Say foundation and most people readily think of a house. Check out what the website This Old House says about foundations.

“A proper foundation does more than just hold a house above ground. It also keeps out moisture, insulates against the cold, and resists movement of the earth around it. Oh, and one more thing: It should last forever. No wonder builders like This Old House general contractor Tom Silva take foundations seriously. “Without a good one,” he says, “you’re sunk.””

What if we applied the explanation from This Old House to a horseback rider?

The Riding Instructor says:
The correct foundation does more than just hold the rider on the horse. It also keeps out bad habits, insulates against danger, and makes it possible to reach our riding goals. And yes: It should last forever. I agree with This Old House general contractor Tom Silva. “Without a good one,” he says, “you’re sunk.”

This Old House gives provides us with more analogy for rider education:

“For Tom, “good” means steel-reinforced foundation walls and footings made of poured concrete. By comparison, all the laboriously assembled foundations of stone, brick, and mortar that have supported buildings for centuries—even the walls of concrete block that most builders were using when This Old House was launched 25 years ago—are just crack- and leak-prone dinosaurs.”

For The Riding Instructor, “good” means paying attention to the basics from the foot up, teaching the rider about base of support, seat, hands, aids, and horsemanship. And we develop riders who understand and can think through riding problems independently. By comparison any other foundation is weak and leads to temporary riding, or worse, unnecessary accidents.

This Old House tells us:  “But a good foundation requires a lot more than digging a hole and pouring some concrete into forms. It must be tailored to its site like a custom suit, taking into account soil conditions, water tables, even the quality of the backfill.”

The Riding Instructor tells us: Teaching a good foundation requires a lot more than giving instructions about how to sit, steer, stop and get the horse to respond to student instructions. It takes knowledge of the basics, attention to detail and the patience and fortitude to insist that students spend the time developing the correct technique and skill.

The Riding Instructor says: Foundation requires learning theory, developing skills and a reservoir of educational answers. An instructor needs to have methods to solve all kinds of riding problems. And add to it a good work ethic and integrity. Skip any part of this, hurry the process, skim over the details or water down the commitment and you’ve created a foundation that will erode and in time – crumble.

What do you say?I’d love to hear what you have to say about foundations.  What are the most important parts of rider foundation?

Here’s to great lessons and super rides! Thanks for reading.

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I’m with Kathy B. I believe that all beginners should be on a lunge line. I work in both environments, and safety is always my number 1 priority. I think lunge lessons are invaluable to start teaching foundation work, and makes much happier horses. Unfortunately, large lesson programs just don’t have the luxury to have 30 minutes privates. Thank you again for your articles. I find them helpful and inspiring.


    • Hi Kimberley, Lunge lessons are so beneficial. I understand about the lack of time for privates in a large program. At that point a lot can be achieved with super lesson horses. Or maybe a person would be fortunate and find a second instructor for lunging. That would be a terrific problem for any lesson program. Thanks for commenting. Barbara

  • Good morning. Thank you very much for all your insightful articles and writings. I teach little kids from the age of 3 to ride. I have a miniature arab and a welsh cob pony that I use and it is the most fun fulfilling job I have ever done in my life. I have a Facebook page called little riders where I have posted some of my pictures and and I can say with all my heart this is soooooo much fun. Foundation building playing little games and the time flies and the kids keep coming back very excited for their next lesson

    • Hi Johanna,
      Those little ones require a teacher with a great imagination! I love games, even making one out of reading the letters for the dressage markers! Thanks for your comments. Best wishes to you in your program. Barbara

  • I agree completely – foundations are important. I love teaching them. What is the most important part of foundations? Getting the student to understand it and how long it might take. I’ve taught a few Moms who wanted to go for a trail ride with their kids who were taking lessons. So they took one. ONE. Then they forced hubby to take ONE. I was never good at sales – maybe someone else could have said the right thing to convince these folks to continue on, but I wasn’t that good. I teach by travelling to people’s houses and training/giving riding lessons on site to whoever is there and whatever horse they have. Not being in a riding school or typical environment per se is very challenging and tends to lend itself to “giving Dave a lesson”. Since I’m there, the horse is warmed up, Dave is in a good mood…. This has happened a few times.

    So, I fully appreciate having a true beginner who wants to take lessons and I can create a true foundation with. There aren’t many people who have the desire and follow-through to become good riders and they will invariably appreciate the foundation training.

    • Cari,
      Thanks for your comment. Years ago when my little daughter (she’s 27 now) wanted to take violin lessons we enrolled in a Suzuki course. In that course they required the parents to take a lesson so they could identify the difficulty that their children went through. I thought it was a terrific idea – for the violin! How much Trouble can you get into with a violin? But a horse? Unless the horse is a saint (and even then there is so much that could happen)…

      And even longer ago than that I used to travel to people’s houses to teach and had a family of four who rotated through the lessons. One week it would be the mom, the next the youngest son and so forth. And they had a Jack Russell that periodically hung off one of the pony’s tails while the kid was riding! So I definitely know what you are talking about.

      I love traveling to teach and do more of it now. The riders I visit are serious and limited on time, so they are ready to go and pay attention. The traveling lessons are more expensive than the ones I give at the farm for several reasons: they require a lot more time than the actual lesson, they require my transportation, and they are private, but I enjoy getting away to teach.

      Best of luck in your travels and thanks for your comment. Barbara

  • So happy to see that others are creating solid riding foundations for beginners. In fact, on my business card it says “Teaching solid foundations for beginning riders” because that is what my Daddy taught me. Prior to putting anyone on any horse, I explain horses in as much detail as I am able even to 5 year old kids. How horses are different just as people are, how they see, hear and why they may act and react the way they do. I teach slowly in the hopes that my students will do their research and learn all they can about horses while they are working with me too. I teach all to stay focused on their horse not to chatter or look around at other things, to keep their attention on their horse and what is in front of them at all times. I allow my students after a time to do their cool down on their own on a short property trail ride so they may understand how important their focus is for keeping them and their horse safe.

    • Hi Tracy,
      Thanks for your email. I love the way you explain your teaching program. It sounds like your Daddy was a good teacher, too. I love to hear that you are helping students to appreciate their horses, remain aware of their surroundings and focus on what they are doing. Thanks for sharing that with me. You made my day. Barbara

  • Barbara,

    Excellent article. May I have permission to use all or part, or course giveing you the credit as the author?

    In the area I teach in, there are quite a few barns within a 5 mile radius. Most of those barns throw 8 – 10 beginner riders up on horses and into an arena and call out “walk your horse”, “trot you horse”, “halt your horse”, “heels down” and charge $20 – $25 for a 1/2 hour (for kids).

    I have a from-the-ground-up program, and when I tell parents that their child will need to start off taking private lessons because I put them on a lunge-line and work on developing their balance before they start holding reins, I lose a lot of them. I’ve always said for safety reasons, but maybe using “foundation” is better wording. Of course, if their looking at price, then no wording is going to matter.

    So, before I let my students hold reins, they need to be able to sit a trot, post a trot, ride with no stirrups, and maintain a good balance position.

    In any event, I think looking at it as building a foundation is great.

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