I Heard It…

…with my own two ears. Just the other day I overheard a riding instructor say to a young pupil: ‘Stick your belly button out.’ That stopped me in my tracks. Is this a gymnastics class?  The student rode by on her pony with a lovely ‘c’ in her lower back like pictured below.

Tilted Pelvis

This type of rider posture – hollowed, locked back – is incorrect and disrupts not only the rider’s ability to absorb the horse’s movement, but also causes the horse to hollow and lock its back (as seen in the picture) in response.  When that happens the horse trails its hind legs, can’t swing through its back, drops its wither and base of neck, raises its head, and shortens its stride.  It’s the antithesis of correct movement, stressing the body.  Even the best conformed horse can’t overcome.

Here’s a great illustration showing the correct amount of curvature in the lower back.  (The human spine does have some curvature through the ‘loin’.)  Also of note is the straight line created by the alignment of the ear, hip and heel that we all know about but often struggle to obtain.

I don’t know the education background of the riding instructor, if she’s certified,  or who taught her, but she’s popular with her students and their parents.  It discourages me that another group of young riders is being developed with such poor basic skills.  Besides the hollow lower backs, all the riders in her class (5) had knees and toes pointed outward and overly straight arms.  And like a horse that has lived in inversion, a rider with incorrect basics will need to spend much more time correcting those bad habits than if they’d learned the right way first time around.

I wish I had a solution for this widespread problem, which feels to me as if its gaining momentum.


35 thoughts on “I Heard It…

  1. Aside from everything you wrote, it’s got to be bloody uncomfortable riding with your backside stuck out!

  2. My wife used to call out to her female students (above a certain age), “tits up and out, ladies!” More memorable than “open your chest”. The object, of course, is not to hollow the back, but to teach the student to sit up rather than slumped over with drooped shoulders. Sometimes you have to exaggerate a position to get an intermediate action.

    • Morganman has a point — in my experience, most novice riders slump, with rounded shoulders and a tendency to look down at the horse. The directions “sit up straight”, “put your shoulders back”, and “look where you are going, not down at the horse” help these very novice riders get to a more-correct posture. It’s not going to be perfect, but a rider who sits up with square shoulders and consistently looks in the direction of travel is a big improvement (for both horse and rider) over a rider who sits like a sack of potatoes and stares down at the horse’s neck. Certainly there are other things to address as far as a rider’s posture, but I would count myself lucky if every kid I worked with sat up straight, squared their shoulders, and always looked where they were going.

  3. I agree with all that you said but there is also another factor at play….
    I taught beginners at a well established, farily high end riding stable… the horses were well taken care of, the facility immaculate, the owners and staff knowledgable. What made this school successful was not only that the students were having fun and learning in a safe environment but that it was run like a business, not a farm. ALL the rules of business (and farm) were strictly enforced at all times, no exceptions.
    In this example, the instructor was in the wrong but when all is said and done, a riding school is out to make money. Period. The factor that comes into play is called “parents”.
    When I brought up a few ideas to the owner about introducing more “on the ground horsemanship”, the owner, who I still respect to this day, actually laughed at me. Not because she thought my idea was stupid, not at all, she agreed that it was a great idea and this type of learning was in fact needed. You can imagine my confusion then….
    What got in the way was… parents (especially “city slicker” parents with no animal experience). In her 25+ years experience running a successful school, she learned over the years that all the parents want to hear is that little Suzy had fun. Why? Because if Suzy has fun, she wants to come back which means the school makes money. I’m not a business major but I think that’s the #1 rule of business isn’t it? Make money?
    In my case, the bonus was that little Suzy was being taught correctly AND having fun but in many cases, little Suzy is not being taught correctly although she may still be having fun.
    As the picture shows, the little girl on the little paint pony is being taught to ride poorly however, I bet she’s having a blast, especially if she’s made friends with the other little people at the farm. She will finish her lesson and exclaim to her parents that she loves the pony and is having a great time. This means she’ll want to come back. Unfortunately, neither she, nor her parents have a clue that she’s not learning to ride properly.
    So why does this circle continue?
    Well, in my 35+ years of being around boarding and lesson barns, I noticed that 95% of the little people do not continue riding into their teens or adulthood. From my group of friends, I’m the only one that still rides 20 years later. Be it discovering boys, school commitments, the cost or simply that the mall is more interesting, they stop riding. Perhaps they became discouraged that they never got better and simply chalked it up to “I am just not cut out to ride horses”. Whatever the reason, the point is they stopped riding. As a result, there were likely no reprecussions on their past instructors or riding schools regarding poor instruction, therefore, poor instruction continues.
    Not that anybody cares, but I was in the later half of that opinion. For years I just wasn’t getting better and as a result, my self esteem and confidence crept lower and lower. I wasn’t able to afford lessons until adulthood so I had no clue that I had a bad instructor. Afterall, she was the instructor, she had other students, she rode herself… I just trusted. It got to the point where I even took a couple of years off from horses because I was so discouraged. Thanks to my sheer love of horses however, I found my way back to the farm. I simply had to have them in my life. They were my sanity regardless if I sucked at riding them, I would just hang out then.
    Long story short, the stars aligned and I found a partboard at a farm with a superstar instructor. In one year I learned more than I had in the past 5! I came leaps and bounds and then some, I was exstatic!
    So, nowadays, if I get the opportunity, I simply tell folks that nothing beats good instruction. It’s worth every penny.
    I did not go back to the old instructor to tell them that I thought they didn’t teach properly ’cause really, who wouold do that? They are still teaching to this day, I do not go around bad mouthing them either, my solution is to simply not bring them up at all.
    So, my question back to you folks then is have you or would you go back to tell a previous instructor that they do a poor job?
    I’ll hazard a guess that most of you have not….

