An over-mounted beginning rider can have so many problems that I wonder why any instructor would allow it with their students.

Recently I visited a schooling show where I didn’t know any of the players. The show had a laid back, peaceful feeling at a great location. The classes ranged from walk trot poles on the ground to 3 foot jumpers. With two arenas there was a lot going on.

Several ordinary looking horses trucked around eighteen inch courses safely carrying over-mountedtheir beginners. Their riders weren’t over-mounted. One little girl stole everyone’s heart as she trotted courses on a homely pony who packed her like it was the pony’s sole purpose for existing. Between classes she hung around with another diminutive rider, giggling and having fun. Beginner nirvana.

Other riders were not as fortunate. Four or five riders perched precariously ahead of the balance point, looking as if it wouldn’t take much to topple them from their horses. Body language ranged from tension to fear which resulted in stiff arms and shoulders and elevated centers of gravity. I wanted to urge them to sit down on their horses, and take a deep breath.

Steering on simple courses was an issue for a lot of the riders. One rider’s horse tried to leave the arena several times, succeeding once. Other horses were unable to approach the jump confidently or on a straight line, looking as if they’d rather runout than jump. When I see this over jumps that are barely two feet high I know riders are on poorly trained horses that are inexperienced over fences. These  riders were over-mounted.

A girl about twelve or thirteen years old, riding a bay thoroughbred entered the arena. Fear emanated from her body language and was written in grim expression across her face. The horse was wound like a spring, looking like he needed a starting gate instead of a show arena. She struggled with her balance as the horse went every direction except straight forward. I wondered who would put a beginner on this horse?  There was nothing redeeming in her ride except that she completed it.

A few minutes later she entered the arena for her second round. Same fear on her face, same stiffness in her body, same bad balance, same race horse. Things progressed much like the first class only this time when the horse landed over the last fence, it took one step left, the rider lost her balance right, the horse bucked and she face planted into the arena right in front of me.

I watched as medical people tried to calm her. I heard them mention possible cervical injury as they called the ambulance and strapped her into a back board.

Who would let their beginner ride such a green horse? This girl was so over-mounted that she shouldn’t have even thrown a leg over the horse.

My mind wouldn’t let go of what happened so that evening I researched the people who attended the show and came up with a name I’d heard before.

A year prior a mom and her two daughters visited me. The mom wasn’t knowledgeable about about horses so she relied on the advice of their trainer. Showing was important to them. Their problem? The instructor was no longer able to get through to the ten year old who shut down in lessons. During her first year of riding the child had competed at local schooling shows and traveled almost 600 miles to out of town shows. In her short, less than 2 year riding career she had broken her arm at an away show and her wrist while schooling ponies that belonged to her instructor. The child was clearly over-mounted.

A visit to FaceBook revealed that this same instructor was at the schooling show. I returned the following day to see if there was any connection between the ten year old I spoke with and the recent rider fall. I was at the show for only a few minutes when I overheard someone ask a woman about the girl that fell. She said, “She’s fine. No broken bones.” It was the same instructor. I watched a few morning classes and learned that she was also instructor for the other scared and unbalanced riders I’d seen the day before.

Why Does It Happen?

I can think of a few reasons that you might see an over-mounted beginner rider at a show. They are all cases of bad judgement that can be corrected. And remember, we’re talking beginners; riders who would struggle at under three feet on a packer. I’m not talking about accomplished riders who have good basics.

  • Somebody bought the wrong horse
  • The horse was new and they didn’t know it would act this way at a show
  • Someone thought they were a better rider than they are.
  • A mare is in season

Beginner Riders Are Not Trainers

Over-mounted beginners should never be the result of a trainer using them to school her horses and ponies. We all make mistakes but I can only think of a few reasons why an instructor would do this.

  • They don’t know any better
  • They don’t care

The Damage

The damage that can result to over-mounted riders at any level can last a long time and can flow into other parts of their lives. I don’t need to mention that a person can be killed falling from a horse or paralyzed or break a bone. But what about fear? I think back to the trainer saying, “She’s fine. No broken bones.” It made me sick. Although I was relieved to know that she had no physical injuries, ‘no broken bones’ is not an indicator of fine. How can they be fine when you take someone who is already scared and prove to them they were right? Or take someone who wasn’t scared and show them they should have been? Or destroy your student’s trust in you?  Anyone who has instructed for awhile knows how difficult it can be to help fearful riders. Sometimes it takes years to help students work through fear. Sometimes it sticks forever.

I’m not saying every instructor has to be capable of schooling green horses or ponies. If you can’t train your greenies because of your health or age, send them to a trainer. Or work with an advanced rider.  But please don’t use beginner or advanced beginner students to school and show untrained or inexperienced horses. Put beginners on trustworthy horses who have miles under their belts. If you do, you increase the odds of your students riding longer and you add worthwhile experiences to their lives. And who knows? Some day they may be skilled enough to help you train horses. I can’t think of any benefits for beginning riders to be over-mounted, can you?

Thanks for reading!

