learningIt’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. paint heelsSlowly, 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.

How long? We know it depends on age, how frequently the child rides, how quickly they learn, their build and athleticism.  (And to riding in the lane005a lesser degree it depends on the type of horse they ride.)

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

Happy trails!
Barbara Fox




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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • Barbara,
    I LOVE this blog post. I found it today researching how people answer the question “How long does it take to learn to ride?”. My answer is usually – it depends on “natural” ability and time in the saddle. Riding is similar to learning how to play an instrument, a sport, or learning an art form, it depends. So, I’m trying to come up with something to add, or to change my response to.
    I particularly loved the paragraph on learning to ride in 4 days. That one made me chuckle out loud.
    Great post!

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for reading this and for your comment. It sounds like you’ve got good explanations. I find that adults think that learning to ride is all about knowledge. If they learn everything, then they will have it down. Many people underestimate the amount of time it takes in the saddle to really learn how to ride. It’s too bad, too, because those hours are so worthwhile.
      Thanks again,

  • Hello Riding Instructor

    I have started riding the first week of June this year. My horse is a somewhat green (he was a trail horse before I had him [so he is bombproof but doesn’t know how to really do anything]), 16 hand, quarter horse, palomino. I have been riding 2 times a week for, at minimum, 2 hours. My trainer says that I am ready to canter and my horse isn’t. I would like to know what him not being ready to canter means… wasn’t he kind of born to?

    I also have a small fear of cantering. I have been doing research and that doesn’t seem to help. On other subjects that I am worried about that normally does the trick. Do you have any advice for getting over this fear?

    Whenever I ¨sit on my pockets¨ as my trainer calles it, to stop, it never works. I always end up having to pull on the horses face, and I feel bad for the horse. Am I doing this wrong? Is it the horse (I have ridder several that this has happened with)? Any advice?


    • Hi Claire,
      Thanks for your questions. First- kudos to you for taking two lessons a week and working on your riding for 6 months now. It sounds like your horse has a good character. It sounds as if he’s seen a lot of things on the trail but has little education. My guess that it is more his good character that makes him bombproof than his experience.

      You’re right, a horse horse learns to canter shortly after it is born. I know you expect the BUT, so here it is. He knows how to canter carrying his own balance and weight, just like you know how to run without anyone sitting on your shoulders. Think about the changes you would have to make to carry a live creature on your back, run, maneuver, and take its non-verbal directions. This is the same for your horse. He has to develop a new balance with your weight and the weight of the saddle and since horses in the natural don’t work in arenas, he has to develop a new balance for turns and circles, too. In addition he has to learn to respond to certain cues/aides. Since you are still learning, he will also have to learn to accommodate your balance, which may be in opposition to his, your cues, which might not always be correct, and a lack of confidence. (These things come with time for the rider) And once your horse learns how to canter well, you’ll need to learn how to help him canter his best. At 16 hands he’s a big guy and balance and coordination may take a little more work that it would for a smaller horse. My suggestions for your horse is to have a trainer or experienced rider work with him so he can develop the muscle, balance, and skill to canter well with a rider. Remember too, it takes time. He’s been cantering his own way without a burden since he was a baby.

      The best way to get over a fear of cantering is to spend time on a trained horse who is excellent at cantering. You’re headed in the correct direction with this by taking riding lessons. Learning to ride is a lifetime process. That’s part of what makes it fun because we can always learn more and move on to other riding activities. 6 months is a very short time to be riding and you should feel good that your instructor says you are ready to learn to canter. This is a positive achievement in a short amount of time. Learning intellectually about a subject is a good start but it does not replace the hours required to make you familiar, develop your balance, your seat, your reflexes, and your timing. This can only come from time in the saddle practicing the physical aspects of the topic. The canter is a little intimidating because it is faster, the horse seems stronger, and it is easier to become unbalanced. You have to make decisions quicker. Some riders worry they will lose control of the horse. This is why you need to canter a lot on a trained horse, one that won’t be disturbed if you make a mistake, a been there done that type of horse. A confidence builder. Time in the saddle at the canter will develop your seat and also you will learn to relax and move with the horse. If you’re nervous, you might also be holding your breath when you canter. Try blowing breaths out and relaxing into the saddle. You sound like a good student with a good teacher. I have no doubt that you can do this. My suggestion is not to try to learn about cantering on your nice horse. Let him learn from an experienced rider and you learn from an experienced horse, then when you’re both ready you can learn together.

