Riding to Assist Teaching

Now this is an interesting topic to debate. How important is it to either ride your clients horse to help you teach, or for your instructor to ride your horse to help you learn.

Recently I was asked to hop on during a lesson because my client was struggling with right canter. As soon as I’d sat on it became apparent that the horse was loading his left shoulder (more on that another say) which I couldn’t tell when watching the horse, which meant that it was harder for me to get them to ride a correct right canter transition.

It opened my eyes a bit to the fact that horses don’t always look how they feel. Which I knew deep down already – how often do you eye up a horse to ride, get on, then wish you could get off again?! 

So from an instructors perspective, sitting on can give you a feel for how the horse learns or his reactive they are to aids or position, which can help you adapt your method of teaching slightly so that it is most beneficial to the pair you are teaching.

Sometimes if you’re trying to teach a new movement it can be difficult to discover whether the rider is misunderstanding, or if the horse is. So an instructor sitting on will ensure that the horse learns the movement and aids, and then the rider can learn what they are feeling for and refine the movement. 

The same goes for if the pair are struggling to overcome a problem; separating them and correcting the horse and then correcting the rider on a different horse can cause the problem to disappear as the cycle is broken.

From the client’s point of view watching your instructor ride can have two effects – positive or negative.

On the positive side, seeing your horse behave, work nicely, or work to a higher level, can inspire you to improve – “yes he can leg yield: I just need to practice”. Or it can boost your confidence. If you’ve lost your nerve then watching your horse repeat the exercise without being cheeky or rude can give you the confidence to try it again.

Visual learners benefit from seeing a movement ridden, which will help them learn how to ride it when back on board.

Flipping over to the negative elements, the rider can think “I’m rubbish, she’s clearly capable of working properly, I’m holding her back. I give up.” But they should remember that the instructor has a vast range of experience so is more likely to find the buttons.

  • I personally think it is a fine balance, and up to the instructor to judge the client, their way of learning, and the horse, as to whether getting in the saddle is of benefit. I see my job as teaching people to work with, and get the best out of their horse as well as themselves, so I much prefer trying to get them to ride correctly and improve themselves with me on the ground to guide them so that they can reproduce it on their own. However, it can be so insightful to feel what the rider feels and can cause me to change my tack slightly.

But where does everyone else stand? Do you like watching your instructor school your horse? Or does it make you despondent?


10 thoughts on “Riding to Assist Teaching

  1. Sparrowgrass Sep 4, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    I have always been grateful when an instructor got on my horse, for a variety of reasons. I have been vindicated when an instructor wouldn’t believe me that the horse would not move sideways off the leg, only shoot off forwards. I have seen how nicely he can move under a very experienced rider. I have seen instructors struggle to get a certain school horse go round and understood that it was OK for me to be failing at that if someone with so much more experience still found it so hard.

    • therubbercurrycomb Sep 4, 2015 / 6:45 pm

      There’s always a bit of pressure on the instructor to not look silly or anything too 🙂 I once sat on a horse and was amazed the rider made it look as straightforward as she did because it was really wonky!

  2. Heather Holt Sep 4, 2015 / 1:55 pm

    I’m an instructor too and agree that it’s sometimes a catch-22 situation. If you do well on the horse, you risk the rider feeling bad. If you do badly on the horse, well, everyone feels bad! I do think it’s quite useful in the situation of a relatively experienced rider who is not an experienced trainer (most of my students!) who is schooling their own horse under instruction. As with your example of loading a shoulder, it’s sometimes hard to see but easy to feel some schooling problems. The hard part can be articulating that “how, what and why” of your corrections. I’ve had success with “narrating” my schooling while I’m doing it (gets a bit breathless when cantering!) because the real-time corrections can be seen, as well as the result.

    • therubbercurrycomb Sep 4, 2015 / 6:43 pm

      Yep I agree! I try to talk as I ride but sometimes I get so focused on the horse I forget! So I often do a little bit, come back to walk and explain what happened then do another exercise 🙂

  3. Maegan MacKimmie Sep 4, 2015 / 2:55 pm

    Hmm this is an interesting question and I will give you my opinion as a loooooong time amateur. I have had the same horse for quiet sometime, but when I was young spent a year really struggling with my horse (green at the time). I was young, stubborn and determined to work it through myself, without my trainer getting on. She kept telling me to stop galloping my horse at nothing (bad distance) and I kept telling her that my horse was dragging me, which she didn’t believe. Finally when things got very difficult she got on my horse and imagine what happened? My horse dragged her to the base. She fixed it, got a better understanding of what was happening and I was more successful in the show ring.

    Now I am not a huge fan of the trainers who are always preping their clients horses for the show ring with several rides a week because in my (not so humble) opinion is not teaching them to ride or work through issues. However, I think there is value and a time or a place for a trainer to get on a school a horse. Feeling what the client feels can sometimes make a huge different. My trainer hops on my horse every few months now just to see how she is going, which I find helpful.

    My long winded two cents.

    • therubbercurrycomb Sep 4, 2015 / 6:41 pm

      Perfect answer! I think there’s a time and a place; it also depends how the instructor attacks it – no client wants to see their instructor get on and their pony go perfect, they want feedback from the instructor – “I’ve used my leg here when she lifts her head” or “the tight rein is heavier so I’ve …”
      Thanks for the feedback!

      • Maegan MacKimmie Sep 4, 2015 / 6:55 pm

        No problem! 🙂 my young ego (stubbornness) at the time didn’t like my trainer doing it for me, but once I saw the value in it, it was great. It not only helped my horse (who had to deal with my amateur riding), but it also opened up communication between my trainer and I! So nice!

  4. horse and human Sep 4, 2015 / 6:56 pm

    My RI doesn’t and hasn’t ridden my horse. She said from the off that she wouldn’t. When she isn’t there I deal with what pops up as and when. It hasn’t occurred to me to suggest it as it hasn’t come up that I haven’t worked through things myself. We are only doing basic stuff though.

    It does depend on what you want to achieve as a rider though. I am a visual learner and watching myself ride is valuable. Having your dressage test filmed is useful as you see what the judge saw. I use dressage tests as extra lessons because the feedback is great.

    • therubbercurrycomb Sep 4, 2015 / 7:31 pm

      I agree – all my dressage tests are recorded and watching them is so helpful 🙂

      • horse and human Sep 4, 2015 / 10:36 pm

        I got 62.62% for my first ever w,t c test. I had to rewatch as I couldn’t see how the judge had found anything good in it. I had picked it all apart, then my friend said “now put it together like a jigsaw. The good pieces round the edge and ones to work on fit in the middle.
        I liked that because it enabled me to be constructive about my partnership. It was her first ever time to. 🙂

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