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 their 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 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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