I make no bones about being an advocate for instructors of beginning riders. It’s because I firmly believe that you can lay so good a foundation for your students, that they will not forget it, no matter what style or level of riding they become enamored with. And investing the extra time to lay a good foundation will save lots of time in the future because your students will not have to go back and fill in holds that they missed in the beginning.
Here’s a saying to hang in your barn- Every Olympic rider began as a beginner.
Beginner lessons are an introduction into the world of horsemanship. I know this sounds trite but it’s true. The beginning level gives students glimpses into horse handling and riding; giving them a taste of what it feels like to be in control of a horse and the responsibility of handling one. All things at the beginner level are in the introduction stage and all things will have to be repeated on a regular basis, requiring you to have an abundance of patience. Remember, not only are you teaching something totally unfamiliar to your student, they are learning it with an animal that has its own opinions and needs. If your beginner is taking one lesson a week, progress will seem to be slow. A week has 168 hours and you have your student for only one of those hours, yet students who are horse crazy can make amazing progress an hour at a time.
Because we have limited time with our students, I work extras into my riding program. I have curriculum available in hard copy and on my web page. I recommend books, websites, videos, and exercises. I do everything I can to connect my student’s riding lessons together like a continual chain.For instance if I tell my student that riding her bicycle for a half hour 5 days a week will strengthen her legs and that stretching her heels on the steps at her house will help her get her heels down, chances are she will develop great legs more quickly than the student who doesn’t think about it until her next lesson.
And when beginners regularly see what riding and horse care is about, through magazines, videos or other riders, most students are motivated to progress more quickly than if their lessons are merely single weekly events. It’s about continuity.
Be Sensitive to Pace
There are many varying factors in riding lessons making it difficult to predict the number of lessons, if used in set order for a set amount of time, that it will take to develop every rider to a particular skill level. Fortunately each rider and situation is unique. As a riding instructor you must develop an eye for the time your students are ready to move on to more difficult tasks.Keep in mind that you want students to be successful in small achievements, while at the same time you want to seize opportunities that challenge at the appropriate time for their growth as a horseman.Bear in mind that it is much easier to move the confident student ahead than it is to bring the frightened student back, make the repairs and then move forward. So be keenly aware of your pace and don’t let a parent, agenda, or another situation cause you to over face a rider. The consequences can be very hard to work with.
The First Three
The first two lessons are about structure. You’ll use them to demonstrate your teaching method and expectations for your student.
Lesson #1 is all about safety; the introduction to handling the horse and the first steps of riding.This is where you establish the attitude about the horse and learning that you wish to imbed in your student.The first lesson is full of demonstration and explanation, a vast amount of which your nervous, new student may not remember. It’s OK.
The second lesson is about what your student remembers from lesson #1. It’s their opportunity to give things a try before you tell
them what to do at each step. Be sure to reward everything they remember with your positive reaction. When you reward what they remember, their confidence will rise and they will remember more. Patience is very important. Give your student a little time to work out how to put the halter on before you step in to help, but don’t leave your student hanging either. Always be ready to immediately redirect anything that looks unsafe. A beginner instructor must have a sharp eye, intuition and lots of experience in recognizing the signs of an impending hazardous situation.
By Lesson #3 your student should understand how you’ll proceed in lessons; e.g. that you explain and demonstrate but will expect them to try to relate back to you, the things you teach them. At this point you can begin the serious work of steering and control, balance and moving around on the horse.
How long it takes for my students to move from the beginner to the advanced beginner label strictly depends on how they progress. You never help a student by rushing them out of the beginning stages. A sharp instructor will know when the time is right to move ahead and will be able to keep the beginner interested moving them forward before they become bored.
Let’s Get Serious
Teaching riding is not something to be taken lightly. Americans don’t have the advantage of a national program that trains instructors, such as the British Horse Society. And while there are some certifications available in the U.S., all you have to do to be considered an instructor in America is ride better than the next guy. While good riding shows that a person has ability to ride a horse, it does not speak to their ability to instruct. A good riding instructor is the ultimate ground person. He or she is the one who can see what is happening before it occurs and can educate the student for a positive outcome. A good riding instructor has skills that reach beyond the knowledge of theory, training methods, learning styles, riding talent and rules. Good riding instructors have a natural intuition for timing, cause and effect; and for setting students up to succeed. With or without a national program for riding instructors, all instructors, particularly those who are just starting out, would do well to invest the time apprenticing under an older established riding instructor, particularly if you plan to begin the foundation of someone else’s riding career.
So do you know them? Those fabulous riders in the 4 pictures? They began as beginners! Be encouraged, you never know who you’re helping on to that school horse or pony the very first time!
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor
Barbara Ellin Fox