      The sitting on the pockets thing. Horses are such smart individuals and ones that are ridden by lots of people can usually evaluate their rider. Even though you are told sitting on your pockets will stop the horse, there are a lot of other things that come into play when halting. Sitting on your pockets (in it’s various forms) is first taught because we want our rider’s weight well into the saddle when the horse stops. And some horses are taught to stop by pressure on their back. Other things that come into play are what you unconsciously did with your legs, your reins, your head, your balance but the biggest thing with aides (sitting on your pockets is a seat aid) is timing. Timing and control of all the other parts of your body comes with time in the saddle. Hours, repetition, experiences.

      I sense that you are someone who wants to get to the bottom of things with the right answers as soon as you can. This is good but you need to develop patience with yourself. You are making good progress. When you were a baby learning to walk you practiced it for hours every day. Now you are learning a new skill without the opportunity for hours a day of practice. Don’t make the adult mistake by thinking that because you understand something you should be able to do it right away. Riding is about developing feel, reflexes, and building memory in your body. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy the journey. Pat yourself on the back and feel good about the progress you are making.

      Enjoy your time in the saddle and best wishes to you for continued success.
      Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Dear Riding Instructor – I’m so glad I came across this forum! It’s very interesting to read about everyone else’s experiences at different stages in their lives. Growing up, it never crossed my parents to enroll me in horseback riding lessons. They didn’t know it was a sport. I just graduated college and have good income and am thankful I am able to take lessons twice a week. I did learn to play the violin and piano as well as made it to a black belt in taekwondo. My friends have asked me how long it took me to learn to play the violin and piano but I always tell them that I just gradually learned. My eagerness and desire to learn thoseninstruments also helped. However, I forget to apply this to horseback riding. After reading your responses, I do agree that it takes muscle memory and practice as learning an instrument does.

    I’m 25 and have taken 5 lessons fall 2017, went out of state for a few months, and resumed my lessons just last week. I felt as though I forgot most of what I learned back in the fall at that point I was still practicing posting. So I’ll refer to my lessons as though I began just last week. I’m currently taking two lessons a week, 30 minutes each. After my second lesson I’m finding it a bit easier to post in place but difficult to keep up with the horse’s rhythm when he’s trotting. There all of these muscles I never really used this way before. Thankfully, my instructor is very patient and encouraging. She has this calm to her that makes me feel at ease and confident. I just hope I can post on my own (she leads the horse while I practice posting) within one month. That’s my goal.

    Week 2 Lesson 3

    • Hi Riding Student,
      Good for you! I’m glad you returned to your lessons and it sounds like you have a good instructor. It might help you to think of posting as being in 2/4 time. The biggest key is to get in balance so that you aren’t constantly having to regain it. Think about keeping your heel under your hip and your weight sinking into your heels. You could ask your instructor to put you on a longe horse, too. Balance takes a while because most people aren’t used to balancing on an moving animal. Hang in there. I know you’ll do well. I’d love to hear how you’re doing in a month. Thanks for commenting. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Dear Riding Instructor, I am an 11 year old boy and have been taking half hour lessons once a week for just over a year. I am walking, trotting and cantering English style but still have some problems getting the horse to canter because I flap my arms a bit going into canter. Should I be progressing faster and what do you think I can do to stop the flapping – thank you

    • Hi Jacob,

      I’d say you’re progressing well for only a year’s worth of riding lessons. Those lesson may seem like a lot but when you think about it it’s just a little over one full day in the saddle if you had a lesson every week. In order not to flap your arms you’ll need to work on becoming independent in the lower part of your body so when you use your legs your arms don’t need to move. Some of this comes with time but also with exercises on the horse, like toe touches. Make sure your opposite leg stays still and doesn’t move when your body does. You should ok anything you do with your instructor. Ask if he or she will allow you to press your knuckles into the withers when you use your aids to canter. That should help to keep your hands still for right now. Another exercise is to breath out as you use your legs. THis can help your upper body to relax and stay still. Best of luck to you. I’d love to hear how your doing with your lessons.

  • I am 23 years old, I have a lot to learn when it comes to riding a horse. But, I was told you are never too old to learn how to ride, I believe that to be true. I find it enjoyable at my age, it decreases the stress that I receive from my work, family and everything else in life. Also, I am able to see a childhood dream come true with no financial burden. Well… I am currently starting a lease with an OTTB, he is a mellow and confident boosting fellow. I can’t say enough about him, as he is very forgiving, especially for my beginner self (only riding for 6 months). I enjoy lessons, but the lessons around here are more geared on riding and not horse care/ trust. I love the bond that my lease horse has with me. He comes when I call him and behaves himself when I make a mistake. Probably from all the treats that I feed him lol. I have learned a good amount of DIY tricks on “horse care” from his owner, allowing her to save money. I am still learning, but hope within a year I will be cantering and possibly starting to jump some poles. P.S. I only ride once a week…….

