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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all. Like the title says, what qualities should a lesson horse possess? Conversely, what are red flags to watch out for? I'm an adult beginner, currently looking at switching barns and really want to find a program with a solid string of lesson horses [and a great trainer.] I have an idea of what to look for but would love to hear from those who have years of experience.
 

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For a beginner, you want a well-rounded, happy-medium horse. A docile, well-trained mount.
You want a horse that is a little on the lazy size (more "whoa" than "go"), calm, and forgiving. You want a horse to be sensitive enough to obey intentional commands, but "dull" enough to ignore unintentional. Many beginners tend to grip, slide, pull, flop, etc. You don't want a too sensitive horse to "stop. go. stop. go. speed. speed. slow." with every move that a beginner makes.
There is no such thing as a "bomb-proof" horse. Any horse of any age/training/breed/etc. has the potential to spook. However, you want a horse that knows what is expected - "been there - done that." One that knows that area and the people where it is worked. Overly nervous or excited horses are not suitable for beginners.

For starters, you want a horse that is healthy, obviously. Any horse that is underweight, lame, has an inappropriate coat (thick winter in mid summer, bald patches everywhere, super dull, etc.), neglected hooves, etc... should not be used.
Any horse that has white patches where the saddle goes (maybe old, so not a total, instant, turn-off) or bloody mouths should not be used.
You want horses to be not be grumpy. Lesson horses can tend to be sour with the round-a-bout, repetitive ways of giving lessons. Slight boredom is expected, maybe, but if the horse is ear pinning, tail swishing, head tossing, etc. the whole interaction, that is a red flag. It could also indicate pain.
Too small of a horse/pony should not be used.
If you see a horse in a more "severe"/"complicated" bit, then that horse is not suitable for beginners (or the "trainer" has no idea what they are doing). "Severe" bits include twisted bits. "Complicated" bits include gags or pelhams. The "best" bit would probably be a smooth snaffle of some sort (I think?). Curbs should be used with care. I saw a sale ad for a "kid safe" horse. Upon closer inspection, the horse has a double twisted wire snaffle. hmmmm
The horse should absolutely not, under any circumstances, display aggressive behavior. Kicking, biting, ear pinning. etc. Contact. does. not. need. to. be. made. Read that again. Threats/attempts are just as serious. That is not your responsibility to train the horse; that is the BO's or trainer's (or whoever). I have heard so many beginner people get stuck with an aggressive horse, and get hurt and/or blamed for it. Same thing goes with general dangerous behavior. This include bucking, bolting, rearing, etc...
Bad footing. The *arena* should be clean with good footing. If it is a mud-pit, manure-pile, slushy, etc. then that is anoth red flag. Some mud/manure is normal, but should be clean/raked/maintained regularly. Trails are hard to control, so...
Horses that are turned-out with non-breakaway halters is a huge red flag. I have seen this. A lot. No halter is best. Next best thing would be a breakaway, which is an absolute must with halter-turnout.
 

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I was an adult beginner three and a half years ago and have tried a number of lesson places (four). I can give you list of things I was not happy/comfortable in lessons as a beginner:

– Horse not happy to be groomed and tacked (ear pinning, trying to bite, kicking out etc.).
– Horse bucking in the trot to canter transition.
– Horse biting at rider when leading (this was one my daughter had and the pony constantly tried to nip her when she was leading and one time grabbed her pony tail and pulled it hard).
– Bad footing in the arena (hard packed dirt with sticking up tree roots).
– Coach not being present for lesson (leaving after I got tacked up and on the horse and then just said "oh ride them round and I will be back" and left!).
– Lessons not well organized or supervised (horse being ridden unsupervised by rider before me for 1-h over their allotted time all at trot/canter till the horse was dripping with sweat).

Things I have been happy to work with because the coach helped with ways to accommodate them or the horse was otherwise a really good lesson horse:

– Horse not liking to be caught (did not run away but got grumpy and pinned ears and could threaten to bite, so the coach always got the horse in. I was never left to do this).
– Horse not liking girth tightened (was ok with all other grooming and tacking, and you just had to take it really slow and gently to do the last girth tightening).
– Horse cutting corners in the arena.
 

