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I am in a bit of a conundrum. I want to start riding lessons, but have no idea what discipline or level I should start in, based on what experience I already have. Since certain barns only offer certain disciplines, I'm hoping to figure out what direction to go before selecting a place to begin lessons. Please read the whole post and let me know what you think. I'm sorry it's so wordy but I don't know what is/isn't relevant.

Here's my experience thus far:

Ages 0-18: Sporadic English lessons, trail rides, horse camps. Only ever W/T, but by age 18 was very comfortable with horses on the ground and could W/T comfortably, though I'm sure my form was far than perfect. I learned to post as well but not much about leads.

18-22 (College): Took 2 semesters of horsemanship classes (English), so essentially 1-2 group lessons a week for about 9 months. Learned up to W/T/C and leads. Lots of focus on using aids correctly, seat, leg, voice, and proper connection to horse with bit. I learned a lot but was never 100% confident because the group setting made it difficult for me to feel certain that I was doing things correctly. We also introduced the use of a crop as an aid but I was never good at using it (it was too fumbly and awkward to hold on top of focusing on doing everything else correctly). Two small dressage shows at the end of the year (one judging the horse, one judging the rider- I forget what they were called),

Also spent one summer working (waitressing) at a dude ranch in Colorado, where I rode Western W/T/C at least once a week.

22-24 (now): Since graduating, I've spent two years at two places- a horse rescue (1-2x a week), where I've gained extensive experience handling rescue horses on the ground. A bit of riding here and there but mostly just horse care and ground work, including free lunging.

The other place is a equine psychotherapy place where I volunteer and help with exercising the horses, who don't get ridden as a part of the program. I ride two of the horses there (once a week for the past two years) but primarily a feisty pinto gelding rescue, who I spend 2-5 hour every Saturday on the trail and ring with. I ride with another young girl but other than that no supervision or direction. The horse I ride is not a beginner horse, he is relatively green, he can be stubborn, and is very sensitive and responds negatively (buck/bolt) when the rider is not cognizant of that. I ride him in a western saddle but with direct reining using a pelham bit (as this is the tack his owner has for him). He is very sensitive to voice and leg aids, and requires only very gentle use of the reins. On this horse, I have W/T/C and galloped, both in the saddle and bareback, worked in the ring extensively and done long "working" trail rides. Him and I have figured each other out, and we have great rides, but that is just one horse! And just because I ride him often doesn't mean my form is good. (The other horse there is a small, older, completely broke gelding who I occasionally do quick little rides on, but usually the other girl rides him).

So where does this leave me? :-?

What do I want to get from lessons? I have no desire to show (I don't have a problem with it- just not my thing), I really just want to be a confident, capable horseback rider (someday I want to own my own horse, for pleasure riding only- probably mostly trails with some arena work). I want a strong foundation- I want to be confident in my form, balance, leads, using aids correctly, moving with the horse, and helping the horse carry itself well. I think I would also enjoy learning to jump. I would definitely start with private lessons since I need to feel confident in a baseline before I can learn in a group setting.

But I have no idea where to start, lessons-wise. I enjoy western riding, but I also think a strong English foundation would be helpful. At the end of this it would be nice to be competent in both direct and neck reining. I'm definitely not a brand new beginner, as I am comfortable around and on horses, but I would hesitate to even call myself an intermediate? Though my experience is so varied I have no idea what I would be considered. Would it make sense for me to just start at level zero, since my experience is so varied that I don't have a solid foundation in any discipline? Any and all advice welcome!!
 

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If you want to do some jumping, I'd be looking for English lessons. You can always take some separate Western lessons in addition, even if that has to be at another barn, but I'd start with one and stick with it a while to get your foundation.

Other than that, your coach will be able to asses very quickly what areas you need to work on. When you're talking to a potential coach, go over what your experience is, and they'll put you on a horse they think is suitable and work with you from there.

You don't really need to worry about what "level" you're at. Especially if you're taking private lessons. I've been taking private lessons for the last two and a half years and my coach and I have never once talked about labeling my riding level. I'm not even sure I'd want to know, to be honest. (If I had to, I'd say "cautious intermediate" on the flat, and "giant weenie" over fences.) What matters to me is learning more and more and improving over time in my fitness, confidence, and ability. Sounds like your goals are similar!
 

