Adult Beginner/Novice Rider – What You Might Want To Know about booting and whipping of horses

Last night I read this conversation on Horse & Hound Forum:

Click on the image to read the replies…

My reply was as follows:

“This is something very close to my heart as an instructor who is trying to fight with the “booting culture” I really hope that you find another riding school where standards are higher and understanding of teaching in place.

I wouldn’t believe everyone who says months of lunge lessons are boring as they most likely did not experience a good, fun, creative and educational seat training programme. If they did, they may have another opinion of lunge lessons!
I very highly recommend them as seat education for beginner riders is the first step to get rid of switched off/resigned horses.

The time spent on the lunge depends on your general learning ambitions. As an example I keep my beginner riders on the lunge for minimum of 3 months. That’s for your average leisure rider.

If your body awareness and alignment are very good (as advised by your instructor) it might be that you need to focus more on how to use this good posture you have in a way that helps the horse rather than demands…

I must add – I think it would be great if you wrote to Horse & Hound magazine with your experiences. The booting culture must go if riding schools are to survive. More and more riders want to have good basics and ride well. Leisure riders shouldn’t have to loan or buy horses to experience high quality education, they deserve to learn at places where horses are not used as kicking boards.

Good luck with your search”


The subject of brutal and abusive riding, yes let’s call things by its name, comes up often and the fact several posters in the above conversation tried to find excuses for abusive teaching methods is a very sad state of affairs.

Before you read on, I should note that certain amount of assertiveness and confidence is required from riders at all levels. Some amount of firmness and decisiveness is always necessary with some horses and less with others. There is a big difference between assertive riding and abusive riding and that difference is called EDUCATION. Both you and the horse must know why and what for pressure is applied and how to work towards decreasing that pressure to achieve results invisibly.

If your instructor uses the words “kick on” meaning add energy to your actions and you know what you are supposed to do rather than actually boot the horse, then by all means, continue your lessons.

If, however, there are questions in your mind that are similar to those posted above, then do trust yourself because your intuition is right.


Dear adult rider at a riding school,

I think it’s fair to say you sign up for your lessons because there is something about the horse and riding that appeals to you. Something in the whole experience that gives you a great escape from everyday worries, work thoughts, daily duties, brings your heart rate up and let’s you chat with others who feel in a similar way.

I am sure that if “booting” and kicking hard was your idea of fun you would go for many other sports that readily have this on the menu like kickboxing, taekwondo, karate, football to name a few.  If you really wanted to learn how to kick semi-soft objects with your calves and heels you could quite easily and cheaply gotten hold of an old sofa and have the time of your life booting it for a fraction of a price of a riding lesson.

You might say it’s a responsibility of a riding school to teach you well and you’ll be right. However, it’s your responsibility as of an intelligent human being to recognise when teaching stops and abuse starts.

What do you think dear readers? Boot or Educate? Do you believe riding tuition must move away from booting and whipping and find its way to humane horsemanship or do you think this abusive “stage” is just a part of being a novice rider who is not respected by the school horse? Or perhaps you don’t think it’s abuse at all? Please do have your say in the comments.

If you fancy a different way of learning to ride – check out Aspire Equestrian’s courses HERE.

22 thoughts on “Adult Beginner/Novice Rider – What You Might Want To Know about booting and whipping of horses”

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Good for your horses and that’s exactly what I mean when I say there are ways of intelligent management of school horses. If 100 riding schools can do it well, then why not a 1000, why not all of them?