    • Hi Ashley
      It sounds like you’ve got a great horse to lease. I love that you are interested in the relationship/horse care side. SO many people miss out because all they want to do is ride. To find lessons on relationship, look for round pen/horse whisperer/natural horsemanship type clinics that you can audit. You would be amazed at how much you will learn from auditing. For both topics, there are lots of dvds and scads of videos on the internet that will give you ideas. And Pinterest. I love Pinterest for almost everything. For some real time experience with horse management, why not try to hook up with a Housemasters group? Horsemasters is the adult group in Pony Club. Here’s a link to pony club https://www.ponyclub.org . Thanks for commenting and best of luck to you with riding and horsemanship. Barbara Fox

    • i love the fact that you are also onto care and bonding with the horse. i don’t what i would do if I could not love my pony we were babies together. she is a spit fire just like be small but firey. we go together. lol i love barn chores like watering, stall cleaning, tack cleaning, feeding, grooming, i think one day when i have enough money i’ll get a new quiet pony and start again. the pony i have now is retired. but still love her to bits and peaces. Michelle from louisiana

      • Hey Michelle I’m glad you enjoy your friend even though she’s retired. It sounds like you take good care of her. Barbara

  • Hello – me and my girlfriend are complete novices and today went to a riding centre in Cambodia where we are on holiday. We literally got on the horses, went once around the paddock, and then we’re told to follow a lead rider. So the three of us, left the centre, crossed a not busy road and began riding through a marshy field, heading for the beach. We were both really nervous, only learning how to stop and steer the horse as we went. Shortly into the field my horse started kicking my girlfriends horse with its front feet. It was terrifying. If you can remember your first time on a horse, the feeling of being totally out of control was scary as Hell. Our guide told us to make sure our horses were always three meters apart. She apologised saying she’d only been there a few days and didn’t know the horses. A couple of fights later we decided it wasn’t fun at all and to scrap the entire experience. Does this seem right to you? Is this normal? I can’t help but feel this isn’t really very safe, and st best is a bit irresponsible. I am ready to be wrong, and just a bit of a wally! I’d be interested in your thoughts? Thank you.

    • Hi Chris
      It’s hard for me to say if this is normal because I’m not sure of the type of place you went to. If it was just a horse rental then it sounds pretty normal.They are not in business to teach you to ride. If it was a riding school you would not have just gone for one time and it would certainly not be normal for a riding school lesson program. I’m sorry to hear you had a bad time, glad that you are safe. Barbara

  • I’m 15 years old and only started riding 4 weeks ago. I have been having a 1 hour lesson every week and am very confident in a walking and rising trot. I have only just got the hang on cantering and can now almost do it confidently. Some of my friends who started when they were 4 say I am moving a lot quicker then they did and were surprised that I started cantering in only my second lesson. Am I learning at the right speed and How long do you think until I will be able to start learning to jump.

    • Hi Sophie,
      Thanks for your comment. The speed that a person learns to ride at is dependent on several things. One is their physical fitness. Another is their mind, for example are they fearful or bold. The quality of the lesson horse plays a big role because it’s easier to learn on a cooperative, smooth horse than one that is difficult to ride. And a good instructor is a huge help.
      According to your self evaluation you are progressing quickly.
      I assume that you are riding English because you mentioned jumping. Not ever having seen you ride it’s impossible for me to predict when you should be able to jump. And again, that is dependent on al of the things I mentioned plus how quickly your instructor moves you along.
      Be sure that you are developing a good foundation before you get too far. Being confident in rising trot is a good thing. If I were your instructor I would want to know you could trot without stirrups, rising, before I started you jumping. Riding without stirrups shows that you have built up the muscle strength to help with jumping. Also I would be concerned about how tactful you are with your hands because that is so important for the horse. And of course I’d want to see you very secure in two point at all three gaits.
      And lastly, before you start jumping it’s important to know that you have control over the horse in a variety of situations.

      I’m excited for you that it sounds like your enjoying learning to ride. Keep up the good work and be sure to enjoy your time with the horse.


  • Hello, I’m an 18 year old girl and recently got back into my horse adoring phase. Luckily enough I manage to go to horse riding lessons every Wednesday for 30 minutes, I’ve been doing this for around 3 months now and started as a beginner. At this point I’m confident enough with walking, standing + sitting trot and I’ve been doing canter for the last three weeks; but my whole family have been riding their whole lives and I feel under pressure to keep up with them, so I’m asking in terms of whether I’m learning slowly or at an average pace?

