Teaching horseback riding sounds simple, right?? Get on the horse, stay on the horse and have fun, right? Well, I don’t look at it that way. It’s not simple, it’s complicated and messy and confusing and rewarding and frustrating and occasionally painful.
It’s a process, learning to ride a horse. There are so many pieces to it and I rather enjoy teaching riding from a holistic approach. That means my riders learn all the aspects of being an equestrian. I prefer teaching horsemanship rather than just riding. Some people don’t see it that way. Some instructors like to just teach riding. But in my humble opinion, no one should be handed a tacked up horse and jump on.
Horses are complicated creatures just like us. They have family structures; they experience joy, grief, frustration, pain and excitement. They have survived millions of years without humans to bother them. And since we domesticated them, we’ve created all kinds of issues for them, unfortunately.
I like to teach my students about the concept of prey vs predator. And why it matters to us today, now, here in this moment. You, as a rider, are asking a 1,000 pound prey animal to allow a skilled predator to sit on top of it. That is a lot to ask of them! And if you don’t think those ancient instincts still exist inside horses, just go watch a herd of lessons horses eat together at dinner time or watch them run around when a storm is moving in. Everything they do is because of millions of years of evolution. I think it’s only fair to treat them as the beautiful, intelligent creatures they are.
My approach to teaching is the same as my approach to riding. I need to know the horse and let him know me. I instruct my students in the same manner. Groom your horse, talk to him, tell him about your day, ask him if it’s ok to go for a ride today, tell him about your plans for the ride. Horses may not understand your words, but they most definitely understand your intentions and all the subtle things we humans do with our bodies when we’re communicating.
I have a different method than most, I guess. I have been a student of the horse since I was three. I learned all I could in 4-H for eight years. Then I got my Bachelors and Associates in Equine Studies/Riding. I pursued my certification in Therapeutic Riding and spent years starting my own small business. I guess you’d say I have a passion for what I do.
So I teach horsemanship rather than riding. I teach my students about the horse’s giant eye and how they came to have the largest eye of any land mammal. I teach them about mounting the horse on both sides and why people have always mounted on the horse’s left side. Anybody still carrying a sword???!!! Anybody??!!
I teach my students about horses eating habits and why they do NOT eat on a human schedule! I teach them about herd life and communication in horses. I teach then about horse’s illnesses, lameness, digestion and first aid. I teach them why horses do the things they do. Does his saddle fit? Does he have ulcers? Is he looking for his friends? Is his stomach empty? Why is he afraid of stepping into a puddle?
I also teach my riders what the word “assertive” means. This is usually lesson number one with clients who are new to riding. Horses require a leader to keep them safe, so we as humans need to be that for them. I love to see each child find their inner boss and tell a 1,000 pound animal where to go! It is very empowering! I have the greatest job! I get to work with the animals I love and respect, then I get to introduce people to their world. It’s not easy, but it fills my heart with joy.