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • why is there such a rush to “jump” rather developing real riding skills before. I had one student who felt she wasn’t learning anything unless she could jump.. I think it is an ego thing.

    • Hi Bette,

      Maybe ego. Maybe uninformed. I think it might differ barn to barn, instructor to instructor. It’s sad because rushing means students miss a lot. Thanks for commenting. Barbara

  • Great article. I’m always amazed how some instructors push a beginner when they are obviously not ready to advanced to the next level. As an instructor myself, I wait until I know my riders are balanced. I get a lot of heat from the parents asking why it’s taking so long to ride a better horse!? Right there, I have to refrain myself and explain calmly that the horse they are riding is a better horse because it’s teaching the child to remain focused, keeping balance while improving leg. Until they master, half seats, the posting trot without stirrups, sit trot with a soft seat, and array of altering directions, they will stay where they are. JMHO, there is no reason to rush a beginner! ?

    • Rebecca
      Thanks for your comment. My daughter took Sazuki violin as a child. One of the requirements was that I had to take a certain amount of lessons so that I would know how difficult it was for my daughter. Too bad we can’t require that of parents of riding students! Your students are fortunate to have a wise instructor. Barbara

  • Your article brought back painful memories and made an excellent point as well. I learned to ride at a riding school in England. It was recommended by the American military base we were stationed at so I figured it was a good school. In my first lesson we jumped..YES JUMPED. I did not know how to ride other than very basic controls. On top of that they put me on a horse that had a quirk – it would twist it’s body to get over the jump. I was immediately thrown on my first jump, unable to stay on such a horse.

    Most of the horses at this stable were sour and tired. They refused jumps, they ran out and stopped – not from fear i think as much as from being sick of it. They were school horses and knew all the tricks (I can’t blame them!). That first day I fell in a way that twisted my neck so that I saw stars. They hoisted me back on and off we went again over the jump! No real concern over my health…

    I stuck with it because I always wanted to ride, loved horses and refused to give up. I also assumed that they must start out with jumping for some reason that I was unaware of. How would a beginner know? Although an avid horse lover I knew little about actual riding and less about jumping. I jumped and fell and fell….and fell some more. You can see where this is going – I became terribly afraid to jump. To this day, more than 25 years later and after trying diligently to overcome the fear, I still hate jumping. I gave up on it, deciding that I would never be able to enjoy it really.

    In “My Horses My Teachers” Alois Podhajsky describes a similar of being forced to jump before he was ready as a young boy learning to ride. He too was afraid to jump and describes how that fear would still come up when jumping. When you say, “Sometimes it (the fear) sticks forever.” That is so true. I have been very careful, as much as I can not to put students in over their heads whether it’s jumping or any other potentially fearful situation.

    Whether giving a riding lesson or training the horse, creating a situation that causes fear does great damage. Thank you so much for this article and for pointing out a real problem.

    • Cari, I’m horrified! What a terrible thing for a stable to do to a beginner. I’m glad you stuck with riding and are able to make wiser choices for your students. Thanks for telling us about your experience. Barbara

  • Very good article. I only will teach jumping a small X and it is after a student knows basic horsemanship skills, one being a balanced seat in the saddle. So, I am not a jumping instructor by any means. I’ve had kids that really want to be jumping end up coming to me because they’ve come off a number of times and they and/or their moms have gotten scared their going to get hurt seriously and they haven’t lost that desire to be able to ride. Most of them have never even been taught how to sit on a horse. They are going over jumps by their third lesson because instructors want to get them into the show ring. I think this is unfair to the student as well as the horse carrying them, even if their on a well seasoned, experienced horse.

    • Kathy,
      Thanks for your comments. It makes me sad to see kids discouraged and fearful, adults too. There just isn’t anything more important than teaching students the basics and getting a firm foundation worked into their riding, no matter if they jump or not. I’m glad you are there to help. Barbara

  • After working for a show barn with majority of the riders between the ages of 10-16, this article resonated with me. So many of these young kids were bought young green and inexperienced horses that had a lot of “promise” and they could “grow together”. Although I like the idea of growing together….. don’t expect to put a 10 year old out in the show ring doing 18′ class if she isn’t even comfortable trotting her pony around on the flat! It aggravated me so much to see some trainers just trying to get their students moving up in show classes and jumping higher, even if the rider wasn’t ready. Safety and fun first!

    • mmonroe

      I agree with you. Riders need a solid foundation before they can even think about schooling a green horse. Frustration and fear are not fun. Thanks for your comment. Barbara

  • Barbara – You are greatly appreciated (by me!) – not a big fish in a small pond but a little fish in a puddle (Kona, Hawaii). I have had some crazy wonderful success stories with students who went off to college riding and even professional pursuits, but the stories they came back to me with along the way were heart – wrenching. Your kind reports of (earth-bound?) professional direction are wonderful. Mahalo.

    • Cyndy
      Aww thank you. You don’t know how happy it makes me to know that I’m helpful. Yup I don’t like the sad stories either and they exist way too much. Our contribution has to be to keep doing the best we can – whales or minnows 🙂 Barbara

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