“How I wish I was taught to ride well from the start”…


My little niece’s first day “at work” πŸ˜‰

Each week, on several equestrian forums I visit, there are posts by riders who have been riding for many years or who ride at various riding schools and who are now re-learning plethora of bad habits they were allowed to acquire during early education. There will be at least 3-4 different discussions on this subject on Horse & Hound Forum alone (one of the biggest UK equestrian forum) and many more on other forums, blogs and on yards…

Personally, the posts that sadden me the most are written by people who are desperate to do well out of huge care for their horses but they struggle and fight to re-wire their muscle memory. They know their bad habits affect their horse’s willingness to work and progress and so they painfully recollect the slow process of getting it right. It’s not easy to start with but it’s certainly mentally and physically demanding to change the well known pattern.

Those who care about the state of early equestrian education at many riding schools can lament but a conversation with my beginner rider this weekend made me want to approach this issue from another angle…

There is nothing that we can do to change our past experiences but we can certainly look closely at the training we receive now and do something about that.


Beginner rider during a lesson. Aspire Equestrian Start Programme.

There is always something we are beginners at…

Do we allow ourselves to truly learn the basics of more advanced skills right now or do we live for the end goal barely noticing tiny milestones being achieved along the way?

In the process of re-learning, do we let our bodies adjust, accept and then re-connect with new awareness, feel and effectiveness? Many bad riding habits come from rushing the things that need time. Take rising (posting) trot for example. How many riders at riding schools who are at a stage of cantering ever re-visit the technique of correct rising that encourages relaxation in the horse’s topline, promotes looseness in the body and helps naturally control the left to right balance? Not many.

Good riding technique is not just for competition riders and not just for young supple people. It takes as long as it takes to get it better and re-visiting simple skills improves higher skills in the long run. Seems obvious yet I am sure you all see the Big Rush around you, I definitely see it all the time in many riding arenas.


Beginner rider during lesson. Aspire equestrian Start Programme.

If we are having problems teaching our horse flying changes, revisiting our seat in canter can help us spot tension and resistance. If we do it with the beginner’s mindset we shouldn’t have to end up 2 years later with our horse changing late behind, shortening through the neck or flexing his back downwards at the thought of a change. We might not have to then go back and start all over again thinking, I wish I had worked on my own seat two years ago…

Enjoy The Moment

I very much enjoy starting beginner riders who have not had much experience of riding before. It’s a great responsibility to give them the widest possible support of the basics so they will always know if someone teaches them to abuse the horse or their own body. The best thing about teaching beginner and novice riders who want to learn is that they have yet no idea how many turns there are in the learning to ride labyrinth and so they apply themselves fully to each simple task.


Beginner rider learning about feeling the contact through relaxed elbows and shoulder blades as well as learning about how seat instability affects that feel. Right now she doesn’t get to ride with reins in her hands, she might do sometime in February if all goes according to plan. I only let the riders ride with contact when they are able to use their body for balance, not hands. Β Aspire Equestrian Start Programme.

I think this beginner approach is a great one for anyone going through the pain of re-learning bad habits because amazingly, when you do the tiniest things very well, the bigger things – that are made up of these tiniest things – follow suit.

You don’t need to have a perfect body, perfect posture, perfectly straight spine to improve yourself as a rider. All you might need is a beginner’s mindset and experienced person’s determination πŸ™‚

9 thoughts on ““How I wish I was taught to ride well from the start”…

  1. Your words certainly strike home here. I’ve recently changed barns and coaches to address again this very thing … and I’ve been riding for 40 years!!! Have plenty of horror stories of experiences with coaches who didn’t know what the heck they were doing, too. … I’ve been a coach and it was always my thing to teach solid basics to beginners so they’d have a strong foundation upon which to build their riding skills. My way was slower but I got good results and the students appreciated me for it. … I’m excited about a chance to redefine my riding skills with this new coach. He comes highly recommended and I’ve seen how beautifully his students ride. That’ll be me one day. πŸ˜‰

    • Hello Dorothy,
      At times when I look at kids and young people learning to ride this thought comes to me about how we (as instructors) can “kill” or create a great beginning of a good rider. It’s sad how little it takes to teach “skills” that are nothing but future struggles.

      I agree with the slower way and better results in the long run – I follow your blog but will now definitely keep a watchful eye on your posts, look forward to reading about your new training πŸ™‚

  2. Very wise words. So much is a big rush in the modern world, and we aren’t taught the joy of being a beginner and learning new things. Being in the moment and learning is the best place to be. I love your beautiful dapple gray!

    • πŸ™‚
      I do think you have a very good point here with regards to to modern rush and quick results expectancy having a huge impact on other areas of life, riding and horse training included. I am not against technology at all and don’t see much point in trying to escape from it as such but this high speed life calls even more dramatically for places and moments when we can slow down and enjoy the minutes πŸ™‚ What’s better than horses and riding for that πŸ™‚

      The dapple grey is such a great boy, he is still young so I adjust the work we are doing to his comfort too but he has a very mature head on young shoulders and if ever you can say a horse enjoys his work, he will be the one example πŸ™‚

      • And this is it. The speed of proper learning cannot be rushed. … I cannot count the number of beginners who’d ask “when do I get to jump?”, as if that was the be all and end all of knowing how to ride a horse. I would tell them “when I feel you are ready” and that usually meant they had to be able to canter in two-point in a balanced fashion around the arena in both directions. This took longer for some than for others. In a group jumping lesson some riders would progress faster than others. For the slower-developing riders I would always adapt the exercise so they felt comfortable, never pushing them to do something for which they weren’t ready. In the horse world one size does not fit all. Safety for horse and rider must always be our primary concern. To me it is the responsibility of the coach to read the ability and comfort level of their students and be flexible enough in their lesson plan to accommodate both ends of the confidence spectrum. I found riders appreciated the extra caution and technical explanations I offered as they developed their skills and confidence. Those who were impatient with my methods were welcome to ride with someone else. Usually, though, students sought me out. πŸ˜‰

  3. Love this blog – I feel like I am constantly re-learning and correcting bad habits, so next time I’m back in the saddle, I will definitely try and adopt the mindset you talk about. πŸ™‚

  4. This is so true! Nothing worse than having a new client who rode donkeys years ago and thinks they can still do it; even though times change and bodies forget what they`re supposed to do. I have a lovely lady who rode before having kids, can ride to novice level, but is very receptive, knows she has some bad habits, and enjoys being taught. Even if I say “you dropped your right shoulder on your turn” and she says “I know! I felt it” we do it again and correct her πŸ™‚

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