Grown-Ups Want to Ride, Too!

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Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

There is nothing like teaching a riding lesson to someone who has never ridden before. The rider comes in excited, and every moment is a first. 

When thinking about that first riding lesson, most of us envision teaching a child. However, many first-time riders are adults who are just as excited to learn to ride. They might have dreamed of riding since they were children, or they wanted to learn more after a beach trail ride with their family, or they are simply looking for a new, fun way to challenge themselves.

Regardless of their motivation, adults, like all first-time riders, come with excitement and nerves. While those emotions might be similar to ones felt by a younger rider, the ways they experience and work through them are different.

Teaching an adult rider requires a different set of techniques, approaches and considerations.

Adults might come into lessons with more apprehension than children. Although they are excited, past experiences and understanding of potential risks can make them nervous. It is important to address these concerns early in the lesson and continue to monitor those concerns.

Raina Baker, CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association) member since 1998 and certified master instructor and clinic instructor, emphasized the importance of establishing the horse-human bond early. Helping the rider get to know the horse from the ground begins to establish that relationship. Adults might feel more comfortable if they have a basic understanding of equine behavior before mounting. Taking the time to talk to them about this before riding also helps form a relationship between the rider and instructor.

Ashleigh Hamill, CHA Region 9 Director, recommended giving the rider enough information to help him or her feel comfortable and in control, but not so much as to overwhelm the individual. Hamill always teaches the rider how to stop, walk and dismount the horse before mounting. Taking the time to help the rider feel comfortable from the start helps build trust between the rider and instructor, an important dynamic to establish before the rider gets on the horse.

All Aboard!

Once the riders are mounted, allow each student the time it takes to get to know the horse, and try to monitor the student’s comfort level throughout the lesson. This can be accomplished by simply asking how he or she is feeling or monitoring body language.

The first lesson is a time to get to know the rider’s confidence level, physical ability and learning speed. Some adults will ride with confidence and learn quickly; others will need more time to relax and progress.

The first skills that should be practiced are walking and stopping. Once the rider understands that he or she is in control, there will be more confidence.

Baker suggested being flexible in lesson plans; for instance, if a rider seems too tense, she might put that rider on a lunge line to help him or her gain confidence.

If a rider has trouble relaxing, Ashleigh recommends asking that rider questions that are not related to riding, such as where he or she is from or what he or she does for a living or for fun. Hamill explained that this has two effects: getting the rider’s mind off of specific concerns and helping the rider breathe. If the rider is relaxed and not holding his or her breath, that rider will be more ready to learn.

Learning Curve

Adults learn differently than children; therefore, lessons with adult riders require different strategies and teaching techniques. When teaching an adult rider, it is important to use a low, calm voice. Baker recommended using age-appropriate examples to relate riding skills to real-life scenarios. She gave the example of teaching the rider to slow the horse by pulling back gently on the reins. For a child, the instructor might compare this to braking slightly on a bicycle. With an adult, a more appropriate analogy would be tapping the brakes of a car. Baker said that adult riders are more likely to want to know the reasoning behind riding practices, and the instructor should take the time to help the student begin to understand the theories.

Adults have a much longer attention span than children, which makes longer explanations more reasonable and effective. Hamill pointed out that unlike children, adults can hear the description of a physical action and physicalize it. Hamill added that because of this ability, adults do not need as much physical explanation as children, such as physically holding their feet in the correct position. She also explained that adults learn faster than children, and they will have fewer issues with the physical execution of a skill.

Typically an adult beginner rider’s biggest early challenge will be overcoming mental obstacles. Again, this presents the need to move at a comfortable pace for the rider and provide reassurance. It is also important for the instructor to be flexible in lesson plans to accommodate the speed at which the rider learns.

Take-Home Message

Beginner adult riders have different strengths and challenges than children. They might come in with fears and doubts, which the instructor is responsible for addressing and helping them overcome. Teaching an adult rider requires different approaches and methods. When the lesson is appropriately tailored for a beginner adult rider, it can be extremely successful in building the person’s confidence, teaching him or her new skills and leading that person to fall in love with horseback riding.

Samantha Townley first fell in love with horses at a ranch in California. Townley wants to work in the camp industry after graduation from Colorado State University