New to Horses?
Horses are gorgeous and powerful, and can make their handler feel gorgeous and powerful.
But learning to ride a horse is harder than learning to play an instrument. It requires
a lot of hard work and dedication. Horses can hurt you (unlike violins), and just
like people, they have moods that change with the day and the weather (unlike violins).
Learning to work with horses is a fantastic activity whatever the level, but for
the horse’s sake and the rider’s safety, it cannot be a sporadic activity. One needs
to be willing to engage oneself truly and wholly.
How long does it take to learn, and on what kind of horse?
Just like it is possible to play a few easy tunes within a few weeks on a violin,
it is possible to have a basic control of a horse within a few weeks of lessons,
and have a ton of fun. Just like the most talented musician needs lessons, the most
natural rider needs lessons. And just like it will take many years of daily work,
finding masters to learn from, and maybe a bit of luck as well to become a virtuoso,
so it is to become a professional equestrian (from barn manager to teacher to Olympic
Horses need a great deal of leadership from their handlers (you can’t be brutal,
but you need to be the boss), which takes a long time to figure out. Meanwhile,
only a few patient and experienced horses can work safely with new riders. The teacher
horse has to work daily to be safer, so most of the time, cannot be privately owned.
A learning rider also needs to ride a lot of different horses in order to learn
properly, and will “un-train” the most educated, “bombproof” horse, making it skittish
and/or aggressive. However, at one point in the learning, the sweet patient horses
need to be progressively changed to more athletic, energetic sport horses. The animals
seen at the Olympics for example, are all very well trained, but they are too sensitive
and powerful to be ridden by beginners. Then and only then, can a student start working
with increasingly younger horses. KIDS CANNOT TRAIN HORSES! It is dangerous for
both the rider and the horse, and happens only in pretty but less than realistic
movies! (The Black Stallion is my favorite!)
About Falling and safety
In France, we say that a rider has to fall at least 7 times before pretending to
be any good. The hidden truth about this is that it takes about that much before
riders can relax about the idea of falling, which finally will allow them to develop
a softer position that will follow the horse’s movements more efficiently, making
it easier for the horse to relax and understand directions better. Students will
develop into real riders once the idea of falling is not constantly worrying them
anymore. Meanwhile, even though it is rare, there is always a risk of getting hurt.
However, there is a difference between taking the occasional fall while learning,
and taking unnecessary risks. Riding a young horse that hasn’t been worked daily,
on the trail, alone and without safety gear would definitely fall into the unnecessary
risk category. Riders who take unnecessary risks almost always threaten their horse’s
welfare too. But falling is needed in order to progress, and it will happen on its
own, because making mistakes is part of learning.
Why Learning to Ride?
Horses are gorgeous animals, wild and tame at the same time (or sometimes not!).
They can give legs to a disabled person and have the potential to be the best therapist
ever. They can assist a farmer in his work, transport you to the end of the world
or move like a ballet dancer. There are many ways to enjoy them, but whichever way
you chose, you need to learn how. Horses are herbivores and naturally get scared.
We are omnivores and naturally scare them. Learning to get along with them is a
process. It is our responsibility to make ourselves understood by them, and not
theirs to understand us (if they can’t understand, they get scared, that’s when they
start using their strength and speed against us, and there is nothing we can do against
it!). That means that we need to know a lot before we can become one with them.
The type of riding I teach is both an art and a sport. It teaches kids to be responsible,
strong, kind, empathetic, athletic, coordinated, observant, thorough, organized,
sensitive and bold. It teaches adults to live in the moment, that perfection does
not exist, but that nothing is impossible. All of those will not happen just because
someone has taken a few lessons: it takes time and hard work. Safety is a big concern
for me and it takes several years before a rider can develop a safe position, before
making his/her horse move gracefully. So we start working on proper position right
from the beginning.
Being able to sit on a horse doesn’t make you a rider. What makes a rider is the
ability to ask a horse (any horse) to move calmly but energetically forward, following
a precise pattern, whether on the flat or over obstacles, and in any circumstances
(bad weather or unfamiliar location), while keeping a happy and healthy horse.
Good books for beginners, + a few YouTube videos to see what this thing is really
Unfortunately, a lot of equestrian authors have not researched their subject enough
before going public, leaving a trail of more than questionable advice out there.
In general, books published in England are more likely to have information you can
trust. Like this cheap one that is both complete and accurate:
“The Complete Horse and Rider” by Sarah Muir and Debby Sly.
This next one is more geared toward adults and has a DVD included that can be useful:
“40 Fundamentals of English Riding” by Hollie H. McNeil.
Some fiction books for kids can get them excited for their next lesson, and give
them some real horse knowledge at the same time, like the Pony Pals, or the Saddle
Club series (sorry, those are definitely “girly”. Not much for boys out there!).
A real story that is both inspiring and energizing for teens and adults is:
“The Eighty Dollar Champion” by Elisabeth Letts.
For some moving pictures, here is a short presentation from the French classical
riding school called Cadre Noir, now protected under the UNESCO World Heritage.
In jumping, here is a French rider I admire very much, among the best in the world:
And mixing all the arts together: music, dance, and riding. Here is a presentation
made by a French artist who calls himself Bartabas, accompanied by the French National
Orchestra, on a music by Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring, 35 mn