    • This is a really intelligent post – thanks! I spent years teaching riding lessons at a series of lesson barns and summer camps. And you are quite correct that making sure that the kids have fun is a priority in a good lesson barn. I believe it’s possible for kids to have fun AND learn to ride correctly. For me prioritizing fun doesn’t mean letting kids get away with sloppy positions, but it did mean no drill-seargant/ old-school football coach type yelling, it meant if little Suzy was scared to canter then it was okay if Suzy didn’t canter that day, it meant accepting that if a kid’s obesity interfered with her riding then I had to make do because it wasn’t my place to force change. I’d like to think I still taught solid basics to those kids, but I’ll fully admit, it was most important that they were safe and having an enjoyable experience with horses, than that they were becoming the best riders they could possibly become.

      The thing is, becoming really good at anything takes a level of dedication and commitment that is above and beyond what it takes to do something in a recreational manner. And the way of coaching/teaching is different. A swim coach is very different with the kid who wants to race and has sights on the Olympics than with the kid who is dutifully taking swim class because it’s something kids are supposed to do. The intensity level that it takes to be really good at a sport is off-putting to people who are just doing it for fun.

    • Interesting story. I do not have an answer to your question, but you have brought up a very interesting topic, riding as art, or riding as a business.

      I would, however, ask if the “city slicker” parents were ever told that on the ground instruction could be fun, too. As for Suzy not continuing, she would not have, anyway. She wasn’t meant to. Look at you, you wanted to ride, and you found a way back.

      • The more I thought about your comment, Dangsportpony, the angrier I became. There is absolutely no reason why a business, any business, can’t be run right and proper, keep customers safe, create fun for customers (if that’s appropriate to the business), have high standards of excellence in product/service, and be successful/make money. Indeed, I’d say that a business has more chance of success IF a quality product/service is offered.

        It does not matter if a high percentage of children do not pursue riding past their teenage years. That is no excuse for teaching poor basic skills. In fact, I’ve known several youngsters who quit riding because they’d become scared from one too many falls off horses, because they’d not been taught good, basic skills and had been allowed to do some of those ‘fun’ things (like jump) when they weren’t ready. I’ve also known several young riders who quit because they weren’t advancing, not because they had no talent for riding, but because their basics were so poor that they couldn’t move up to the next level of riding.

        There’s a lot of room between ‘just wanna have fun’ and ‘want to be an Olympian’. It’s important we teach children (and their parents if necessary), that where horse’s are concerned, the SAFEST fun happens AFTER the work is done. That doesn’t mean that teaching youngsters (under 10) has to be delivered in an agonizing chore-like manner. For older children, part of growing up is understanding how life works, and that being a teacher of any kind means you have a responsibility to pass along not just instructional content, but also life lessons, otherwise why are you a teacher in the first place?

  4. No easy solution as so few people who know how to ride well exist, and not all of them want to be instructors, and then people don’t have or want to have the time to work on themselves so they wouldn’t go to the people who would make them do it correctly, and then, if you were in the US, no credentials are generally required, no standardization of instruction or testing to weed out people who don’t know what they are doing, which just guarantees nothing will get better.

