Why Take Riding Lessons?
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by Kris Cooper
dedicated to and featuring photos of "Two Blankets" (1976-2007)
Needs Riding Lessons? Jim has been giving lessons since 1967, I fulltime since 1992. By and large the people who have come
to us over the years are people who
1) have always loved horses and want to learn to enjoy them fully by
safely riding them,
2) have moved to the mountains (or are visiting in the mountains) and
see horseback riding (and possible future horse ownership) as part of
the mountain experience.
Most everyone wants to go on trail rides. Often a person will say, "I already
know how to ride".
Oftentimes one family member "knows how to ride" and has a more cautious/fearful
family member that he/she wants to introduce to riding. Ironically it
is often the second family member who quickly surpasses the first - in
knowledge, skills and interest.
Me? I can understand all of this because I grew up on horseback.
I received my first horse as a birthday gift on my 7th birthday. (That's
me on "Dolly" to the left.) Of course, as an adult, I myself thought I did not need riding
lessons. I was convinced I could train horses myself for two reasons:
I could hang on to most anything and I was fearless. I definitely thought
I "knew how to ride". After I took my first riding lesson (at age 35),
I realized how little I actually did know. The more lessons I have taken,
the more I realize I have yet to learn!
The Joy of Learning. Horseback riding offers the opportunity
for unlimited lifelong learning. It is a relationship with another living,
feeling creature - one that, like ourselves, may be in a bad mood, be
afraid, be touchy, any number of things. Every horse is different.
Like any human relationship, there is no end to the potential for that
relationship - one that maximizes the beauty and grace of the horse's movement and the partnership
between the horse and rider. The study of dressage enables one to continually
refine his/her learning and to apply it to a wide variety of horses.
There are few things in life more satisfying than developing a relationship
with a horse. Perhaps the one thing even more satisfying is teaching others
how to develop an enriching, ever growing relationship with their own
Like human relationships, some people are satisfied with stilted, wooden,
habituated, coerced relationships. Many horses are governed by force
and/or bribes. I should know. It's the kind of relationship I used to
have with horses. They did things because I could make them do them.
I have eleven school horses that work by my side five to six days a week.
They work hard for me - teaching people who are, often in the beginning, clumsy and unbalanced.
Somehow the horses seem to understand the significance of their mission.
They teach people to be more sensitive to horses - something that will
affect every future horse that that rider comes in contact with.
I've taken riding lessons for over 30 years. I've ridden horses for almost 60 years.
If someone were to ask me if I knew how to ride, I'd say, "Well, I'm
learning". It is MY learning that will help to open a lifetime of learning
The First Lesson. We cover a lot in the first lesson. To our
knowledge, we have never given an introductory lesson to someone who
did not learn a lot, regardless of his or her current level of riding.
First come the preliminaries. Catching the horse and bringing him to
the riding arena is a component of most lessons (the exception being
when the horse has been used in the previous lesson). We teach basic
horse safety, how to approach the horse, how to halter and lead him.
We put the horse in cross ties, do some very basic grooming, explain
about different types of saddles and bridles, how to select the right
saddle for the horse and the rider and then how to tack the horse. We teach the rider
how to mount properly, how to adjust the stirrups and the importance
of sitting correctly in the saddle.
Then comes the riding. We teach the rider how to follow the horse's
movement with his hands, seat and legs, how to use these three aids in
rhythm with the horse to influence the horse, to regulate his speed,
to turn him in straight lines and circles.
the first lesson is confined to the walk and to the indoor arena. Rare
is the rider -- regardless of experience level -- who can in fact --
in this first lesson -- keep the horse rhythmically walking in a straight line along
the wall, turn at one letter and walk straight to the next letter and
walk in a round circle of prescribed size. We usually also teach adults
a few steps of the leg yield, getting the horse to move sideways from
the rhythmical pressure of the rider's leg.
To read more about how we teach "feeling" in the very first lesson, click here.
Seat Lessons. I am apt to spend more time
than Jim on the rider's position, teaching him/her how stiffness, tension
and imbalance affect the movement and well being of the horse. Riders
delight in my seat lessons - where I control the movements of the horse
in a circle around me. The rider is free to devote all of his/her attention
to his/her position in the saddle.
