Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.
The Benefits of Riding the Same Horse
Selecting which lesson horse your student will ride at each lesson plays a major part in helping them to succeed and reach their goals.
In my program, I try to have the student ride the same horse each time for the first three or four lessons. When everything about riding is brand new, it can be intimidating to the students; new place, new people, and being up close and personal with a live horse for the first time.
My goal in my earliest lessons with a new beginner student, whether they be a child or adult, is to teach the nature of the horse and how to be safe and confident with them on the ground.
Of course, they will start learning to groom and tack and proper position, but safety and confidence in the very first lessons will set a new rider up for success.
Names of the brushes and how to tack up are all details that they will perfect with practice. If they don't get the comfort level necessary with the horses to be confident enough to focus and follow instructions, then you are starting their riding careers under saddle with a shaky foundation.
Part of learning to ride is learning that you can't always predict everything that horses do, and eventually, all riders learn to accept that and it probably rarely crosses their minds. New riders, on the other hand, don't have that confidence yet. I have found one way for them to gain it rather quickly is to let them ride the same horse for the first few lessons.
They will gain confidence around that particular horse and that will help them progress more quickly. Having the apprehension of a different horse every week can make the students nervous and starting nervously is never a good way to start with horses.
I have found if you let the students ride the same horse, in the beginning, they will be more confident when the time comes for them to move on to a different horse.
I tend to let them use this horse for a bit also before I start to change it up each week. By doing it this way, you may find that over time your students will be confident enough to have a positive attitude about riding someone new.
Communicating Your Plan
In the process of doing this, it will work best to make sure you are explaining not only to the students but to the parents as well, the reasoning behind what you are doing. That way they won't be surprised when the time comes for them to get on someone new when they come for their lesson.
The reason I find it so important for us as instructors to make sure the parents understand why we do what we do is so that they can support our decision when their child is apprehensive when it's time to try someone new.
The natural progression over time is for us to put our students on the calmest most reliable lesson horses before putting them on anyone that will put them to a test and challenge their skills. We know that because we know how horses work and the challenges that come with learning to ride.
Parents who are new to the horse world are so excited to see their child having fun and gaining confidence that they too are going to become attached to that particular first horse your child has grown to love so much. If they don't know that you are planning to move them on to another horse at some point and that it means they are making the next step, they might not support your decision if their child is apprehensive.
We want the parents of our students to understand the method behind our madness so they can help us to give them a little push when the time comes. If you can gain this relationship with your student's parents they will appreciate that your method of teaching is to gain confidence at one level before pushing on to the next.
The timeline for progressing will be different with every student of course, but as long as your customers understand your plans from the beginning, they won't be caught off guard when they come and it's time to ride a different horse.
A Friendly Reminder: Sometimes Riding Is Hard
Also, in order to raise up confident riders who are able to ride a variety of horses, it is imperative that they are taught from the very beginning the nature of the horse and the challenges that come along with choosing a thousand pound animal as your partner in a sport.
You should emphasize that all horses have different histories and different personalities and that they have good days and bad days just like we do. Some days you will be right on and the horse is not, some days the horse is ready and waiting for the signal but you just aren't giving it right. Horseback riding is hard sometimes, and sometimes it will be frustrating. Not every lesson is going to be tons of fun. You should emphasize though that your students are probably learning just as much with a tough lesson as an easy one.
There is nothing wrong with having it be hard when you ride a new horse and to have some frustrating lessons. You are learning how to relate to a different horse and how they respond to your cues, and that is not always easy to figure out in just one ride.
Make sure your students know that riding that new, tougher horse is a right of passage for them and that they are ready; they should be confident and ready to rise to the challenge. Be sure to clearly communicate this with them and their parents throughout the progression and development of your relationship with them as instructor (and student).
Once your student is confident to get on whatever horse you assign and rise to the challenges without complaint, they are ready for you to use a variety of horses to teach them all the tools they need in their toolbox.
That being said, they might go through a period where they will be back on the same horse again weekly for a while. Which is fine, as long as they know that its because that horse is the best one in the barn to teach them what they need to learn at that time.
If you teach your riders progressively and let them gain the confidence at their own pace. I think you will find that they get to a point where they look forward to and enjoy riding different horses. Whether it be a random change every once in a while or a different horse every week.
Offering Students Who Own a Horse a Chance to Ride Different Horses
As a side note, if you also teach students who own their own horses, I have found that they will benefit from riding other horses from time to time. Each horse is so different and responds differently to different people. If the kids who own their own horses never get on anything else, they might actually lose confidence or become complacent with certain habits. Some horses will let you get away with some things and others will not. That being said, if your horse-owning students are up for it, I would suggest having them switch it up and ride a school horse every once in a while. Especially if they are stuck in a rut with something with their horse, riding one of the school horses might be able to give them the feeling they need to take back and get it with their own horse.
Explain Your Program and Be Open to Questions
Teaching kids to ride is a challenge. If you are lucky like me, you have a great variety of horses in your barn to help you get the job done. Knowing how to use those horses and when is just as important though. It has been a learning curve for me and continues to be each time we get a new horse at the barn, or one of my students buys a horse of their own.
Over time, you will get to know your customers and what their goals are which will help you decide which horse they should be riding. Teach in a progressive manner, taking small steps that make it easy for your students and their parents to see them making progress.
Remember that it is just important for their parents to understand the program and teachings as well. This isn't just because they are the ones that pay the bill, but because at some point, their child might be unsure and you will need to have a professional relationship with them so that they trust your judgment. The parents will also help to give your student a needed push when necessary.
If you are a parent and you don't understand why your child is on a certain horse or you are disappointed when they struggle with something in a lesson, don't be afraid to talk to your instructor about it.
Parents, students, and instructors need to communicate so that everyone understands the method behind the madness and trusts what is going on is best for all involved.