Horses: Unraveling the Mystery Part 3 – What Counts as Riding Experience

See part one here and part two here.

A friend of ours is coming down for a weekend soon, and he’s bringing a lady friend with him. The lady friend heard we have horses and wanted to go riding. I love going riding, and I love taking people riding, so that is great. But I had to ask how much riding experience she has. When I found out she had a horse, I wanted to know how often she rode. Does she take lessons? If I could, I would have asked for a detailed description of her complete riding history.  There’s a reason behind this.

When I have a conversation with someone that involves them asking to ride, I always ask how much experience they have riding. 90% of the time, the answer is “I’m very experienced.”

Taken at face value, that’s great. An experienced person to ride with. But dig deeper and it turns out that what they actually mean is:

  • “I’ve gone trail riding twice!”
  • “My dad’s best friend’s uncle had a ranch I went to once!”
  • “I love doing those tail to ass rides through the woods! I’ve been on tons! But I always end up on the horse eating leaves!”
  • “I always go on the pony ride at carnivals!”

This people get high marks for enthusiasm, but these are not riding experiences. They are fun experiences involving horses, but these activities do not make a person experienced with horses. There is no teaching involved, there is no action required. It’s merely the person using the animal as a vehicle, like an ATV, and not even needing to steer them. So it’s more like a ferry trip through the woods/canyon/ranch/mountains/backyard.

Convooooooy
Convooooooy

What does equal riding experience is actually receiving instruction, guidance and making the horse do things. We usually call these riding lessons.

Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson
Riding lesson

Sometimes they are formal, and sometimes they are just getting on the horse and figuring out what makes the horse go where. It is technical possible for someone to get on a horse with no instruction and figure it out, but I’d say these people are extremely rare, and they usually have done some kind of research before hand, like reading books on it.

On a basic level, it takes a session or several (depending on the person) to be capable of handling and controlling a docile horse. But being capable of that puts the person at the rank of beginner, not experienced. This is an important distinction when asking to go riding with someone, or even setting up lessons to learn more.

Horses, being living animals, have very distinct personalities. Some of them are very mild mannered, and don’t care about much of anything. You would typically run into these types of horses on paid trail rides. These types of horses are considered gems because they can be trusted to take care of their rider. They’ll obediently carry you around, not reacting to any “scary things” they might see, and put up with a mishmash of different signals their rider is unknowingly giving them. They know their job and they just do it.

But on the other side of the spectrum are horses that are not mild mannered at all. These horses are often featured in “Black Stallion” style books and movies. They can be flighty and unpredictable. They react to all sorts of stimuli that wouldn’t make sense to a human. Trash cans, mailboxes, and things slightly out of place are high on that list. They react to every “button” their rider touches, knowingly or not. Sometimes they decide they don’t want to do anything, just because.

Haha, you thought I'd jump this tiny crossrail? Foooled you!
“Haha, you thought I’d jump this crossrail? Fooooled you!”
Kicking up her heels. Just because.
Kicking up her heels. Just because.
Looking to punch someone. Possibly in the face!
Looking to punch someone. Possibly in the face!
ACK crazy mare too close!
ACK crazy mare too close!

Unlike the black stallion, these horses are not tamed by love and understanding. They are tamed by systematic training and confidence, best if done by a professional. These are the types of horses it would be dangerous to put a beginner on. A beginner doesn’t have the balance or knowledge to deal with their unpredictably.

I was a riding instructor in an earlier life, and after years of playing 20 questions to try to figure out someone’s exact riding experience, it’s often easier just to put someone on the deadest horse possible. This can be (and certainly seemed to be) insulting to someone who already knows how to ride, but it’s a safety precaution. I hate to say it, but it’s really hard to trust what someone says. Too many people told me on the phone that they or their kids were amazing riders, even went to shows, and then they show up and don’t know how to make the horse walk. It’s mind boggling to me. I don’t know if they are just straight up lying, or really did ride and compete (maybe in an alternate universe?) Maybe they played with enough Breyer models that it seemed real? I just don’t get it!

My theory is that they know so little about horses, that they don’t realize how little they know. They just assume that riding horses really is just casual trail rides or pony rides, and oh yeah, they have done that lots. So they do have lots of experience.

I can’t fault them for that, as I went through the same thing, in a way. As I mentioned, I used to be a riding instructor, and I thought I was the most amazing rider and teacher ever. However, I was only a teenager. Eventually I grew up and realized how little I really did know, and still don’t know. This sport really is a lifelong pursuit.

I don’t fault anyone for being passionate about horses, wanting to ride, and wanting to be around them. As long as people are open to listening and learning, I’ll happily take people riding. Just don’t say you’re an expert otherwise I might assume you want to do some hard riding on crazy mare.

Capture3

Just kidding, she’s only crazy with me. We feed off each other’s crazy. She happily takes beginners on pony rides.

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I need to stop now or this will turn into a gushy lovey post about my beautiful mare.

Does anyone else have this come up? How many people say they are experts only for you to find they can’t make the horse walk?

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