    • Hi Susan
      It sounds to me like you are making good progress. Have patience with yourself, don’t judge your progress by looking at other people and hang in there. Best wishes to you. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Hi, loved your article. I’m a 37 year old non-horse person and I’ve finally joined a riding class. I have been wanting to do this for a long long time. I have completed 9 classes of 30 mins each and I’m able to trot comfortably on a lunge. I have huge problems controlling my horse though, following a lead horse on a walk/trot is fine but my horse just refuses to listen when I am in the lead. I admit I am still a bit scared of falling off as my balance is still suspect. My instructor is not too happy as others in my group have progressed :(. This was an activity i really looked forward to but it has now become an ordeal and I am happy when it rains!. Not sure what to do.

    • Hi Janaki,
      4 1/2 hours in the saddle is not a very long time to learn new skills especially when you’re dealing with yourself and a horse. Not only are you having to develop a new way of handling your own body and balance, you are also having to communicate with someone (the horse) who does not speak your language. From the horse’s stand point he is coping with your balance issues and probably can feel that you don’t have the confidence to direct him. Ad to that that most beginners send mixed signals to the horse just by the nature of learning to control their own body. The third thing that you mention, fear, can be a factor in how quickly you progress. Riding is not a simple skill to learn. It takes hours and hours in the saddle to develop a good seat and lots of time to absorb knowledge. Frequently adult beginners have an unrealistic view of how fast they will learn. Because we are adults we figure that if we know what to do we will be able to do it. It can be frustrating when you try to learn to ride by learning the information but lacking the saddle time. You would probably benefit from private lessons on the lunge line for the next few months so that you can develop a good seat and balance. Then I would suggest private lessons off the lunge until you feel confident controlling the horse. You can’t compare your riding progress with someone else’s and neither should your instructor. If he or she is dissatisfied with your progress and can’t help you, then I would suggest looking for someone who specializes in beginning riders. I hope this helps and gives you a bit of direction. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Hie, this is Dhimoyee, I have been going for my riding classes since April . I have attended around 30 classes. I can both trot properly and canter, but my only problem is that I have massive fear if I am given a new horse. The horse I generally ride is a female , but when given a male huge horse I have great difficulty in maintaining balance. I end up pulling the reign oddly and hence the horse stops with a jitter leading to me loosing balance. Once in a while I also end up holding the steddle to balance myself. This way , I am loosing confidence in myself and also have upset my trainer greatly. It’s my dream to become a polo player one day.

    • Dhimoyee Banerjee
      I can tell by the number of classes you have taken since April, that you are serious about becoming a good rider. I want to encourage you by telling you that it takes time to develop a good seat and all of the knowledge required for good riding. Every horse will feel differently to you. They have different strides, different builds. Eventually you will need to ride lots of different horses in order to become versatile with your seat, but perhaps for now you are best staying with a horse that gives you confidence. Losing your balance can be a very disconcerting feeling. If your instructor is proficient at giving lunge lessons, you might ask to try a new horse on the lunge line so that you can develop balance. You may be expecting too much progress too quickly which can cause frustration and fear. I hope you and your instructor can enjoy your progress as a rider and slow your expectations down a little bit. It is possible to learn to ride well enough to play polo but it will take time. You’ll need to have an independent seat so that you can follow the movements of the horse and also hit the ball at the same time. Best wishes to you in your riding. Barbara

  • I love your article. Im 28 and started my lessons back in January 2015 riding different horses and I absolutely love it. I am also lucky enough to have the use of other horses in between my lessons to hack out with friends. You learn so much hacking out aswell some things you can just never learn in an arena. I don’t ever plan to compete it’s just not my thing I’m happy riding around the country side in my own horsey bubble.
    I’m happy with my progress working through the paces, half halts lots of flat work and some jumping. although I have hit more mental blocks along the way more than anything else. I struggle to make a smooth transition from trot to canter and I know it’s worse if I think about it too much. Once in thr canter I’m fine the odd toe tap as my instructor calls it but that is getting less and less. On Friday we did canter at two point which I found so much easier. It was like I was flying. I have been wondering how far should I seriously look at taking lessons in an arena if I only ever want to be a happy hacker.
    Also like I say when I hack out I’m with friends all of which have more experience than me but I do want to get to that point where I say I’m off for a ride and go on my own. How will I no im ready for that or is it just a get on and go up the track and see how it goes kind of thing? Iv always had that extra person there for guidance and support. I no I need to believe in myself and my ability but don’t want to over sell myself either knowing the consequences of riders thinking there better than they actually are usual bad.
    Learning to ride has been one of the best decisions iv ever made. Here’s to achieving our goals!!