  1. I think it’s a very difficult balance to strike, and a hard question to answer. I taught at a summer camp in the US this year, where most of the kids had never ridden before or were what we termed as beginners (to qualify for intermediate, they had to be able to do rising trot without balancing on their hands, then we would coach them through improving during their time with us). The other instructors and I observed more than once that the logic of teaching people to ride is fairly strange – that we’re generally taught to ride on horses who are dead to the subtle aids which engaged horses are. School horses aren’t poorly-trained necessarily, but they are used predominantly for one type of rider – anxious beginners, who require a steady horse who can compensate for their inexperience. We observed that, often, you teach people to stay on a horse, and to use certain aids with beginner horses. Then when they move on to livelier animals, you have to completely re-teach hand and leg aids. It’s so counter-intuitive! Why can’t we teach people correctly from the word go? Why do horses need to become dead to the hand and leg? Why shouldn’t beginners be able to sit on responsive schoolmasters, so that they are better able to learn the elusive feel for the horse?

    Learning to ride is often likened to learning a new language. And when we learn human languages, we are generally taught the very correct and proper way first (using the politest form of speech, the most classic accent associated with the language in question) as well as a very basic vocabulary. The same is done with riding: the vocabulary is basic, which causes many instructors to resort to using words such as “kick” and “pull”. It’s funny, really, because one word will do for both hand and leg aids: squeeze.

    Perhaps beginners need to be taught that riding is about balance and pressure, rather than brute force? It’s certainly about confidence and subtlety, and the problem is that beginners generally have neither, so sensitive horses who can respond as such are unsuitable.

    It’s very much a situation of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I don’t think I have the answer to your question (if I did, I might be very rich!).

    1. I think you made a very valid point regarding use of language, this is definitely one of the issues I agree with – many instructors try to, rightly so, make their commands simple and to the point but this can backfire as simple things can be understood in so many different ways depending on our experiences, upbringing, beliefs etc

      I agree it’s not easy but I do think it’s necessary to sort out the “dark side”. As I run a programme that is somewhat an alternative to a riding school voucher I do speak to many riders who left riding schools. Sometimes it’s because they felt disrespected and screamed at by rude teenage staff, sometimes it’s because they feel no progression route is shown to them but you wouldn’t believe how many times the reason is because they feel like they are abusing horses they ride…

      I know enough good riding schools to know it can be done humanely. Getting to know horses should be a number 1 thing taught. This notion of turn up, ride, go is in my opinion, not suited to equestrian recreation. Trying to make riding into something it is not (a quick exercise routine) might bring some momentary boom (although I am sceptical about it) but I don’t see it as a long term solution to build participation.

      I could go on about this forever and I don’t want to bore anyone but to sum up: it’s down to the BHS and other regulating bodies, down to instructors and grooms to teach empathy and respect from grassroots up.
      When we stop finding excuses why something can’t be done, we will find solution to how to make different things happen…

      Look at initiatives like “Think Like a Pony”, my own Aspire programme, various freelance programmes, clinics, the change is happening but definitely more needs to be done. You actually have a unique chance to make those changes at your camps 🙂

  2. I can’t stand seeing these same riders “progress” to riding with spurs when they get their own horse.
    I have had years of experience on riding school horses. Many of them have developed the most economical approach; doing no more than necessary; which they judge as soon as a rider climbs aboard.
    These same horses come alive with a warm up that includes short walk/trot/walk/trot transitions, that wake them up to the possibility of some variety, get them interested in the rider and off the forehand/engaged behind/in front of the rider’s leg.

    1. Oh you touched on my pet hate too – spurs-to-make-them-go :-/
      Very true regarding transitions and nothing that a novice rider can’t do well with some help from the ground if necessary.
      I much rather see an instructor with a lunge whip used to help the novice rider in the same way as it is used for lunging than a novice rider kicking away .

