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The importance of learning the basics

This article first appeared in a previous edition of Equestrian Life magazine. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.
 
Brett Parbery teaching

Dressage rider Brett Parbery teaching one of his pupils.
 
 
By Warwick Morgan
 
In my work in the horse industry today, I often ask my clients what their introduction to horse riding was. Interestingly, 80% have had a horrendous time on a bolting horse, or a bad fall while riding a friend’s horse for the first time with other riders. And they still want to own a horse of their own!
 
Many new horse people have done part of the Parelli course, or other on-ground instruction, so have never really had basic instruction on riding a horse. Basic instruction means showing the beginner rider how to gain and maintain a good balance and harmony with their upper body, seat and lower legs in the saddle at the walk, including contact with the reins. Once the rider has gained enough confidence they can progress to the trot and canter. Even some EA accredited coaches don’t spend enough time with their beginner riders on balance. I recommend every rider to read Sally Swift’s book ‘Centred Riding’ or one of the many other books out there on this subject. 
 
Many are too frightened or lack confidence to ride their horses, mostly due to a bad encounter from a past experience or cannot afford to be hurt due to work or family commitments. I have been teaching riders a combination of the Alexander Technique and Sally’s Centre Riding, which has helped riders overcome fear, regain good balance and find riding their own horse much more enjoyable. I know there are many horse people out there that just do ground work with their horses, but there is nothing more exhilarating than riding a well-trained horse.
 
While returning from a relaxing ride on my daughter’s 1* eventer mare at Armidale in NSW, I was asked by a Saudi Arabian student at the University of New England if he could ride one of our horses. He said, “I have done a lot of riding, having two horses of my own at home; my father owns and races horses and camels. I have really missed riding since I have been at university”. I said, “Sure, but I would like to see you ride first”. My daughter’s mare is not a really comfortable horse to ride. She has a short stride, so it is harder to do the sitting trot, unless you slow her paces and keep her collected. She is very quiet having had children and other beginner riders on her in the past.
 
We have a fenced area around our house, so shutting the gate I asked the rider to walk the mare around the area after showing him how we held the reins and what aids the mare was used to. He was riding in a Trainer all purpose saddle, which fits the mare well. I could see within seconds that his style of holding the reins (his hands held so high, nearly up to his shoulders), that the poor mare did not have a clue what he wanted. With his toes pointing to the ground, we began from the beginning, getting his position in the saddle, balanced, by correcting the position of the lower leg, with his weight in the stirrup on the ball of his foot, heels down so his inside thigh muscle tightened, giving him more security in the saddle. Correcting his hand position, by shortening his reins, enabled him to turn and control the mare by bringing his reins back to his stomach, to help maintain his balance in the saddle.
 
Knowing he could upset the mare or worse off have a fall, I put the mare on the lunge rein with him riding. This is what I do to all my riders, experienced or not. After half an hour, the rider was doing the rising trot on the lunge, the mare was much more comfortable and his balance was so much better.
 
While unsaddling the mare he said to me he had never had a lesson in his life in Saudi Arabia, that they just get on their Arabian horses and gallop across the desert and that he was now beginning to understand there is so much more to riding a horse!
 
My advice to anyone wanting to ride a horse for the first time is to take your time looking for a good instructor. Talk to others who you know are beginners, go and watch them being coached by their instructor, take along someone who you know is a knowledgeable rider. While you are there, watch other riders on borrowed school horses and get help in selecting a horse suitable for you to ride. Check out their facilities, do they have an indoor school or at least a round yard. Go and talk to the instructor, ask heaps of questions about how they will teach you to ride. Take notes and consult with an experienced rider on what the instructor replied. Don’t be swayed by the instructor’s success as riders because some have a really bad rapport with riders. I have often found the least successful professional coaches are better instructors. You must be able to communicate with your instructor and they must have a willingness to understand your misgivings as a person. Check their insurance policy if they have any or do they have a waiver.
 
In conclusion, riding horses is one of the most enjoyable experiences in life and something you can pass on to your children.
 
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