Teaching to really ride

How do you teach a rider to really ride and not just sit pretty?  I have grown up around 2 different kinds of instructors.  One only would work mostly on position and looking pretty but when at shows and where the horse wasn’t perfect the riders would fall off or almost fall off.  The other just worried about cowboying up but not much about position so they could stay on an go around the ring some what in control but not very visually appealing.  How do you find a happy medium where the rider is in a strong, balanced, and pretty seat and can really ride a horse?

13 Responses to Teaching to really ride

  1. j.a.b. says:

    The quick answer is if you can teach someone to be a good rider, a true rider, equitation will follow naturally. My long-winded answer is this: : )

    Equitation in its truest form is really proper riding. You are correct that for many in today’s showring it is just sitting there looking pretty. The top riders, however, are able to really ride while looking pretty at the same time.

    This comes from a basic understanding of the whys and hows. Why does a saddle seat rider carry their hands higher then a hunt rider? What is the effect on the horse when combined with the right bit for that horse and correct rein usage? How is this achieved?

    How does the riders seat really become a source of control over the horse, much more so then the hands/reins, when properly engaged?

    If you as an instructor understand the basics, the fundamentals of riding, in fact of horsemanship, you will find it much easier to communicate these ideals to your students.

    Position and posture in the saddle affect balance of both horse and rider, when a rider moves around the horse has to compensate in its actions to accomodate the rider. This can not only be distracting for the horse but can also throw the horse off balance.

    My biggest pet peeve and the one thing I really try to send home with my students is this: Every time your hand/arm moves you move the reins. Every time the reins move the bit is engaged/moved. The movement of the bit, whether intentional or accidental, is sending a message to the horse that it should be doing something differently then what it is currently doing. If the “cue” is not clear it confuses the horse, done enough times this will frustrate and maybe even upset the horse.
    I tell them to put their index finger crosswise in their mouth, resting against the corners of their lips. Then to push back on the finger, putting pressure on those corners. It is uncomfortable, even in this controlled situation. This gives them a tangible understanding of what it might be like for the horse when a metal bit is pressed against their bars or banging around in their mouth. This, combined with lots of work on balance, can really help to prevent a rider from being heavy handed, unsteady and popping the horse, or relying too much on the reins to stop a horse.

    I guess my point, however long-winded, is to teach not only how but why. Horsemanship is not the sloppy, arm flailing, butt bouncing way of the cowboys in the old movies, nor is it the “sit still and look pretty” way of too many young riders dreaming of top equitation ribbons. It is, however, somewhere in the middle.

    In thinking about it, many of the top, national level equitation riders of the last several years are still in the horse business, many as professionals now. This is because, I imagine, they learned how to be horsemen/women and became invested personally in the craft.

  2. morgansrule says:

    How I finally learned to really ride was to ride horses that were not broke to death. Lesson horses are great to teach the basics and build confidence, but that’s it. Riding a horse that doesn’t do what you ask when you ask will teach you tons about how to ride.

    One lady who was looking at buying a younger horse from me for her 14yr old daughter came to try the horse out. The daughter had been riding at an A circuit barn since she was 7. After she went around at a canter for the umptenth time, looking fabulous and totaly unable to stop the canter, answering my question of leg with a “huh?”, the woman decided the horse wasn’t trained. Couldn’t entertain the possibility that her daughter couldn’t ride. All she had done her whole life in lessons was get on retired show horses and broke amateur horses the trainer was hoping to sell as a junior exhibitor horse. It was eye opening for me.

  3. elise says:

    Great comments, Morgansrule! I’m in a pretty lucky position at where I have my horse. What’s cool about that is I get to work with a trainer for me, and a trainer for me and my own horse. I think there’s a happy medium that a great trainer automatically knows how to get to with each individual student and horse. When to move up to the next skill, and when to be in a “holding pattern”, so that consistancy and confidence comes. With me, the fun and relaxed way of going comes when I am confident I can cue and perform a skill on the horse. That’s where riding both types (really broke and not so much) of horses is a benefit, and riding with a few different training styles is a benefit. When I learn something, I need a lot of explaining and demonstration. Then, once I can do it, I need the kick in the pants to move on up to the next thing. Two very different training styles indeed! But no one ever became a good, well rounded rider by being a , pardon the pun, “one trick pony”. The day I say I can’t get any better or don’t practice because I know my horse will do it, is the day I hope I stop riding. The two go hand in hand. You improve every time you ride, and your horse gains more trust in you every time you ride. So I think you both never have it “all figured out”. That’s why horses and people were put together I think. We impove, and they have the patience and faith in us to allow that to happen.

  4. elise says:

    Well, said, j.a.b, didn’t mean to leave your comments unappreciated, and I think you pretty much nailed it on the head.

