When I first began teaching riding lessons, I had three students who had never been around horses. That was actually a blessing because they came with zero bad habits to break and no false information stored in their grey matter. It did, however, make the whole riding portion of the riding lessons rather small at first. We had to address everything from haltering and leading, to tying, brushing, and tacking up. That alone will take a new horse person 45 minutes, leaving them with just a small teaser of a ride at the end of the lesson.
As my lesson business grows, I find myself with more and more students who enter my program with a background in horses. This varies from having ridden at least a few times at So-and-so’s house to a few kids that had regular lessons elsewhere. As these new students start to ride with me, I am consistently surprised at the holes in their horse skills.
Now, none of them came to me claiming to be experts, and it is my job to find the areas in which they need help, which I happily do. I am also glad that I do not find myself at a loss of things to teach. So, I am in no way intending to pick on my students. They show up every week and work on whatever it is we have planned. I’m going to make an assumption that they had the same eager-to-learn attitudes in their previous lessons as well, which then makes me wonder what exactly these other instructors were having the kids work on.
Now, I do realize that there are many realms of the horse world out there. Maybe they were practicing for halter and showmanship. Maybe they were learning how to dress a small wound or wrap a swollen leg. Surely, there are valid reasons why the student that had over two years of lessons before coming to me, did not know how to halter or lead a horse. Surely, at least ONE of the students with a “horse background” would know the different names of the brushes or parts of the horse, and could tie a quick release knot. Surely at least a few of these kids, who say they have cantered, can also demonstrate mounted balancing exercises- at least at the walk.
But, oh no.
No they can not.
Like I said. I’m consistently surprised. Are you?!
Literally 2 out of 17 kids have shown up for their first lesson and already knew how to properly tie a horse. And they were sisters, so that likely means that one instructor taught the basics. ONE!
Now not all 17 had been around horses before, so obviously that data is a bit skewed. Regardless, I’m still thoroughly confused by the education, or lack thereof, that some kids are receiving. Did these instructors think they were doing the kids a favor by skipping half the steps?!
I want my kids to know everything from the ground up, and be self sufficient while they’re at it. They have to do every step, because I want them to know what riding horses is really about. It’s not fair to me, and it’s certainly not fair to my students, to have them show up and just climb on the pre-caught/groomed/tacked horse and canter around the rail. Great. Now we have kids roaming the countryside who can apparently canter, but don’t know the horse’s head from its… croup.
Some days, Sophie doesn’t want caught, and we have to wade through the mud (five times) to catch her. It then takes 23 minutes to remove the filth that she rolled in, and then we see that she has a fresh cut we should address. By the time we are ready to ride, we have gotten more than our fair share of exercise, they are covered in mud and horse hair, and before the kids know it, they have to hurry and leave, lest they be late for soccer practice. Such is life. If I had a nickel for every time I wanted to ride, but instead had to cold hose a leg, fill water troughs, and rush off to work, I would have enough money for at least two more horses. At least.
So, no. The kids in my program do not get to ride 60 minutes every Thursday. But what they do get is a realistic glimpse into the world of horses. They get cold. They get muddy. They leave the barn covered in horse hair. Not every kid is going to like it, and that is fine. I feel that I am doing them more of a service by letting them figure that out from the very beginning. The horse crazy kids stay, and the others don’t. And I’m okay with that, because I refuse to do it for them. All of my students that stay at the barn, eventually become functional horse people. They know how to do every step, and the better and more efficient they get, the more time they have to ride. They can do balance games and name parts of the horse. They know how to get the stubborn bridle buckle undone, and how to shove my paddock gate latch closed just right so that the horses are safely tucked away for the night. They understand that horses are a boat-load of work and not for sissies. The ones that are too short to reach things are rather handy with the upside down bucket stool, and even the six year old can do everything from catching Sophie (as long as we have head-lowering bribes for the silly white giraffe) to riding around an entire course of mini cross rails. At the walk. Because at my barn, the kids don’t just show up and canter, for I have nothing to prove.
Your turn! What are some of your favorite games and activities to have beginners play? Leave me some cool ideas in the comments, lest I become an old hag of an instructor that doesn’t remember how to have fun. Please and thanks!