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I think that as a beginner, you're better off asking what you should look for in a facility, and also considering how the horses look in general. I have a lot of thoughts about what makes for a good lesson horse, but I am not sure if a beginner would be able to evaluate whether a horse possessed most of the traits I would be thinking of.

You want a clear facility with healthy, happy-looking horses. A lesson horse shouldn't offer any problems on the ground, except for maybe occasionally being stubborn and not wanting to move / pick up feet, etc. A lesson horse should never, under any circumstance, threaten a human. It shouldn't even pin its ears at a human. I suppose it could be poorly-behaved on the ground if one of the staff members tacked it up and handled it all the way to the mounting block, but still I'd rather not see it at all.

One thing you might ask about is how / if the lesson horses are kept tuned up. A horse that is ridden only by beginners will almost certainly soon pick up bad habits, and it would be nice to know that it's getting at least weekly rides by a trainer to try to nip those bad habits in the bud.
 

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I give private beginner lessons, and I have three lesson horses. There's no such thing as a perfect horse, so you have to know the limits of the individual horse. Here are mine:

Raisin: absolute angel, slow, a little on the skinny side, has arthritis, 25+ years old. He's perfect for the little kids, is unflappable and forgiving. Adult beginners would make his back sore.
Sunny: stubborn, no power steering, lazy, does not spook. She will make you a better rider if you can out stubborn her. If I'm nearby with a lunge whip to point at her, she's great.
Feather: more sensitive, likely to spook when outside her comfort zone, makes ugly faces on the ground, gentle under saddle. When beginners ride her, I have to be careful of what's going on around her. When my own kids ride, they stretch her comfort zone.
 

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I think more about how the instructor relates to you and honestly evaluates your ability rather than making assumptions or taking new riders at their word. They also need to know their lesson horses and be able to suitably match horse to rider. If you are grooming and tacking then they need to show you what's expected. Watch you do what's expected. Make sure you remember lesson to lesson and only once comfortable with your ability give you space to do it unsupervised or minimally supervised. Some schools have advanced riders or junior instructors on hand for that. No, you don't want a horse that bites, kicks, bucks, bolts, rears.... that is why you ask to watch a lesson or two. Definitely watch the beginner lessons so you can gauge whether safety is a priority. Is the instructor engaged with all riders? How do the horses behave with the riders? What level beginner is riding? New, new or been in lessons several months. Stubborn or grumpy I see no problem with if the instructor or suitable mentor is on hand to help you. Upfront about behavior and teaching you what to watch for and how to handle it.

Then ask yourself what are YOUR expectations? Do they match what you see? Are you honest about your ability and willing to accept your instructors evaluation and to work toward your goals or do you expect instant gratification? If you are an adult ask if they have other adult beginners you can watch. These may or may not have their own horses so may or may not help you evaluate the lesson string. Instructors relate to different ages in different ways.
 

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I'm still a newbie myself, but I'm on my 3rd barn and I've finally found a home! I agree with everything everyone has already said, but I'll just add that even if you start at a certain barn, there is nothing tying you to that barn. As you learn more about horses (and their handlers), you may start to realize that a barn may not be the best place for you and that's okay. It's okay to walk away.

In terms of trainers, I would recommend looking for someone who is really engaged during the lesson and someone who encourages questions and explanations of instructions. You should never feel like you are being rushed or pushed through a lesson.

Best of luck! This is an exciting time!
 

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I also forgot to add that I would highly recommend going to a lesson barn/program that isn't too big. My first barn had SO many lesson horses and people in the lesson program that I never felt like I got to know any person or horse very well. Additionally, the instructors weren't that well-qualified. The barn was always looking for help.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thank you all so much for your thoughts and advice! I very much appreciate your insights.

The reason I asked was because I'm at an impasse with my current barn and questioning things, mainly the lesson horses used.