  5. StacyGRS says:

    you find a happy medium by riding with a trainer(s) that believes in form to function of the rider as well as the horse. Continually improving your riding skills advances your equitation and, IMO, equitation increases your need/desire to improve your riding skills. Proper Eq, is what it is because it is a practical position that enables you to do your part in the situation. However, learning to “really ride” is not an instantaneous thing and it does not come from never leaving one’s comfort zone. Once things become easy, it is time to find the next thing to improve on. Simply being told what to do, IMO, makes a rider that takes instruction well. Learning WHEN to do something and WHY it works makes a great rider. You continue to polish previous skills, but you have to ride imperfect horses and have imperfect rides to learn how to get to that better spot. Staying status quo because it’s easy or comfortable won’t improve your riding skills or your eq skills. You learn as much from mistakes and bad rides as you do from good rides and often more. That said, the most driven have to be able to accept imperfection as part of the process as it doesn’t just happen overnight…there are always bumps in the road. Sometimes you have to go one step backwards to take 2 forward. If you believe that your trainer puts out a good finished product and continually tries to improve on the rider while making it fun and challenging, then let them go thru the process and look forward to the end result. And ENJOY the journey there…it will be imperfect, but, hopefully filled with fond memories and lots of life lessons. Personaly, I enjoy teaching equitation, as I am one that believes it makes better riders, but I love watching a rider master a new skill and then use it when needed. I take great pride in each rider I teach and find myself very proud of my current ones…all have improved consistantly and have worked hard to get there…that’s how you learn to REALLY ride.

  6. colwilrin says:

    All the important points have been well stated above.

    I can not stress how much a new and challenging horse can teach a rider. Each horse can teach you something if you pay attention.

    I also believe that a good rider never believes they have learned everything.

    One thing that is necessary to mention about riders is natural talent. There are riders who just have a natural feel for the horse and pick up things instinctively. Unfortunately, there are others that don’t have this talent. No matter how many years they take lessons, without that natural talent, they can only reach a certain level of riding. Its kind of like singing…though I love to do it, I am terrible at it and no amount of voice lessons could ever make up for my lack of natural talent.

    In situations where a rider lacks a certain degree of natural talent, I think it is even more necessary to have a good trainer that can match that rider to horses that are suitable to maximize the abilities the rider does have.

    IMO When you look at a pack of eq riders that have been doing it for a number of years, one can distinguish who has natural talent…they look supple in the saddle, while correct, and they are able to keep the horse collected and in the bridle. Those without are the riders who appear to be stiffly perched on the horse and seemingly unaware of how the horse is carrying itself. It has been my experience that a natural rider never looks perched. They might have errors in equitation position, but they still seem to appear to be part of the horse…not plopped on top of it.

  7. j.a.b. says:

    Although, a rider with natural talent but without the desire to do much with it or the discipline to practice will never do as well as a rider without natural talent but the desire and determination to do better/learn more. In my opinion and experience anyway.

    And colwilrin, I can’t wait to get you singing next weekend at the “bleacher party!”

  8. colwilrin says:

    Oh no you won’t! (however, we can usually coax Tina into a verse or two)

    BTW…I agree. Natural talent needs to be developed. No one gets far, natural or not, without sweaty saddle blankets and time in the leather!

  9. Jrchloe says:

    Wow this has all been great and helpful. Since the hands are always mentioned what about the legs? I am a big believer that balanced starts at the foot then up the leg to the seat. If those two are not in the right spot then other parts start compensating and the lower body has to work harder, which can cause issues in the arms and hands, etc. Wouldn’t it be best to stress foot and leg position first and get the balance and seat right? Then the rider can learn to feel whats under and behind them then work on the hands (so many lessons on the lunge)? Saddle Seat has such a bad rap because of so many chair positions which has always bothered me.

  10. ak4793 says:

    I am a firm believer that equitation should be practiced by everyone, and I don’t mean the whole sitting pretty on a push button horse kind. I mean the making your horse do what you tell it to do, while keeping your form and poise. I think that the saddleseat form was established for a reason, and should be followed by those who ride and show in this division. As for the whole teaching students how to really ride? I say, put them on a non-equitated horse, and make them do patterns. My trainer is always putting us on school horses who are most certainly not equitated in the least, and half the time, we can barely get them through the pattern! It helps our poise and form so much though, because when we get on our actual horses when showtime rolls around, it’s so much easier!

  11. mikado12 says:

    Get Helen Crabtree’s book “Saddle Seat Equitation.” She made a video as well (I know you can order the book on Amazon. Saddlebred Museum in Kentucky may still sell the video/DVD).

  12. jake94305 says:

    Great comment Colbirin. And so true!

    Sherry Hannan-Novak

  13. jake94305 says:

    To Jrchloe,
    That is so, so true. Great Comment

    Sherry Hannan-novak

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