    As Mercedes already knows, I am a collector of horsemanship texts and I have some really nice books. Including texts by some of the people who inspired hunt seat riding in this country as a sport/show discipline. Some of it is discouraging, it wasn’t about teaching a correct seat or the best, but teaching what “Americans” were willing to buy, a quick way to become moderately proficient at staying on a horse, looking pretty and do medium level riding.

    While I do not regret that horses stopped being war machines, the loss of the cavalry schools around the world has greatly damaged the level of horsemanship and the production of masters in the art of horsemanship. The average cavalryman might not have been great, but from the officer corps, individuals of talent were recognized and sent for further education amongst the true masters. We have nothing like that today to create truly knowledgable and competent instructors. Dangsportpony is quite correct in saying this is about fun, keeping the school open and instruction in horsemanship takes a back seat. And while I have been harsh about Americans, the decline is world wide. Look at any grand prix level jumping in the 40’s and 50’s, and look at what is out there today. The strength and balance, the ability to do a full release, not pinch the knees and lay on the horse, is missing in most riders even at high levels.

    Modern sport dressage doesn’t even bare talking about. And western disciplines outside of some of the cow work, are an embarrassment to cow ponies everywhere. Not because people don’t try to do their best for their horses, but because no one even knows what correct is any more.

    But again, help is out there if you are willing to dig and watch and ask. Skim down to see George Morris as a young man:

    Another great rider talking about position and hands and the back of the rider in an article worth reading and the pictures bear looking at:


    • Hmmm, I think we’re comparing apples to oranges here….

      Parents are a whole other ball game and yes, they have nothing to do with the quality of instruction that is provided by the school. Any riding school regardless of whether it’s high end or not, is only as good as its instructors. I agree, you can teach correct riding AND have fun….. but Suzy’s parents are really only interested in whether their “little recreational rider” is having fun or not.

      To clarify, the school I worked at was both successful in teaching riding and running a business. They learned to deal effectively with clients (i.e. parents) AND teach proper riding technique and therefore, their students, most of whom were recreational, did have fun and improved. A far as the instructors, all were certified, most had owned horses their whole lives, and some actively showed. One of them was even invited to be a working student in Germany recently…. In my opinion, that says something positive about the type of instruction you might receive at this farm.

      I totally agree that correct basic skills should be taught from the beginning regardless of whether the student will continue or not. I also fully agree that lots of kids stop because they are scared or discouraged because unbeknownst to them, they haven’t been taught well (I was one of them!).

      All I was trying to point out is that the non-horsey parents of recreational riders are really only interested in their child having fun and not so much in the quality of instruction.

  5. This kind of thing really sets me off! (Dang it, Mercedes!)

    It IS the first step toward developing that lovely ‘praying mantis’ jumping position. And that wins. So it must be right, right?

    It seems to be gaining momentum because the oldsters are retiring and dying off. Look at the age of the great stylists: Steinkraus et al. You have to go back to the 70’s to be able to find a decent example of horsemanship/equitation. How many working in the ring these days can even say they were born then? lol! The current crop of young professionals was born twenty years too late.

    Riding with your back in that position – belly out and spine over curved – can be painful! I’d expect sore backs to be another reason youngsters quit riding. Not to mention the impossibility of developing a seat and the insecurity and discomfort that lack of seat imparts. Which on an intuitive level also stops many youngsters in their tracks: they simply instinctively do not feel secure – and they are right. So they quit when it disturbs them enough.

    Many also quit because they have been led to believe they have got it ‘down’ and there is nothing more to develop. The jumps only get higher, right?

    There is absolutely no reason instruction cannot be correct AND fun. And the fun is multiplied by the sense of achievement when the rider knows they got it *right* – which they will never do, riding incorrectly. (Mind you, it is possible too many rely upon the instructors’ say-so rathe than their own ‘feel’) Sure, many youngsters are in it on a casual level; no problem with that. Just teach them correctly and honestly and do not mislead them into thinking they have achieved what they have not.

    That takes a certain skill and a broader knowledge base on the part of the instructor. Contrary to the common practice where individuals barely beyond beginners themselves are often set to teach the ‘up-downers’. ‘Cause what do they need to know? Not everybody is cut out to teach youngsters – or beginners. IMO it takes *more* skill and knowledge to teach beginners – or at least, just as much – as it does to teach advanced students. Simply because you do need to know the reasons WHY it must be done a certain way and not another and be able to explain and adapt.