    • Leah,
      It’s nice to read your pleasant comment about progress in your riding. It made me feel peaceful.:-) I’m so glad that you have found a riding path that makes you happy because that is a most important goal.

      As far as your questions- there is a plethora of answers. We never stop learning with horses. I would suggest continuing with lessons as long as you are learning. Even advanced riders do continuing education. Look for things that will improve your riding out. For instance, how will you do if you have to jump a ditch? Or how will you do when a deer leaps across your path.

      Horses, being herd animals, are not always the same when they are ridden out alone. Perhaps you could start with your group and leaving them for 10 minutes- go down the trail the other way and meet up again at a pre determined point. You might need to get creative with this to suit your situation. The point is to try to take a horse away from the group for a few minutes. Create alone-ness and see how you do. I’m sure that by now you know that every horse will react differently to circumstances.

      Although I’ve ridden out alone a great deal, in the interest of safety I have to mention that it is not the safest situation, although cell phones are helpful. There are circumstances that go much better if there is more than one person.Horses are happier. And it depends on the type of area you would ride in. Bridle paths are safer than the desert, for instance.That said I don’t mean to say you should not ride alone- just that it is not as safe. When I ride alone, whether I go out or not, I always tell someone when I’m starting and roughly when I plan to finish.

      I’m glad that you are not arena bound. Never leaving the arena makes for such a limited riding life. Too many lessons without balancing free time makes riders dependent. It’s all a balance and different for each person.

      Thanks for commenting. I’m excited for you and hope that everything continues to progress well.

      • Safety in numbers and lots of self preservation. I’m happy to stick with that. I suppose I just don’t want to feel a burden to others. Like you say if I was to get seperated accidently or on purpose id be settled just knowing I’m capable rather than just wanting to ride alone.

        I live in Derbyshire in the UK so I have lots of access to bridle paths and greenery. It’s too wet for much desert but a bit more sunshine would be nice. 🙂

        I love all the different characters you get with each horse good and bad. It’s my mother in-law that got me started on riding. She is 62 and been riding over 50 years, she watches all my lessons and she says she picks up things she didnt know or i get taught somethings shes never done. Always learning as you say. I think as long as I enjoy my lessons il keep going.

        I read books over and over, I enjoy re-reading something that at one point made no sense and then at a later date I’m like oh yes I get it now. All progress on and off the horse.

        Although I’m a late starter it’s better late than never. I’m thankful to have found something I enjoy so much. Thank you for your advice and comments on my post it’s much appreciated

        Leah 🙂

  • Hello,
    I have been riding since July and worry that I am not really progressing at all right now. I am 18 years old and have been doing lessons every week. I can post the trot and can mostly sit and feel comfortable in the canter, my problem is keeping the horse on the wall. My instructor tells me to push my leg into the horse to push him in and he says i have my foot placed in the correct spot and I feel like I am pushing hard but nothing happens. I also use my reins to try and help guide him over but a lot of times it feels like the horse is just walking through it to where he wants to go. I have tried this on multiple horses so I know this is a problem with me and my cues and not the horse. Is there a way to help fix this or is this normal?

    • Hi Anna,
      There are many things that could be going on in the situation that you describe My answer may sound a little bit complicated. You mention that you have been riding since July, which means that if you started the first week of July and have taken one lesson a week without missing you have had about 18 lessons. (You didn’t mention if you’d had any practice time between lessons) It sounds like you have made good progress with walk, trot and canter. You didn’t mention whether your difficulty was at all gaits or just the canter. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. With this many lessons in 5 months you are only scratching the surface of learning to ride because it takes quite a bit of time in the saddle to develop the independence of aids and seat that are required to truly influence what the horse does with it’s body. My first suggestion is to be patient with yourself and the horses you ride. Next you didn’t mention whether you ride the same horse each time or a different horse and what their level of schooling is.Most school horses at the beginner and intermediate level come off the rail in corners particularly because they can assess the rider’s ability to influence their own body and will take advantage of weakness in the rider and will choose the route easiest for themselves.They usually come off the rail because they “drop their shoulder” and are counter bent.In training horses much effort and time goes in to schooling and conditioning horses to bend in the direction of their travel.If lesson horses are going to respond to your inside leg, they need to have regular schooling and suppling by a skilled rider because overtime they are ridden by less skilled riders they can become less sensitive to a correct leg aid. If the horses you ride are highly schooled and are coming off the rail it would indicate a seat/pelvis correction is needed in the rider. Age of the horse plays a roll in it’s ability to respond as well. My point isn’t to give you all sorts of discouraging scenarios but to try to explain there are many things that can create a horse who comes off the rail. The problems can be with the rider, or with the horse (age, training, balance, suppleness, even boredom) or a combination of both. I’ve scene many a horse and rider who feed one another’s weaknesses and it’s hard to say which one the weakness began with for instance, a horse who drops his inside shoulder with a rider who drops their’s- cause the horse to feel heavy on the inside leg. OK this a long explanation that barely touches the surface.

