Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Avoiding Short Cuts

More and more I find myself questioning the efficacy and safety of the modern model for riding lessons. For several years I declined to teach riding to kids because I was not trained as a riding instructor.

In short, I had no training in collecting $45.00 for having a child ride around me in circles once a  week for an hour. Looking back over the great horse cultures of history one must note that none of these cultures, which produced the world's most talented riders, had professional riding instructors. Granted, if one's goal is to win ribbons in artificial competitions one must have an instructor to teach one how to ride in compliance with the rules of that competition, be it dressage, western pleasure, hunter/jumper or any other discipline.

Unfortunately riding in compliance with those rules often becomes the exemplar of "correct riding." That is true regardless of whether such riding increases the comfort of the rider or the horse and regardless of whether such riding increases safety of the rider or the horse.

Those are my only considerations in evaluating a particular style of riding--comfort and safety of horse and rider. An uncomfortable and unsafe rider is one who does not know how to get in, and remain in, a position that allows him to control the horse while remaining secure in the saddle using the least amount of force possible to obtain compliance from the horse.

The two greatest obstacles to over come in learning to ride in such a way is lack of knowledge as to position and control (which can be learned very fast), and, the more difficult obstacle,  fear of being thrown.

Confidence often takes a very long time to gain. Many people can never become confident riding in a lesson setting one or two hours a week. For most people it takes many hours of challenging riding to gain that confidence. I believe that Daddy put it correctly when he said that I do not teach children to ride. I merely give them the confidence to ride.

And the opportunity to ride, and ride and ride.

 I am convinced that the safest way for me to teach trail riding (which is by far the most common use of recreational horses today, completely dwarfing the number that compete) is to demonstrate and reinforce correct form and as soon as possible beginning  to trot. Trotting then quickly becomes long trotting. A person who trots through the woods for 45 minutes without a break allows their body to learn how to balance itself. Riding until exhausted reduces anxiety (very hard to be physically exhausted and filled with anxiety at the same time.) Riding for hours at a time with 80% of the ride being at a trot creates muscle memory very quickly. Riding hours at a time builds confidence.

I prefer this model. It is physically demanding (which is an added benefit) and it gives the rider time to learn how simple it actually is to ride a trained horse. It allows the rider to move into a canter when the rider decides to do so. Of course, this always results in the rider exclaiming that cantering is easier than trotting. Cantering is easier than trotting, but there are very few people who can confidently and competently canter without having mastered trotting.

The lack of structure to this method of learning rattles some people. But I am convinced that the safest and best way to learn to ride is to ride, and ride, and ride.

One learns to ride the same way one gets to Carnegie Hall---practice.

( A picture of my Grandson on Wind In His Hair, a Chincoteague. )

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