    I absolutely abhor teaching a shortcut/the wrong thing with the thought that it is ‘good enough for now’ and “we can fix that later – if she keeps riding”

    Too often the standards for certification are set to the lowest common denominator: far far too many ‘certified’ instructors don’t have a clue beyond basic tacking up and superficial riding skills. (Yes I said ‘superficial’ deliberately: too often what an instructor ‘knows’ and teaches is based upon appearance in imitation of what they see winning in the show ring or in photos of such) Not entirely their fault: we are well into a third generation of professionals out there who have been taught inadequately (and yes, incorrectly) by those who in turn did not know (or pass on) enough.

    The general attitude being “if it is winning, it is good”. Yet another example of how the show ring can drag down and pervert the common perception of what ‘good’ actually IS.

    A big part of the bottom line for me is that these young riders are led to believe they are ‘good’ riders just as they are. That is a lie. I am not able to condone lying to get someone’s money and if your business is based upon that – AND people (the public and your clients) find it acceptable – there is something very very wrong.

    • I guess I am less a pessimist than you… I think there is some fantastic equitation still being done by professionals today, do a google image search on Beezie Madden for example.

      • Much of the time she has excellent form, and her horses are well trained enough to be ‘ratable’ and move through a course smoothly. The video I linked was just first up, but a good example of how good communication allows the jumps to look almost easy even though they are huge, and then on the last jump, she tries to make a last minute adjustment, the horse throws its head and down comes a rail. Could happen to anyone, but it just illustrates how much a rider needs to be tactful and the horse responsive to be able to compete at this level.

        My only problem with naming one name, and we could come up with a few others, is that it is still a handful out of all those riding at the top. And the younger the riders, the less they can get correct early training, especially in the US.

        • J – I don’t think her horse touched the rail at all. I admit I don’t have the best eyes but it looks like the wind of their movement took it down.

          • I put it on full screen this time, and it does look like she didn’t bump the top rail, sometimes I still see a jump as if there was a brush from the right fore, but I can’t swear to it.

        • Yeah that’s one heartbreaker of a rail. Especially since it is not the top rail that came down which suggests it wasn’t hit in the way that usually happens.

          And sure, Beezie Madden is one name, the first one that popped into my head as I checked the replies here this morning. I just dislike the attitude of “the world used to be so much better, young people today are no good” whether that’s in horses or elsewhere. Sure I see the fake postured hollowed-back hunter riders out there, but I also see plenty of quite correct young riders. Watch the USEF Talent Search classes sometime, if they are offered at any show near you. I always see a lot of impressive riding, especially when they make them switch horses. The tests are difficult enough that posing on a trained horse does not get you through, those kids can really ride.

          • The variance in the riding styles and abilities of GP riders amazes me. Watched the $100k Strongid (I think) HITS GP a couple nights ago and what I find incomprehensible is how really BAD riders get their horses around the ring faultless. There’s a previous Russian Olympian I’ve seen a few times, believe she originally started Margie’s Royce, and I’ve never seen such bad equitation and communication at this evel. Not only are her hands stiff and unyielding, shes regularly sits back hard when the horse is at its peak bascule. And she went clean….she should be catching back rails left and right. The JO did fall apart but there were some clever riders who should’ve gone clean and didn’t. Then there’s big name man who rode 2 mounts…and both walked onto the course in full rollkur, reluctant to go forward into canter to start the course – obviously scared of having their heads taken off. One was only a 9 yr old and she was coming unglued so he pulled up.

            Beezie is a fabulous rider and I’m a big fan of how quiet and soft Margie is in the air – she has great ability to stay out of the horse’s way and is motionless and patient until the hinds clear the obstacle. One of the youngsters I feel has “it” is Jessica Springsteen – she’s a natural with her horse and has a great future ahead of her if she stays with the sport.

          • Put a percentage to it. That way it’s been quantified and can be compared looking back and moving forward. Is it 90% of young riders (accounting for all disciplines and worldwide representation) that are displaying above average basic riding skills? 50%? 10%? Frankly, if it’s not a significantly high percentage, we’re moving backwards, unless you believe that only the correct riders are/will teach new riders, or at least teach a greater number.