  3. I have never abused or even thought of any of the options above. I can also recall since the age of four my instructors never using that way of teaching either. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places out there that do. I just thought a comment from a resident of NY might help add some positive into this! I enjoyed reading all of the above comments and Becky made a good point about how we put beginners on lesson horses who are more or less desensitized. Which in turn makes me want to think they are either bored with what they are doing, or are too old to be carrying a young, anxious rider on their back. But in turn, do I think a beginner should be placed on a peppy horse? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the situation. I would never put someone else on my current 15 year old paint because he is way to spunky, and has a lot to re-learn. So, I guess it depends on the horse, the trainer and the rider. But do I think the kicking and whipping should stop? Absolutely. If you have to use harsh spurs, find another horse who will fit YOU and what you want to do. Your horse should NEVER have to conform to what you want to do. Your horse has to be genuinely happy doing whatever you do, barrel racing, jumping, dressage, etc. That is the main problem now-a-days with people purchasing or adopting horses that eventually end up at the auction or unsuitable homes; people purchase based on looks and breed. Instead you need to focus on a horse that is willing and happy (or trained) to do whatever discipline you wish to pursue.

    1. Hello Taylor, thank you for the voice from NY! It’s really great to hear from someone with such good experiences from an early age 🙂

      There is definitely a skill to finding and training good school horses. I do agree that the right type of horse is a must and have seen many who do a superb job. Something I personally would love to see change is the novice-rider-on-a-novice horse situation. Many horses are also too young/too green to be teaching a few unbalanced riders a day. Riding schools might also go for horses nobody else wants/needs when actually, we as instructors need the strong (both mentally and physically) and mature horses with good, placid yet friendly disposition. They are out there, it just takes a little more financial input and time to search for them.

      Many ex-competition horses with the right brain can also have a good second life in a well run riding school. Maybe if schools could show a better, more horse friendly use of their “working partners” then perhaps owners would be more willing to pass their unwanted but still great horses onto the learning programmes.

      I also couldn’t agree more with you on this: “Your horse should NEVER have to conform to what you want to do. Your horse has to be genuinely happy doing whatever you do, barrel racing, jumping, dressage, etc. That is the main problem now-a-days with people purchasing or adopting horses that eventually end up at the auction or unsuitable homes; people purchase based on looks and breed. Instead you need to focus on a horse that is willing and happy (or trained) to do whatever discipline you wish to pursue.”

      Well said 🙂

  4. Enjoyed reading this and all are valid points.. teaching 20 years ago .. it did not matter about how many times the child fell off, health and safety wasnt around. Good or bad teaching was.. now we are encouraged with UKCC to coach more and instruct less and there are times for this but not always .. it still comes down to good or bad teaching. It is almost impossible to teach classically a beginner on a totally dead to the leg horse. I would rather a horse that was responsive enough and teach at a slower rate. Lunge lessons SEEM to be a dying art ! Good ones anyway. There are not enough true school masters in riding schools so you often end up with some riders being better than some staff. In an ideal world we would all teach SRS or acceptable variations of. I think in the UK we have it far wrong at the moment and there is valid question marks raised recently by Sylvia Loch .. are the BHS doing enough to encourage correct teaching BHSAI ‘s and I consider myself 10 years ago to be in the same bracket. There is no where near enough education for up and coming instructors. Spain, Portugal Germany, France and Holland and Ireland all have it better in my opinion. And it comes down to the teachings of the classical seat and aids. There is also the economics involved.. learning is expensive and horses that are retired competition horses usually take more keeping than family cobs. I believe there is a change happening with the fines for Rollkur coming in. (Bad riding). The more judges at grass routes can support the FEIs’ recent change to “the happy athlete” .. its hard to trickle down.. Again in the ideal world it would start at lower levels anyway.. Chicken and Egg scenario there depending on which viewpoint you take. People like Sylvia loch and Heather Moffett inspire me as I believe these ladies will be remembered as modern day masters. Perhaps some FBHS but not all.

    1. Hi Gillian,
      Thank you for stopping by to comment, I agree re the difficulty teaching subtle riding on switched off horses. The way I see it is that it’s a cycle that has to be stopped at the most basic level: training of beginner riders (proper system of riding education) and on choice of horses that are used for learning (and for how long). There are too many “can’t” and “it won’t work” on every step.
      I also agree re AI training – the better the grassroots teachers’ standard the less brain-dead horses around. I’ve seen it done so I don’t believe in any excuses anymore. All it takes is to stop looking around for problems but focus on solutions…

      I’m with you 100% on classical inspirations!