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My one wish, OK one of many wishes, is that I had gained a solid grounding in Dressage at an earlier age.

My advice find a barn with a good Dressage trainer and take a series of lessons. This will give you a solid foundation to move onto other disciplines later. As for what level, wherever you choose to ride, just be honest about your skills, they will see where you fit.
 

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I think the best thing you could benefit from is going and talking with a competent riding instructor.
A in-depth evaluation from your discussion and then astride should be done...it puts you knowing what is seen, what you think you know and where together you can work to expand your riding education.

If you can find a barn that does several disciplines of riding it would be great.
A instructor that you feel confident and safe with as their eyes and ears will make a good match for a mount and keep you safe when getting instruction.
A place that offers simple but accurate instruction at your level, not looked down upon for not knowing and not taking for granted that which you not know...keeps you learning but safe at the same time.
Look for a barn and instructor you are comfortable with...can relate to and they can mentally reach you so you understand the principle of riding as it gets more complex the further along your riding education gets.
Never be afraid to make it known you not understand...another approach should immediately be done so you learn, not be put down or made to feel inferior...wrong and don't allow that, ever!

That is where I would start from and look for in a new riding barn.
A place I can learn and enjoy what and how I am being taught.
If you don't have either or those ^^ things...keep looking for a place to ride, this isn't it.
:runninghorse2:....
jmo...
 

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While it sounds like you're pretty competent and comfortable doing just about anything with horses, it's possible that there are gaps in your training (likely, even).

I think you need to start at square one. You may be surprised at how many bad habits you have picked up over the years. However, you'll find you progress much faster than someone who is a true beginner. Like other posters have said, an instructor will be able to assess you pretty quickly, and decide what you need to work on, but it isn't a bad thing to make sure you have all the basic stuff down correctly. Your comfort level with horses will make it easy for you to focus on isolating any bad habits and correcting them.

In terms of a discipline, I don't think anyone here can advise you. Barns tend to be English or Western, and you seem to want to do both. That's great, but it probably won't be with the same instructor.

Like @horselovinguy suggests, the most important thing is to find an instructor who works well for you. I think you might base your choice of disciplines on an instructor you like. Find out who is available, ask around to see what people are saying about them, then try to go watch a lesson if you can. One coach might come off as impatient and demanding with some riders, but might be just right for someone with more experience. I have seen my daughter's coach make little girls cry, but her demand for 100% focus and effort every time is exactly in tune with my daughter's personality. She has done wonders for my daughter who is a competitive show jumper, and has taken her from a beginner 9 year old rider to a jumper who consistently places in shows (she's 13 now). I personally find her intense as a coach, so I prefer taking lessons with one of her former students (who often works as her assistant as well) who is a little more chill - but I am a middle-aged rider who took many years off so my skills and goals are a little different. My point is that a great coach for one person won't necessarily be perfect for another person.

Find someone who can help you reach the next level of your riding and keep you motivated. Ask questions, listen carefully, and if you're not getting it, find someone else. Discipline is secondary, you can always switch again down the road.
 

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Take lessons in both Western and English (different barns if you have to) and see which you like better. Or continue taking lessons in both. There’s no “rules” that you couldn’t!

For the level, don’t worry about it. Tell your instructor exactly what you told us, then they will watch you ride and develop a plan for what you need.
 

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Western Mass! How far west? 🙂 It sounds like you have a lot of experience but you want some gaps filled in - a more "formal" foundation. I'd find a barn & trainer you get on with, talk about your background and goals, and take some private lessons. My own trainer takes a lot of her background from dressage and the "balanced seat" fundamentals seem (to me, as a beginner still) pretty sound overall.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks all.. that was the clarity I needed! I appreciate all your insights! I'm going to look into private dressage lessons as it sounds like that's my best shot at rounding out my foundation. Now starts the arduous hunt for a reputable barn that offers somewhat affordable lessons!
 
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