            Of course good (correct) riders can be spotted here and there. It’s typically not hard to identify them because they are so few and far between, and therefore standout.

          • Mercedes, you do realize that it’s impossible for 90% of riders to display above-average riding skills, right?

          • It is a fact that today’s ‘average’ rider is yesterday’s ‘below average’ rider. The standards just keep getting lower and lower as each decade/generation passes, and as long as people are blind, resigned to accept, unwilling to put in the effort or make a statement, the standard will continue to fall. Some of us are old enough to have seen this change.

            In the example I gave, there are now five more young riders that are not even getting an chance to be anything but crappy riders. They’ll never know if they could have been above average or not.

          • It isn’t an attitude of ‘young people are no good’. It is an attitude that the quality one sees, the correctness, and the people that were taught correctly so they can pass it on, is diminishing over time as horses become a luxury item, a pet, anything but the core mode of transportation where a large number of people came into contact with horses, had to learn to ride or drive horses to survive. If you can’t see the difference between the reality of horsemanship knowledge changing because of technology and just a bunch of old people bitching about young people, then you are seriously missing the point.

            It isn’t about a handful of people getting the best instruction and rising to the top in sports. It is about every beginner being given good basics so they can be safe, enjoy their horses and benefit their horses by riding correctly instead of in ways to hurt and breakdown their horses. Mercedes isn’t a coach trying to move young kids on to the Olympics or A level shows. She’s trying to help people help their horses. And that means people know how to ride correctly.

          • I see your point jrga but I believe it is influenced by the idea that every generation thinks things are going downhill. Everybody in the 1960s didn’t ride like Steinkraus any more than everyone in this decade rides like Beezie Madden. I disagree with the thesis that overall, across the board, horsemanship is worse than it was at any given point in the past. What we do have now is much more exposure to how average people ride because it is plastered all over facebook and youtube. It’s harder to find photos and video of how average people rode in the past. (Of course that media exposure has huge advantages too… how many people got to take a lesson with George Morris in the 70s compared to the number of people who watch his clinics on youtube now?)

            But really, it’s an unsolvable argument… there is no way to take some objective standard of riding skill and figure out what percentage of people would have met that standard in the past and what percentage would meet it now. We’re both just guessing, and one way of guessing is absolutely influenced by the tendency to glorify the good old days and assume things today have gone to hell. I can match Mercedes’ picture of a kid on a pony with a tipped pelvis with one of a kid who looks correct, neither proves anything, and unless we’re going to examine every photo and video on the internet (or at least a statistically significant and appropriately random selection) that won’t get us to the answer, so we’re all just arguing from our biases. I just see too many damn good young riders out there not have optimism in my bias.

          • ‘Everybody in the 1960s didn’t ride like Steinkraus any more than everyone in this decade rides like Beezie Madden’

            The difference is that back then, most everybody thought they SHOULD ride like Steinkraus: his riding was held up as the example of classical correctness and effectiveness to work toward. The aim today is to WIN like Beezie (or Richard or…) regardless of how they ride. Winning is all. It is the concrete proof that so many seek. That rush to gain validation through ribbons is what fuels the industry, by weight of sheer volume.

          • there’s a fair amount of historical record once photography was invented, more than most would think. And there is plenty of bad horsemanship to be seen. A lot of self taught people who just got along as best they could. But riding instructors didn’t self select into teaching beginners from that group as much as they do now.

            Before that there is art work, some of which is useless in that how horses moved wasn’t generally understood as the eye couldn’t follow the movement. And yet some of it is still amazingly telling. And even older texts, produced by elites and illustrated by the elites of the art world to their specificatons are amazingly informative.

            And over time, some kinds of horsemanship have made amazing progress. Caprilli and the forward seat in the 20th century is certainly one. Looking at older photographs and drawings of jumping in the 18th and 19th centuries is painful.

            And people have made studies of thousands of photographs, Deb Bennett is one of them, and she is also an expert on conformation and movement in horses and riders. It is one reason I have collected so many books on horsemanship from different eras and countries.