  5. I concur with this, but I also have a question. For a long time, Wiz got dead to my leg- for no real reason. I had never overly used it or anything. I started carrying a dressage whip and tapping it behind my leg to ‘reinforce’ the leg cue, but I’d always give him a chance to respond properly first, and I wasn’t whaling on him. Now he moves forward when I ask most of the time, and when he starts to get non-responsive we return to that basic exercise. Is that incorrect, in your opinion!? (I’ve literally had him ‘shut down’ in the dressage arena where he gets so balled up, that I’ve had to pony kick him to get him to move. But I very rarely ever pony kick him, he just has a tendency to keep balling up his energy until he’s going nowhere!)

    1. Hello there 🙂 Apologies for late reply, I wanted to make sure I have the time to respond properly. I think that with experienced riders and young horses the matter is a little different. First of all, you are able to analyse the reasons and logically apply solutions, something that beginner riders are not yet able to do due to due to low level of feel (even if they do have good theoretical knowledge). I see no issue with having something that back ups the leg (like a tap with a whip at the right place and the right time) but I do think that if a horse shuts down, the issue is more complex and perhaps requiring a more thought out training plan. I remember Carl Hester saying in one if his interviews that his horse Uthopia can sometimes shut down in the arena during piaffe. He continues the test without reaching for high marks.

      I personally wouldn’t resort to pony club kicks in the situation you describe but either called it a day or finished within the horse’s comfort zone if he was moving at all. I do think it’s very much a mental problem stress related. It’s probably easier to see this with horses that rear, buck or generally overreact in the arena than those that “go dead on the rider” but I see both as stage fright.

      My view is that horses like this just need more time and exposure as well as a rider who is willing to look like an idiot some of the time 😉

      In training, I think your method is good (reinforcement with taps) but I would want to have a clear view on how effective this is when you need it. Perhaps you need to give him more arena time, more outings, more situations in which he needs to focus yet remain energetic enough. Not easy!

      In Wizz’s case this could have been connected to his neuro-muscular issues, what do you think?

  6. Great article and absolute one of my pet hates! I run a small riding school and at least 50% of my clients are beginners, they are taught never to even touch the horse’s sides unless they need to ie. a squeeze with the leg to walk on, pressure is removed immediately, 9/10 the horse walks on straight away as that is how they are trained. If horse doesn’t walk on rider is most likely doing something wrong such as gripping with knees or hanging onto reins (or horse has found patch of grass to munch on!). In this way horses are happy to work as they are not constantly nagged, riders are happy as they really learn to ride not to kick sofas =) I’m also happy as it makes teaching so much easier when horses RESPOND!

    I’d like to add that all these horses are very quiet, don’t bog off at 100 miles an hour, don’t buck, don’t rear and rarely spook. A few can cope with very unbalanced beginners and if rider seems to be coming off horse will just stop. Many riders assume this is a lazy horse that needs a kicking when in fact it’s an unbalanced rider that needs practice and horse is actually trying to save you from eating sand =)

    We also teach long reins and using an open rein to turn (some find this contraversial but I can’t stand to see horses being gobbed as much as I can’t stand to see them kicked)

    So to sum up, there is NO REASON why riding schools can’t have sensitive, quiet horses. If I can do it (I have 16 horses and for 9 months of the year I do pretty much everything on my own) then so can any other riding school. And at the end of the day, even if you don’t care about the horses or the riders, it’s still good business sense. Better trained horses = happier riders = more business = more money!

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for this comment! I hear so much of “this is how it must be” in relation to switched-off depressed horses in kick-them harder environment that I sometimes wonder if people simply prefer to believe that’s the case and don’t search for different solutions.
      I teach beginners without contact on the reins too (starting with no reins on the lunge moving to simple figures on longer reins).

      Where are you? 🙂

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