Horse Owners – If You are Having Trouble, Seek Assistance!

I go to the nearby park quite a bit to ride. I have an arena at my house, but it’s good to get off the property. Also, the park’s arena is way bigger, and that makes it easier to ride in. And there’s trails at the park. And it’s a de-sensitizing dream, with dogs, kids, soccer, cars, random people who sit staring at you so long, you wonder if they are planning to murder you. Basically, everything that makes a park great.

“As a small scared pony, I have mixed feelings about hoomans playing soccer. But, I do love the park!

In going to the park regularly, I have seen a few people show up, who aren’t quite sure what they are doing. There used to be one lady I saw a lot, who had a super quiet horse, wore giant spurs, and would spend the entire ride doing circles around the barrels. I talked with her once, and she complained that whoever sold her the horse lied. It was sold to her a super quiet packer, and she was having so many issues with it, mainly that the horse was dead to her aids. To me, it looked like a super quiet packer, and she was so aggressive and uncoordinated with her aids that the horse started tuning her out, but she claimed that having this super quiet packer made her believe all trainers are liars, and can’t be trusted. I felt drawn to help her out, but what could I do? I tried to explain that she needs to understand the aids of leg and seat before spur, but I don’t think it got through to her.

This past weekend, another lady showed up. She had a big gray horse, likely a quarter horse, but it had a sort of regal bearing that made me think baroque. She unloaded it from a new looking sundowner trailer, and had a big white truck to match. 

D’Arcy and I went down to the ring, we had brought Pony Man out for the first time this year, and it was time to get him acclimated. We walked around while he pretended to spook at things, and since we were walking, we observed the lady with her gray horse. She came out of the parking lot into the grass, and at first it seemed she was going to lunge in the grass. She had a whip, and the very distinct “natural horsemanship” lunge set. She did a few circles, and continued on. She circled a few more times, and then came into the ring. 

She used this gate here, but it was several weeks after this picture was taken. D’Arcy did not participate in the gate opening, but was still present for the gate opening. Vintage was not.

She attempted to lunge, but it was apparent very quickly that she didn’t really know what she was doing. She half-circled perhaps three times, with no visable reason or improvement in horse, and then headed back up to her truck and trailer. 

We continued on with our ride. We started jumping, and she came back, this time tacked up, and with a helper. She mounted the horse, walked down the long side of the arena with her helper leading her, and then dismounted. That was the end of her ride. She packed up, and left. 

As far as I could tell, she was probably scared of her big horse, and wasn’t really sure what she was doing. She might have been a novice rider, or just one that had become nervous over the years. Either way, the absolute best thing she could do – get help. Find an instructor. Find a trainer. Do not suffer not knowing or understanding what she’s doing with her horse. 

Lessons are the most valuable investment a rider can make. Horses aren’t dogs, they aren’t just cuddly lovable pets who want to please you and feel bad when they don’t. I’m sure there’s a few naturally gifted people who never had a lesson and are somehow experts. But the majority of people aren’t. Chances are, you, reading this currently, aren’t either. You either have had millions of lessons from different instructors, spent hours of time in Pony Club or 4-H, hours of time debating riding theory, spent hours in the saddle, riding every horse you could get your hands on… or you too are unsure of what you’re doing, and spending hours reading books or videos on theory, wondering why you aren’t having the same results as you try to figure it out, on your own, thinking that one day, it’s going to click and you will be a confident and competent rider, and thinking that somehow you will have bonded better with your horse than the rest of us. 

So I ask those of you who struggle every day with figuring out the right thing to do with their horse – Why? Why are you doing this to yourself? You can have a good horse that is a pleasure to ride, and you can be a good rider. So why are you leaving it to chance? Find an instructor, and commit to visiting them. 

Think of it this way – If you were dropped in a widget-making factory, because you have always had the goal of creating widgets, but received no instruction on how to create the widgets, do you think you would just struggle with all the different machines, playing with buttons, and settings, occasionally getting your body parts damaged because there are no “Danger” signs anywhere, you have to figure out for yourself what areas of the factory are dangerous, or would you do the very simple thing of asking someone, “How do I run this factory?” 

Someone would help you. They would give you a tour of the factory, tell you what machines are for what part of the widget making process, and the order in which to run the machines. They’d probably hold your hand for a few runnings of the different machines, and then they’d take a step back, to watch over your shoulder as you ran the machines. If something goes wrong, they step up to help you get the machine working again.

Eventually, you master the basic widget. Then you decide, you really like the fancy version of the widget. So, your widget expert comes over to guide you through the process again.

That is taking lessons. Lessons exist because nearly no one knows what to do with horses based entirely on instinct. They seek experts to tell them, show them, and guide them. And that’s how they get good – and that is how they get good fast. Because bumbling around might eventually yield results – but you can literally expect 1 -2 years of bumbling around results in a single lesson. That’s how valuable they are. 

Lessons are more valuable than your fancy trailer. They are more valuable than just continually collecting horses, hoping that one of them will magically be the right horse for you. They are more valuable than fancy tack, fancy clothes, or shows.

Here is a horse that is only doing well because I take lessons on her.

In case that hasn’t convinced you yet, here are other reasons to take lessons:

  • Meet other horse people, make friends, build up a network of people you can turn to for advice, and trail/show/pleasure riding companions.
  • Access to watch other people’s lessons, learn from watching them.
  • Discover vets, farriers, tack brands, or other products you didn’t know about.
  • Deals on used tack from people who really just want to see it be used.
  • Learn about clinics or events that are in the area.
  • Volunteer, and spend your time helping out, and learning at the same time.
  • You can leave at any time, you aren’t signing your life away by agreeing to lessons. Take one lesson, decide it’s not for you, and move on with your life. Or decide you really like it, take ten lessons, and then decide you want to move on. Or stay forever if you want. It is a service you are paying for, you aren’t purchasing a new friend that you have to stay with the rest of your life. There are tons of trainers, just keep moving along until you find one that works.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see that woman again, but I really hope I do. I have a soft spot for people who just need some help, and she looked miserable. Her horse looked really nice too, I think once she starts getting lessons, she’s going to have a lot of fun with him. Hopefully, she will. 

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  1. I agree 1000000%. I don’t personally see a ton of this any more because I ride within a program and at barns that have well established programs, but I’ve seen it in the past. And there’s also a weirdly huge number of people I have met in the past who have never owned a horse or taken more than a few summer camp lessons/beach trail rides who plan to buy themselves a horse and just “figure it out”. While this methodology may work for kids and naughty ponies, mostly 10+ years ago, nobody just “becomes” a magical rider. I think there’s a huge amount of magical realism that people engage in around horses (/animals/themselves/the world at large) thinking if they just sit on the back of a horse suddenly they will become olympic level riders.

  2. I really wish more people took lessons, but a lot of people are opposed and think they’re just for kids or too expensive or just for fancy show riders, not trail/casual riders. It’s a shame. I don’t know what the laws are like in your state, but I’d be careful about giving advice. If someone got hurt even if you were just giving advice they could turn around and sue you as an instructor. Even though you’re not, by offering instruction, you could be seen by a court as liable. It has happened before and I refuse to talk to people in public regarding their riding or horses because of this.

  3. I’m in a regular lesson program, probably unlike most adults. We’ve dropped my riding lessons for now as the baby gets up to speed but will likely pick them up again soon, since she’s healthy again

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