            And quite frankly, based on input on blogs and forums, what is in magazine articles, what sells in the way of clinics and tapes, I really don’t see an amazing amount of informed riders who have a clue. So if we are selective in what we look at, we’ll definitely see what we want to see. If you travel the A circuit in some showing discipline you will see a handful. Try not travelling the A circuit, try any number of clinics for people who don’t have full time coaches and trainers training their really nice horses, just see the average rider, the average schooling show. There is a wilderness that no one is filling when it comes to quality instruction for the everyday horse owner. That includes adult beginners or adults returning after years away from riding (a major part of the beginner market) as well as the kids. Again, dismissing these concerns as every generation thinks the new generation is going to hell is disturbing to me. Bring all the pictures you want and we’ll talk about the nitty gritty of them. Because quite frankly, I think most people can’t see what’s wrong because they don’t even have the knowledge base to know good from bad.

  6. The lumbar spine in humans is the most flexible segment of the spinal column. Since it is so flexible, it must be supported by muscle – otherwise the ‘easy’ way out is to lock joints (just as in the use of the leg: locking knees and ankles and hips in order to stabilise rather than using the supporting muscles and allowing the joints to ‘spring’ as they should). The belly muscles support the back. To use the back properly on horseback requires *core strength*. Core strength requires muscle tone/development. Developing muscle requires regular, *correct* work over time.

    TA-DAH! We have found the root cause of the whole thing: who wants to do the correct work consistently over time? That’s no fun! (Rolls eyes)

  7. The lumbar spine is not the most flexible region. That would be the cervical spine (neck). I think this is a large part of some riders’ posture problems: they try to straighten their backs using only what they think of as “back” regions (thoracic and lumbar spine) and completely neglect to consider the vertebrae of the upper back and neck. Hollowing at the lumbar spine is absolutely going to set your upper body back further so that your shoulders are more over your hips… but then you’re going to end up in hyperlordosis–that “C” curve seen in the pic in the OP–with an anterior pelvic tilt, not at all good biomechanics. For one thing, your horse is going to interpret this as “downward pressure” as you drive your ischial tuberosities down into his back. (My theory: it’s why many people ride from legs and spurs rather than seat: it isn’t that they don’t try to use their seat, but their seat is just constantly staying STOP!)

    We need to learn to correct from our WHOLE spinal column and all that it supports, head and shoulders to pelvis, rather than trying to use our backs to be straight.

  8. I agree that we need to be working to be correct through the whole spinal column, but I don’t want anymore to think that the back should be straight. There are natural curves to the back and to try actually make the spinal column straight wouldn’t be good either. I will reiterate that Sally Swift’s books are still some of the best resources for properly aligning the entire body. And while it isn’t actually important to this discussion, it is important to note that men and women’s pelvises and spinal alignment are not identical and they may need to work on different aspects of their posture to reach the best alignment and balance for riding.

    I also agree that the hollowed back, the anterior pelvic tilt is going to inhibit forward, as well as mess with the security of the leg. Horses ridden by someone with issues in this regard do tend to lack forward and when the rider corrects their position they immediately have a more forward responsive horse.

  9. jrga, I agree completely. I don’t think we should be riding with our spines literally straight… but we’re all taught to line up our shoulders, hips, and heels. That’s a “straight” line, and too often it’s achieved by arching the back to bring the shoulders over the hips, rather than sitting tall with a neutral pelvis and retracting the shoulders and cervical spine (which just so happens to put the rider in a fantastic position to have a good angle from elbows to bit and feel the mouth with the elbows instead of the wrists!)

    I also think it’s crucial to note differing pelvic angles and, even more importantly, hip (femoral) angles. We as a community are so fixated on what “good equitation” looks like that we very much fail to consider variation in anatomy.

  10. On another note…. what are people’s thoughts on this….

    Over the years, I’ve observed that parents, non-horsey or otherwise, want their child to be safe but interestingly, they do not necessarily relate safety directly to instruction, rather, it’s the individual horse that’s blamed.
    How many times have you seen or heard that little Suzy doesn’t want to ride Patches because he just runs into the middle and stands there and won’t move. Suzy is suddenly not having fun, in fact, she’s up in the saddle crying because Patches is being bad.
    Well, to the untrained eyes and ears of most “recreational rider” parents, Patches must be a “bad pony” then and he is not a good match for little Suzy. Solution? A new pony is either offered or requested for the next ride.

    1) I personally have never seen the instructor be blamed or accused of being poor at teaching in this scenario. C’mon, we’ve all been there….
    2) I have only rarely seen that an instructor suggest that Suzy have a round of private lessons to improve her skills.
    3) The instructor is told by the boss not to assign Patches to Suzy, you know, to keep everybody happy.