      If I were to school a horse that comes off the rail (or a rider) I would work with leg yielding and circles. I know that it seems like doing circles would be counter productive to getting a horse to go in a straight line but it’s through circles a slower gaits that you can help the horse to become more balanced. Leg yield teaches the horse how to respond laterally to the leg. Leg yield also teaches the rider how to use the leg. Leg yield also teaches the rider how to use seat, weight, eyes and shoulders – all of which must work together to get the rider coordinated to keep the horse on the wall and to ride it around turns. Leg yield help develop balance and flexibility in not only dressage horses but also in western horses and hunters.

      You can also use the corners of your arena to help keep the horses on the rail by riding deeply into the corners and setting the horse up straight for the long sides.

      If coming off the rail happens more at the canter, I would suggest moving back to the trot to correct it. Sometimes the things come to fast at the canter for the beginner to react. Plus the effort of canter may be making you stiffen in other parts of your body.

      Another thing to think about is this- Horses can tune out or run through your rein aides if you hold them too long-this includes rein aids, seat aids, and leg aids. Aides are meant to be intermittent.

      Hang in there and push through.You will hit many plateaus while learning to ride.Sometimes you will feel like you’re not making any progress but what is really happening is that your body and mind are working together trying to develop memory, balance and strength. And then suddenly you’ll have a time period where you feel like you’re doing super well again.You have to stick through the rough times to get to the good spots.There also may be times where you feel like your progress slipping backwards.It’s all part of the process. I wish I could tell you that learning to ride is just one solid forward march of progress but it’s not. Even riders who ride every day have days, even weeks, where they feel like they are not making progress. I’d encourage you to hang in and tough it out – keep learning.

      Thanks for asking your question- I hope my answer helps you a little bit. Barbara

      • Thank you so much for your reply!!
        Normally I switch back and forth between a couple different horses. One of the horses I only have trouble keeping him on the rail during the canter, but the other horse I have trouble with all the time. Normally more so towards the end of the lesson because my legs get tired from holding him on the rail. I probably over cue of try to over hold him to the rail too much which makes him immune to it. He is also the horse that is used for all the beginner riders and I don’t believe is ridden much outside of that so maybe he is just used to it as well. Your reply helped a lot though in giving me other things to do to try and help work through this:) I love riding and have no intention of ever giving it up and am excited to progress and learn more as i go on.

  • Its my second day at horse riding and I am a non-horse adult. I am 28 years of age. And I rode the horse at 50 km/hh today, so close to extreme cantering. I am so happy with myself and the horse. My teacher is obviously shocked 🙂

  • It took me from February to July to go from never riding a horse to learning to jump. And this was one riding lesson a week for one hour. I was also able to exercise the horse and practice without the trainer after a month or two for one hour.

  • Today marks 2 months since I took my first lesson (not counting a few trail rides long, long ago) at 51 years of age! I had always wanted to, but never seemed to find the time. I’ve found a wonderful instructor who has taken me from being literally afraid to climb up there to posting a trot over poles in these two months! At 51 I have no idea if I will ever try jumping – but you never know!! My progress has been in smaller increments maybe than a young person would see; these old bones and muscles are harder to teach than they used to be- and I do sometimes wonder, “when will I be able to canter? Will I EVER learn to canter? Do I even WANT to try a canter?” haha! For me, my only measure is whether I have learned something each time, and it’s to my instructor’s credit that every lesson has had at least one small victory and accomplishment. Horseback riding makes me feel like a million dollars! From grooming and tacking up, which does something very real to my soul – just spending time with my school horse, Abbey, to the exercise benefits and the mental challenge…the whole thing has been better than I hoped for.

    • Dear Cheryl,
      Kudos to you for taking up horseback riding! It sounds like you are making very good progress and are enjoying all of the benefits of spending time with the horse. Keep up the good work!