Recently, I was bucked off during a lesson and broke two vertebral processes in my lower back. Before the incident, my trainer had mentioned that the horse, let's call her Daisy, had been having behavior issues but she wasn't sure why [the horse had been vetted and adjusted by a chiro.] At the beginning, Daisy was fine. We were just walking around with no problem. However, once we got into a trot is when I noticed she was getting a little more difficult. We started out trotting in circles and then moved on to trotting a straight line. Daisy had other plans... She tried to take off into a canter but I was able to stay on and bring her back down to a walk. We tried again and she pulled the same stunt except she threw in a buck and off I went.

When I first started riding a year ago, I accepted that falls and other accidents are a package deal with horses. They are large prey animals with minds of their own. However, after looking back at past lessons and the horses used, I am very unsure if I should continue at my current place or run for the hills and find a different barn. I feel like a jerk for even considering the thought but I feel like I don't trust my trainer anymore nor her selection of horses.

Am I being completely unreasonable? Or is my judgement being clouded by the accident? :(
 

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Am I being completely unreasonable? Or is my judgement being clouded by the accident? :(
Leave and don't look back, don't even give that unethical barn, it's idiot trainer and it's unsafe horses another thought.

You suffered a severe, life-altering injury because of another persons stupidity, don't allow them to maim your body further. Because what would be next? A coma? A traumatic brain injury? Paralysis? Because something will happen if you continue at that barn.

If I were you, I would walk out (No explanation needed!) and report that barn for unsafe practices. Leave "tell-all" reviews on as many sites as you could at the bare minimum. The only way to prevent those kinds of places from hurting other people is to hit them where it actually hurts, their bank account.
 

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This is tough. I guess I am wondering what these known behavioral issues were, and whether they had been escalating. If she recently started, I don't know, refusing to pick up her feet so you could pick our her hooves, that's something that just needs to be worked on. And they wouldn't have known to expect her to act up like she did when you were riding her.

If she had been pinning her ears when trotting, then crow hopping, and then bucking, and this was known, then there is no way they should have put a beginner on her. I mean, no one should ever put a beginner on a horse that is likely to buck.

Also, if you don't trust your trainer's judgment any more, I think you should just move on to a new barn. If you don't trust her or the horses you're riding, you're going to be tense when you ride, which at best will make it hard for you to learn and at worse could set off a more sensitive horse.
 

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I agree with AC. It would depend on what the known behavioral issues were. Did your trainer explain at all what had been going on with the horse before you got on?
I doubt that these behavior issues were something entirely benign, though, seeing what happened.

Even if your trainer was not at fault for this accident, there is no shame or guilt in leaving. It is completely understandable that you wouldn't feel safe there anymore and want to go somewhere else. Adults don't bounce back from falls as easily as kids and teens do, so when starting as a beginner adult, I feel it is imperative to be selective about where you take lessons and what horses you are taking them on, in order to minimize the risk of accidents and injury.

How experienced are you? Are you able to ride a canter yet? If you have been only walking and trotting, and the horse broke into a canter during your lesson, your trainer should have pulled you off right away and got on that horse herself and worked her out, felt her out. I've never given professional lessons, but I can tell when a horse is throwing attitude, and have in the past taken the rider off the horse and got up there myself and figured out what is going on, and then evaluate at that point whether the rider should get back on or not.
 

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If you have been only walking and trotting, and the horse broke into a canter during your lesson, your trainer should have pulled you off right away and got on that horse herself and worked her out, felt her out. I've never given professional lessons, but I can tell when a horse is throwing attitude, and have in the past taken the rider off the horse and got up there myself and figured out what is going on, and then evaluate at that point whether the rider should get back on or not.
That's one thing I have looked for in an instructor, at least now that I have gone through a number of instructors and know what I want. I want someone who is ready, should it be necessary, to hop on that horse and figure out what's going on.
 
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Leave and don't look back, don't even give that unethical barn, it's idiot trainer and it's unsafe horses another thought.

