned their swimmer’s badge.
Students who have the correct foundation succeed more quickly when they finally need the specialty instructor. Riding students who do not have the correct start usually struggle forever, unless they go all the way back to the beginning. Unfortunately many of the upper level “specialty” instructors have holes in their own training because they were started by beginner instructors instead of instructors of beginners. There’s a huge difference.
Giving a rider the tools of a solid basic foundation and teaching them how to think situations through is one of the best gifts we can give as instructors. Today, our sport and art of riding have yielded to industry. Our individual American independent spirit, grit and style have yielded to a cookie cutter process of stamping position in the saddle and outline of the horse. And sportsmanship and horsemanship have yielded to salesmanship. And our riders have learned to be dependent on anyone except for themselves because they are lacking in their basic education because they are being started by beginners. When we don’t give the tools to our students, independence is lost and dependency on the trainer reigns.
Going against the grain is never popular, especially in our fast food, fast fix and win at all cost society. But the past few years have begun to produce whispers of desire to return to the basics and traditions of the past and to refurbish our sport. We need to return to basics and tradition before they are lost. We need to develop teachers that can teach and are willing to put basics ahead of everything else. A person can go a long way on an excellent foundation.
Ours is sport, that taught correctly, lasts a person a lifetime. It’s not seasonal. It’s not limited to the young. It’s not meant only for the physically gifted, the thin or the athletic. It’s a sport that has the ability to add quality of life to every body type, lifestyle and age group. Our sport provides exercise, fresh air, individual activity, team activity, companionship, competition, humility, grace, and accomplishment. If more of our youth learned to care for a horse and ride correctly we’d see less time spent hanging at malls, on electronics and less time spent in pursuit of a high. If more of our adults rode with the confidence that results from good basic training less time would be spent in stress therapy. People always quote Winston Churchill who said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” but have you ever pondered about why this is true? If there ever was an activity that has it all, it’s horses.
Good riding requires a knowledge of good basics. Good basics come from good instruction. It requires attention to detail and a desire to improve. Good riding requires patience and endurance and goal setting. Competition and fancy horses are not a requirement for developing an excellent set of basic skills. Competition should always be a test of our progress and should never be our end goal. If it becomes our end goal and winning become our only desire, then we resort to short cuts, gimmicks and tricks and we lose much of the real value of a life with horses. In the end we are riding only for a prize and not for the love of the sport.
Perhaps you’ll think I dwell on this topic too much but I can’t help it. My fingers bolt cross country on this key board because I’m completely passionate about building a foundation in horsemanship. Any instructor who specializes in teaching the more advanced skills of any venue in the horse world will appreciate the instructor of beginners who is educated and devoted to getting riders started correctly. Why? It makes their job so much easier. And the wise ones know that it takes an awful lot of beginners to produce the handful of riders who move on to the upper levels. And when the standard of riding at lower levels is high, more riders stick with it, leaving even more to move up the ladder.
Here’s to great riding this summer and thanks for reading The Riding Instructor
Barbara Ellin Fox