The Big Day

The first lesson is a big day for your new student. He or she is excited to start, probably nervous about the horses, a new teacher, and apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. Your student may show this by being very quiet and timid, or by talking a lot and being active, or they may be very serious, intent on learning everything. No matter what their outlook is, your job is to introduce them to their new activity, alleviate their fears and concerns of the unknown- all while keeping them safe. And you want them to leave their first lesson excited for the next one.

Goal and Purpose of the first lesson

Whether your student is new to horses or just new to you, the first lesson is the first step toward developing your student’s outlook about horses and you. They will get a taste of your philosophy, techniques, and your rules. You lay a foundation on the first lesson.

Even if your student has ridden at other places, go over all the general steps you normally would for a first-time rider. Make sure that you don’t skip important information by assuming the student already knows.

Beginner lessons should have a strong emphasis on safety. Safety on the ground and in the saddle is the focus of the Introductory Lesson.


Why is this lesson so important?

            This lesson establishes a pattern with your student, familiarizing her with your rules for her safety and acquainting her with how a horse reacts. The more the student works around the horse on the ground and develops a comfort level, the more confident she will be while riding the horse. Learning how to halter, lead, groom and tack up gives the student confidence and power.

           This lesson also establishes the importance of the horses care and comfort and plants the seeds of consideration and good horsemanship. This is when the new student makes friends with the horse and sees the horse as an individual with its own needs and character traits.

The top 5 things your new student is concerned about:

1. Safety:

A person who is inexperienced with horses often sees them as enormous animals that may not like them. Rarely will your new rider arrive having had any experience with an animal as big as a horse or even a pony. They may have concerns about being kicked or bitten. New riders will not automatically adopt the role as the horse’s leader.

You’ll familiarize your new student with the horse in several ways:

By teaching about horse personality, instinct, and reaction.

By teaching ways to be safe while handling horses

By always demonstrating safety yourself

All beginner lessons must give top priority to safety. Focus on safety, but don’t make your student fearful or paranoid. Limit your first lesson safety rules to how to approach a horse, how to walk around it, and things that a horse would react to, such as screaming, sudden movement. Most beginners know horses could bite or kick and will need reassurance. Explain safety rules in a general way, such as if you walk behind a horse, it COULD kick you, rather than an absolute such as, if you walk behind a horse, it WILL kick you. Don’t tell your students that your horses won’t kick. They’re animals, you can’t predict what will happen. You can say, “I have never known this horse to kick at anyone, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Some day they may be around a horse that would kick, so teach them to be safe around all kinds of horses.

2. Confidence

The new rider may be worried about what to expect or who’s watching them. Older, first-time students don’t want to make mistakes and look foolish around others. They may worry about riding with a new teacher and whether you’ll like them. They may be concerned they’ll hurt the horse.

Whatever their worry, just know your new student has a few. Use encouraging language. Each time you give your student a tool, such as how to stop the horse or make it move forward, their confidence will grow, and they will relax. This is one reason that the first stages of riding need to be taken slowly and repeated until your student can manage them automatically and with confidence.

Encourage your students to speak out. Assertiveness can be a learned trait and speaking gives confidence to actions. Having students explain procedures to you will reinforce their understanding as well as develop assertiveness.

I choose to start from the ground because I believe that as students become more comfortable around the horse on the ground, they will be braver on its back. The sooner your student learns how to manage the horse with haltering and leading, the sooner they will have confidence.

3. Understanding Instructions:

The huge amount of information you offer may easily overwhelm new. You will do a lot more explaining and demonstrating in this lesson than any other lessons. There is so much that your new student needs to know just to be safe around a horse in a controlled environment, making the first lesson more of a listen and learn than a “do” lesson. (But be sure to include as much Do as you can.)

Explain that the first lesson is an overview and that you will reinforce what they are learning in the following lessons. It's helpful to send them home with a handout, or with adults, a book suggestion that reinforces the things you taught. Just be sure they understand the lesson is a lot of new material and you don’t expect them to remember everything right away.

A calm, stress-free mind will retain more than a person who is worried about negative responses for when they forget. Assure them with practice horse info becomes automatic.

4. Building a connection with the horse.

Most new students will want the horse they ride to like them. Interacting with an animal might be new to them or they may rely on their experiences with a pet. You can help by pointing out good responses from the horse and by explaining (appropriate to age) the horse’s outlook on the world and how he responds. Discuss horse personality as far as it applies to the age group you’re working with. Beware of explaining too much about the prey and predator to young children. This is a good time to explain that horses are easily frightened by people who run or make loud noises or that they have sensitive ears. It’s also a good time to let children know the horses are friendly.

Once again, I believe groundwork is a valuable way for a new rider to develop a connection with the horse.

5. Physical

Your new rider will use their muscles in a new way. One way to help keep discomfort to a minimum is to encourage them to begin with the correct clothing.

I explain that having sore muscles is a sign of having worked hard. Sometimes a new student will have chaffing or discomfort that can be avoided if the instructor remains sensitive to feedback.


Your first lesson (or lessons) with a new rider will emphasize safety and introduce basics and terminology. Your positive learning environment and preparation will help the rider develop confidence both with themselves and the horse. And you’ll make the lesson enjoyable through encouragement, so they want to return.

And don’t forget about helmets.

Helmets are crucial to rider safety. Check helmet fit and adjustment for your student. It’s safest for the rider to wear a helmet during leading and grooming, too, not just while they’re mounted. If your rider wears her helmet during prep, be sure to check the strap and adjustment again right before she mounts up. Helmets that stay on heads don’t get misplaced, forgotten, or dropped.

Here's to great students and excellent lessons,

Barbara Ellin

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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