    • You definitely want to learn to canter! It is great and lofty. I just started with horseback riding and yesterday it was my 5th time I ever sat on the horse and I was already cantering. I felt like I was flying and so happy. My instructor told me to stop cantering because I by accident gripped with my calves on my horse so he went from trot to canter, but I am so eager to learn it properly during
      the next lessons 🙂

      • Hi Ewka,
        Cantering is great but you’re wise to want to learn to do it correctly. If the horse goes from trot to canter because you gripped with your calves, it may go from a canter to a gallop for the same reason. It’s really important to have control of the horse! You sound like you are brave on horseback and no doubt you will make good progress. Keep up the good work and enjoy riding. And thanks for your comment

  • I love horses and I used to jump bare back but they weren’t high ones so I went riding for 7days and now I’m a confident rider I jump logs I enter expert jumping competitions and I always win and im very exited to enter the championship jumping show if I win I will be the most expert jumping person in the world so learn to horse ride and you could be like me

    • Rosemarie- I’m glad to hear that you are so enthusiastic about your riding! Thank you for reading The Riding Instructor. Barbara

  • As part of my bucket list I took my first lesson last week. I loved it! I used to ride as a teenager , no lessons, just hang on and go. I’ve always wanted to learn to ride, but due to work and other commitments I never had the time. I’m retired now I can do what I always wanted to do.I’m 71 but feel like 50.

    • Kudos to you John! I’m so glad to hear that you have started riding again. Best wishes to you for many successful and enjoyable hours in the saddle.

  • Dear Riding Instructor,

    this was a beautiful article. I just started riding a few weeks ago, and just finished my 5th riding class. I’ve worked on posting for the previous two and I’m getting better but I’m still not fully in rhythm with the horse yet. I’ll occasionally be in rhythm, and it’s crazy how much easier the horse’s momentum helps posting. As previously mentioned, riding feels more like a lifestyle than a hobby. I was a previous ballet dance, and riding has conjured the same joy and happiness as ballet did prior to my injuries.
    I am worried that I am behind compared to the ‘normal’ beginner. I am a 23 year old female. I’d appreciate your opinion.

    • Dear New Rider,
      Being a bit unsteady at the posting trot after your fifth riding class is not something to worry about. When you did ballet you probably practiced every day which gave muscles the opportunity to strengthen and remember what to do, (so to speak). Most beginners do not have the opportunity to more than once or twice a week which makes catching the rhythm and developing muscle take a little bit longer than they would hope. I find that adults can be a bit hard on themselves, thinking they should be progressing faster. It sounds like you are on target. Try to enjoy the process and give yourself a pat on the back. The beginning of a new riding career takes perseverance, especially for adults. One suggestion, though- try not to compare yourself to other riders. Your personal journey with riding will be unique to you. Keep up the good work!

      • Dear riding instructor,
        I am so glad I read your response to the new roser’s question! I am 28 yrs old, and just finished my 4th lesson today. I am taking 30 minute sessions every morning. I still cannot leave the saddle and hold the reins without losing balance, and bumping on the saddle resulting in a strong wrist/arm pain. I am trying hard but worried that I wont be able to ride as soon as others I’ve noticed! I’m trying not to compare and getting my rhythm perfect on trot but it’s a little hard! I really want to be able to ride and I’m willing to do whatever it takes!

        • Dear Brinda,
          Thanks for your comment, I sense frustration so I hope I can put your mind at ease and give you some helpful suggestions. I commend you for taking daily 30 minute lessons. The more good opportunities you have to ride the sooner you will progress. I want to encourage you by saying it takes a long time for everyone to learn to ride and you have so far spent less than 2 hours receiving instruction. Don’t start to worry about your progress. Worry doesn’t help anyone improve, intact it can slow your progress way down. Learning to ride is a journey and the journey only stops when you do. Even the best riders in the world continue their riding education until the day that they give up horses. It’s an ongoing project. You indicate that you know you should not be worrying about how you compare to other riders. You need to really take that to heart. All of us learn at different rates,and we all have different issues to deal with. Comparing yourself to others is destructive to your personal progress. Have confidence that you have made a good choice to learn to ride and you will progress accordingly.
          OK some helps. You don’t say what seat you are learning but your comment about wrist pain tells me that you are holding onto the saddle or leaning your weight onto the horse’s neck. Ask your instructor to put a neck strap on your horse; stirrup leather loosely around the horse’s neck that you can hold in about the same area that you would correctly hold the reins. Use the neckstrap to keep yourself from falling back into the saddle- do not lean forward on anything. Next concentrate on getting your heels down and your weight/center of gravity lowered. Heels down is one of the most important things for you to accomplish at the beginning. Ask your instructor to have you do the standing and balancing exercise at a stand still and at a walk. Keep a bend in your knee and don’t lean on the horse. Find your balance. You can use the neck strap to keep you from falling back. Falling back without holding the neck strap could cause you to bump the horse’s back and jerk his mouth; to unkindnesses the gore does not deserve. Don’t work the trot until you can find your balance and hold it at the walk. Ask if your instructor can help you work on posting at the walk. When time comes for the trot ask to have someone lead the horse so that you can worry about yourself and not trying to steer and regulate pace as well. Your best solution here would be if you could have a couple of safe lunging lessons where you did nothing but work on your seat and rhythm. Once you get it you’ll feel like you’ve had a great break through and after a few months you’ll forget it was ever an issue. Also I would make sure you are riding a horse that is appropriate for your learning stage. The horse should be laid back, have stable gaits, and should cooperate with little difficulty.
          Remember- this is a journey, one worth taking. You do not reach the end of the journey but you can have a great time on the way. Do I need to tell you that each of our individual journeys has it’s own twists and turns? Enjoy! Pat your self on the back for your effort. You will accomplish your goals if you keep at it and don’t “mind talk” yourself into an inferiority complex! You can do this. Have fun!

