Many stables offer riding lessons to the public as well as through collegiate participation in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). Students entering such riding programs vary greatly in their knowledge, skills and abilities. Some may be recruited because they are already promising riders, while others may be new to horseback riding.
Anyone taking horseback riding lessons, regardless of discipline, is learning how to ride a horse. Students learn the basics: how to lead a horse, mount, adjust stirrups, hold the reins, and ride at all gaits.
What happens after the rider finishes a lesson is what makes the difference between a rider and a horseman. A rider hands the reins over to a groom, pays for the lesson, and leaves. A horse person, on the other hand, looks for every opportunity to spend more time with horses. Horse people are curious about equine health and feeding, shoeing, grooming and stable maintenance. They want to learn every aspect of horse care, not because they'll look better to the judge in the show ring but because they love horses and want the best for them. That's what we mean by the difference between mere riders and true horse people.
How to Transform Riders into Horse People
If your stable bustles with lessons, training and activities throughout the day, it may seem impossible to incorporate horsemanship lessons into riding lessons. But there are several steps you can take to teach additional skills to your riding students:
- Ask students to arrive half an hour early for their lessons. Have them watch you groom and tack up their horses. Invite them to handle basic grooming tasks once they understand how to handle grooming tools and manage horses safely.
- Similarly, explain to students why cooling down horses after a lesson is important, and allow them to cool out and untack their mounts themselves.
- Offer to trade additional riding time for stable help. Show students the proper way to muck a stall, lead a horse into the pasture for turnout, hang stable rugs and sheets, and the myriad other tasks necessary for good horse care.
- Host a tack cleaning day. On a warm day, when the main show season is over, invite your students back to the barn for a tack-cleaning party. Ask everyone to bring a dish to share. Use the occasion as both a time for fun and socialization and a time to teach them how to clean bits, bridles, saddles and girths.
Most people who take riding lessons love horses and yearn to know more. With a little ingenuity, you can weave horsemanship lessons into riding lessons, and transform basic riders into true horsemen.