I see developing the rider on the lunge line as similar to sculpture.
I have a specific idea of what I want to accomplish. I work with the
rider to develop the flexibility and strength to attain that picture.
Much of the flexibility and balance I am trying to achieve relates
to beauty, poise and relaxation in general. There are remarkable changes
in the grace and beauty of both horse and rider as a result of my lunge
The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) recommends one lunge lesson per week
for every rider at every level - including Olympic-level dressage riders.
We as trainers become unbalanced and tense ourselves without attention
given to us by an instructor with a horse on the lunge line. Click here for more information on seat lessons.
Expectations. In the first four lessons, students age seven
or over generally learn to post the trot. Within the first ten lessons,
an adult or older child generally learns to ride the canter. There is
a great deal of variation among riders in the following: confidence,
coordination, ability to follow instructions (I call this having the
ear hear it and the body do what the ear hears - personally not an easy
thing for me), strength, flexibility, sensitivity, perseverance and the
desire to learn in depth or superficially.
have often heard other instructors talk about a student's aptitude for
riding. But to me, there is so much involved. No one has all the qualities
of an excellent rider. The very most important characteristic is the
desire to learn - especially when things become frustrating or when unexpected
things happen. (Both of which do occur with astonishing regularity with
How Many Lessons Will I Need? We are often asked this question,
but the answer is really up to the individual. We have had many students
take lessons with us for eight years or more. On the other hand, many
people buy horses after having taken virtually no lessons at all. It
is all a matter of the quality of experience you wish to have with horses.
The more lessons you take on the largest number of horses the better
prepared you will be to successfully ride a horse of your own. The more
lessons you take, the more you will be able to improve any horse you
Buying One's Own Horse. Over the years we have helped many riders
purchase and learn to ride their own horses. All of our lessons are designed
not to just teach one to stay on the horse but to develop the horse and
to make him better. We have thus had a great deal of success in teaching
people to train their
own horses. We have recently limited boarding to people who are in the
process of learning how to better ride and train their own horses. (If you are contemplating the purchase of your own horse, please read "Tips on Buying Your First Horse".)
Foundations of Horse Training. The purpose of horse training
is not just to make the horse submit to the will of the rider but to
enable him to carry a rider with all of the grace and agility that he
can move on his own. (In time we even improve the horse's natural movement!) Essentially this means developing
the weight-carrying strength of his hind legs and his back.
In training we use circles and turns, halts and lateral (sideways)
movement to develop the strength and suppleness of the rear end of the horse. It is
extremely important at the same time to develop the balance, strength, sensitivity and timing of the rider such that he helps rather than hinders the
Trail Riding. Sometimes a student will say, "I don't need to
learn all this stuff in the arena. I just want to go trail riding." That
might make sense in an Iowa pasture where I learned to ride. However,
there are few flat, wide places in the Colorado Rocky Mountain wilderness. Trails
consist of narrow places, sharp switch backs, drop offs, low hanging
branches, trees or boulders close to the trail, steep up and down hills,
poor footing and difficult rocky creek crossings. It takes skill to navigate these places - even with an experienced trail horse. It takes
quite a LOT of skill to navigate a horse with little or no experience.
we have taken riders on trail rides in the Rocky
Mountain wilderness, we wanted to be fairly confident that the horse and
rider were functioning as a team and that the rider would have at least some
control in unexpected situations.
Up With Horses. Many parents tell me what an important role horses
have played in their children's lives. They give the child self-esteem
and focus. There is opportunity for social interaction in the stable.
Working with horses provides such a healthy outlet for kids in today's
Generally parents do not appreciate the role of horses until the child
enters the turbulent adolescent years. It is often too late at this point
to get them started with horses. I advise parents to nurture their young
child's interest in horses. Horses will then provide a stabilizing influence
for them when they enter their more difficult years. The skills that a child learns can be applied to other
life challenges as well and will stay with the child throughout his/her
entire life. Click here for a presentation made to the American Youth Horse Council.
If you missed out on riding lessons as a child, it's not too late to start now! Please join us at Anchorage Farm!
See the following for more information:
Please note that we do have a 230# weight limitation for people who ride our school horses.