    So, the more common solution, which perpetuates poor riding and perhaps in turn poor instruction, is that Suzy just gets to ride the “push-button” saint of a pony she wants in the next lesson.

    • In defense of lesson ponies everywhere, they take a lot of unintentional mental abuse of confusing signals and bad riders, and occasionally real physical abuse as well. If I were a lesson pony I would probably spend all my time at the gate. 😛

      It is hard to deal with parents as many of them didn’t have ponies or lessons and have no idea that even–or especially–a pony is still a large animal with a relatively intelligent mind at work to protect itself. I think instructors that can teach parents while teaching their kids probably have the best results long term. Also if the school is lucky enough to have well trained and very forgiving ponies, that helps a lot.

      I personally think that instructors in group settings are worse off than the proverbial cat herder. Too much to watch, to little time to deal with the differing skills and courage the students bring to lessons. So my hat’s off to them as well. But that drags me back around to schooling for instructors, practice under supervision to see if you have the skills and ability to keep a ring full of beginners and ponies under control. Getting a certificate that says you’ve met minimum skills to herd cats. In the cavalry days there were people who trained incoming troops and supervised groups and rose in the military based on their success. Since the US has foregone any requirements federally and mostly at the state levels. we have no system to produce qualified teachers for beginners.

      • I’m of the belief system that you get what you deserve/what you put out there. That includes the kinds of parents (and students) an instructor/coach/teacher attracts.

        It’s really not that hard to be honest with the parents of a prospective student. “This is what I offer, this is how I go about it. Tell me about your child. How do they best learn? What are their strengths, weaknesses? Blah, blah, blah…. Yes, I think I can offer what you’re looking for…..No, I don’t think me or my lesson horses would be a good match, hears a recommendation.”

        • Up to a point I agree. You have to be willing to fire clients who are only going to be a problem because they don’t like your program or approach but take a passive agressive resistance instead of taking their kid elsewhere. Some people can’t do that easily. I would think most parents can’t answer your questions, so if you weed them out on that point, you probably are better off.

          And since you aren’t an American but one of those Aliens from another country, you actually had to take classes and get a certificate. So you were exposed to how to handle a lot of the challenges. Here some halfway successful rider decides to make money teaching. Some truly successful riders take it up. The point being they know who to ride, but do they know how to teach? They are not the same skill set. And no one teaches them to teach anymore.

    • Yes, have been in this scenario many times. I very much believe that correct matching of children to lesson horses is one of the most important skills for riding instructors in group lesson programs.

      But when I saw a child struggle with something on a particular pony, I considered it part of my job to figure out WHY. Suzy is not asking properly: in which case we review the aids for what we’re asking for (this is most cases). Suzy is asking properly, Patches is not responding. In that can I make a judgment call; possibly I hop on Patches and give him a quick tune-up and then pop Suzy back on. I always taught dressed to ride for that reason, or for giving demonstrations. Or maybe I just survive the lesson and make a note to schedule Patches for a tune-up ride (I think it’s very important for lesson horses to get training sessions from good riders to keep them responsive).

      I had ZERO tolerance for anyone calling a lesson horse “bad” and it was not permitted. AT ALL. Any kid who called a pony “bad” got immediately and forcefully told that there were no bad ponies, that the ponies behaved the way they did in response to people, and that they were lucky to ride any pony at all, and they did not have to ride at our barn if they believed that the pony was “bad”. My little speech would bring about an attitude change very quickly and often a tearful apology to the pony.

  11. When I started riding as a child, I was fresh out of ballet classes where my teacher would tell us to “touch our belly buttons to our spines” in order to get us to tuck our hips under. While that’s certainly an exaggeration of proper form in the studio or the saddle, it made the point and I understood early on that arching my back while riding didn’t do me any good. That said, years later I still stick my toes out to the sides (I was once told my feet were cringe-worthy in the irons), but I would say I’ve always been coached towards the safe and effective postures.

    Looking at ChestnutMare’s last post, you sound very much like the instructor I had as a child. I remember my early days on those sainted lesson ponies saying things like “he keeps cutting the cones!” or “he just wont go!” and being told in no uncertain terms that I would just ask the pony properly he would do what I wanted. If the problem wasn’t quite fixed by the end of the lesson, we’d try to end the lesson on a good note for the pony’s sake and I would be scheduled on the same mount until I had learned.

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