It’s over 22 years since I had my first official riding lesson, and I’ve mounted up frequently enough in the interim that I cannot remember being anything other than unconsciously competent at the basics. When I signed up to teach horse riding this summer at an American camp, I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be good enough to teach the advanced riders. What I hadn’t considered was the challenge of explaining the very fundamentals of starting to ride for the benefit of beginners.
Prior to departing for camp, I frantically flipped through some of my well-loved pony books which have been gathering dust for some time, as well as reading a variety of guides to teaching riding. The whole process was fascinating: unsurprisingly, ponies haven’t changed, so my childhood books were still relevant. Also unsurprisingly, I disagreed with much of what the instructor manuals had to say about teaching, and quickly put those books to one side. I’m a very kinaesthetic learner myself, so my instinct when teaching anything is to go with the flow and deal with whatever bridge must be crossed – there are pros and cons to this!
It is, in fact, several years since I have had to learn a completely alien task – the closest experience I can recall of my own in order to put myself in a first-time rider’s shoes is learning to drive, and even that is now nine years ago.
In one day, I have had to explain to several children how to mount a horse, starting at the very beginning and watching as they try to take the information in. Interestingly, getting on seems to be the biggest challenge – once the rider is in the saddle, other elements are easier. Mounting a horse is not something which is easy to demonstrate, which is inconvenient given that many people are visual learners. The process best suits auditory learners, as it is something which must be described slowly, limb by limb, a literal step by step motion.
Once the rider is settled, all learning styles may flourish – it is straightforward to describe a position, or demonstrate from the ground, or manipulate the rider’s body into place. But, for experienced riders, it is still easy to forget what a beginner must be told. Those of us who have been in the saddle for longer than we can remember find many processes as natural as breathing – we are completely unconscious of the fact that we are sitting tall in a certain position, running through a series of checks without pausing to consider exactly what they are.
Riding a horse is a lot about “feel”, which is fine as long as you know which feeling you seek! More than once, I have been told, “you’ll know when you get it right, you’ll feel it.” And I do know. But now, it’s time to put the feeling into words, and enable others to feel it too.