          • Thanks you so much dear Riding instructor! I will definitely keep you posted on my progress and you have helped me a lot by encouraging me and providing me with useful information. I will keep everything in mind for my next riding class. Thanks a ton!

  • Great article. Also, completely agree with Bethany about riding being a lifestyle choice, not a hobby.
    I did wonder, however, how long you think it should usually take a young adult (19/20 years old) to learn to jump based on 1 hour shared lessons every week? I understand it’s a difficult question to answer but I love having a time frame to work to and not knowing what I will likely be learning from one month to the next is quite frustrating for me! I started riding late January of this year and have ridden every week since then at a riding school for an hour (shared with some others from my university riding club) and have gone on a hack. I can trot, have ridden without stirrups a few times and have been cantering for around 3-4 weeks now. We have also trotted over and around poles. I know you cannot give me an exact date/time as to when I could expect to start jumping but watching some of my friends in the club compete a few times now has made me really keen to learn new things and hopefully compete (eventually!).
    Best wishes

    • Dear Greenest Rider
      Yours is a very hard question to answer because everyone is different; with different physical and confidence levels. It sounds as though you are making good progress while riding once a week. My ideal would be for you to ride 2 times a week. I’ve found students to progress more rapidly when they have 2 equally spaced lessons in one week as it gives more continuity for your muscles and mind. The other variable is how your instructor starts students jumping. Prior to starting jumping I would have you working diligently on 2 point to develop leg and abdomen strength. It would seem, since you are trotting poles that you may not be far from beginning to jump in your lessons, as the next step would be to add a small cross bar after the poles… My best advice would be to talk with your instructor and ask her/him what their progression is and if perhaps you might be looking towards jumping in the next few months or weeks. Maybe ask what the sign posts are for your instructor that you are ready. Having good communication with your instructor is very important to progress.
      A word of caution though….I know it’s exciting and that you want to compete but take the time to be certain you are learning the fundamentals and have a good foundation. Strong basics will pay off in the long run and will help you to progress faster when your time for jumping begins.
      The best of luck to you in your riding. Thank you for your comments on my article.

  • Had not got on a horse before today, am 37. Managed basic steering on a line, which I’m pretty pleased with but I want to be good quicker, I’m the same with everything! The 45 minutes I had today fed my soul and I’m determined to enjoy the beautiful horses and learning something new.

    • Good for you, Sadie! With your outlook, I think you have a pleasant riding life in front of you. Keep enjoying it

  • I used to give music lessons, and I got this question a lot, too. People were astounded when I told them that I had had some of my pupils for ten or fifteen years – not because they hadn’t learned how to play yet, but because they loved learning more!

    I learned to ride as an adult. I have done a lot with horses, including some training and teaching, etc. but the longer I continue, the more I realise how little I really know.

  • This is perfect. Thank you for expressing so easily a message that is so very difficult to convey to a family. What so few people realize is that horses are not a hobby like soccer or football, they are a lifestyle choice.

  • I have always said “you never stop learning!”
    It is when we “THINK” we know it all about riding and horses, we should hang it up!
    In my experience I have had students come for a handful of lessons for their “spouse to be” for a beach ride on the honeymoon. I have had them come to prepare for a vacation on a dude ranch.
    Then, I have students who have been riding with me for years!
    We all learn at different paces. There is no rhyme or reason. It is a LIFESTYLE. You have it in your blood to stay the course or just a passing phase.

  • It is all a matter of what you are going to be satisfied with. I have been sitting on horses backs (that is not necessarily riding) since I was seven. I am now seventy five and I think I have just about got there.

    • The journey in riding is the real joy of it. You have my admiration and respect. I hope the next ten years bring you as much pleasure a top a horse as any of your earlier years.

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