You suffered a severe, life-altering injury because of another persons stupidity, don't allow them to maim your body further. Because what would be next? A coma? A traumatic brain injury? Paralysis? Because something will happen if you continue at that barn.

If I were you, I would walk out (No explanation needed!) and report that barn for unsafe practices. Leave "tell-all" reviews on as many sites as you could at the bare minimum. The only way to prevent those kinds of places from hurting other people is to hit them where it actually hurts, their bank account.



I have to say that I strongly disagree with this. It would be one thing if it happened a lot. But, without knowing more about the trainer, and how Daisy normally behaved, one cannot make such a harsh judgement. And certainly leaving tell-all reviews, which can ruin a business, without knowing the WHOLE story, is one reason horse businesses struggle to even stay alive.


Was Daisy normally a steady mount? After the chiro visit, had she been ridden by anyone else, I mean, been 'tested out'? How long was she allowed to rest?


I think that perhaps the trainer should have been more careful, agreed. Should have tested Daisy out. But, every trainer makes mistakes, and every horse can throw in a buck that will unseat you. You cannot predict that 100%.

And, if you have been taking lessons for a year, you are not a rank beginner.


I came off a bucking horse when I was 18, taking my first series of group English riding lessons. I badly sprained my ankle. It was because someone , a boarder , was lunging their horse in the corner of the arena and my horse played up, and off I came. it happens




Now, if there are other things going on there, other instances of bad judgement by the trainer, I would definitely leave. In fact, if you retain really bad memories of your accident, it may 'haunt' you every time you are in that arena. In that case, if might be best for you to go to another barn.


I'm sorry you were so badly hurt. Every time I have come off hard, it takes me a good 6 months to feel free of the 'ghost' of fear, and in fact, I'm never really free of it. You either mount up and ride on, or you don't. The ghost will be there either way.
 

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That's one thing I have looked for in an instructor, at least now that I have gone through a number of instructors and know what I want. I want someone who is ready, should it be necessary, to hop on that horse and figure out what's going on.

I'd volunteer to do informal lessons, but I'm in Ohio. lol :wink:
 
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
You've all given me great food for thought. I don't have any friends or relatives involved with horses and wasn't sure what to do.

As for Daisy's behavior issues, I don't recall what exactly my trainer said was going on. I wasn't too well acquainted with Daisy but I'm not the first to be knocked off.

I harbor no hard feelings or ill-will toward my trainer in the slightest so I have no desire to put her or her business on blast. Though my mom might have different ideas LOL.

After taking everyone's advice into consideration, I think I'm leaning towards leaving. It just sucks trying to find another barn. The others that I'm aware of are at least 40 minutes to an hour away.
 

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I would move if possible. That is what I did when I started out. I tried two different places and while the people were nice, there were things that I did not feel were as safe as I would like them to be with the way lessons were taught or the way the horses were. I decided that safety was my utmost priority, so I found a place that fulfilled that and I have never once felt unsafe, lacking confidence, or not trusting my coach in the 3 years I have been there. When she says I am capable of riding a particular horse or trying a particular skill, I have absolute confidence in myself because of this track record, and that confidence is golden.

If you cannot move because of distance, can you talk to the coach and say that you are feeling anxious after the fall and that you would like to set up a plan for the future of riding really quiet horses and getting really solid in your basics until you feel confident to move on to harder skills or horses?
 

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Oh, and I know this isn't the question you asked at all, but when looking for a barn / instructor, you might try to avoid places that have loose dogs running around. It's become a pet peeve of mine. One of the instructors here brings a poorly-behaved dog all the time and rarely leashes it, and then she spends half of the lesson yelling at it, rather than paying attention to the riders.
 
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I understand your concerns. My new barn (and one I am 100% happy with and confident in) is an hour away. While it is a huge pain in the backside (literally- so much sitting in the car!), it is entirely worth it to me to find a place where I can truly feel safe and learn a ton. I will say--those long car rides have been excellent for finding new podcasts! I'm happy to recommend some! :)
 
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