Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

We Are The Base Of The Hunter/Jumper Pyramid

Our columnist believes that more instructors should be proud that they form the foundation of our world.

Not everyone wants to get involved in the top levels of our sport, and many of us are quite content to be successful on a more local or regional level because of factors such as riding goals, time, other life commitments and economics. 



Our columnist believes that more instructors should be proud that they form the foundation of our world.

Not everyone wants to get involved in the top levels of our sport, and many of us are quite content to be successful on a more local or regional level because of factors such as riding goals, time, other life commitments and economics. 

Those of us in that group, however, need skilled “specialists” who can help us reach our personal best at our chosen level of involvement. The coaches who specialize in preparing riders for national and international competition really aren’t the answer to our needs.

For some reason, in our sports the term “elementary” has a negative connotation, but, in reality, the teachers who spend their careers helping students grasp the “elements” of riding are often the most important influences in a rider’s development.  

In the academic world, reading, writing and arithmetic equate to our position, use of the aids and an understanding of the physical and mental needs of the horse. Starting entry-level riders and then helping those who aspire to show in the 2’6″ and 3-foot hunter and jumper divisions attain those goals is a definite teaching specialty.
These professionals have the incredibly important task of helping a rider develop a position that’s non-disturbing and in unity with the horse’s movement. A good working position with hands that work independently of the body is the core skill that then allows a rider to use the aids with efficiency and clarity so that the horse can understand what’s being asked of it.

These experts in the “elements” of riding also make sure that their students understand how to care for their horse’s basic physical needs and understand the psychology of the horse so that they can communicate empathetically and effectively with their mount. 

Tiers Of Progression

I often wonder why the teaching specialties that are so strongly established in our national education system aren’t the norm in the world of riding education. Perhaps it’s because we don’t recognize that each level of teaching is a specialty worthy of taking pride in.

The world of education has obvious tiers of progression, and teachers choose to work in the educational tier that suits their temperament, teaching style and area of interest and expertise. Teachers in elementary school, junior and senior high, as well as college and grad schools realize the importance of and take pride in their role in creating an educated individual who has the skills to succeed in life and work. They have chosen to work with a specific student population because of their own personal strengths. 

As the start of the college year is fast approaching, most of my faculty colleagues are wondering about our new crop of students and if they will come to us with the core skills that will allow them to be successful at the college level.

Most college professors chose this level of teaching because they are specialists who are interested in preparing students for advanced work in a particular discipline. They expect their students to arrive with a strong foundation in reading, synthesizing information and writing and speaking articulately. Not surprisingly, they’re generally not interested in or very good at helping students learn these skills.


The college professor is equivalent to the trainers in our industry who are training people in a specialty area of competition such as we find at the A-rated shows in the 3’6″ hunter and jumper divisions. Their students are moving up from the local and regional levels and from the 2’6″ and 3-foot divisions to compete in the national rated divisions and want to be competitive at the zone or perhaps national levels.

The graduate school academic is a true specialist who guides advanced students as they explore the boundaries of a particular discipline. This level equates to our top coaches who are preparing riders for advanced levels of competition at the national and international levels.

Neither of these two groups of teaching specialists expects to have to explain the basics of riding, horse care, horse psychology or competition to their students. Their role is to help riders who come to them with good working positions and a foundation developed through competing locally and regionally. These coaches can help a well-prepared rider become the most successful they can be at a higher level of horsemanship than they have previously experienced.

The college professor and the top coaches in our sport recognize the importance of the teachers who prepare the students and riders with the core skills necessary for success at the next level. I believe our top industry professionals know how important the base of the pyramid is to their continued success.

The number of students who go on to college and then graduate school is much smaller than the student population in elementary and high schools. Not every student aspires to go on to more advanced work, but they all need the basics skills in order to succeed in life.

The same is true in the world of riding. 

Major Influences

When I think of my own academic education, the teachers that I remember most vividly are Mrs. Ford, Ms. Tyus and Mrs. Pratt, my second-, third- and fourth-grade teachers. Those three women gave me a strong grasp of the fundamentals of reading writing and arithmetic, confidence in my abilities and a love of learning. I know it was this strong foundation that allowed me to be successful throughout my academic career.

They were proud to be elementary school teachers because they understood that this meant they were giving their students the “elements” that are necessary for all future success. 

In our sport the teachers who can develop the entry-level rider into a com-petent intermediate rider—with a good working position who has gained experience in the show ring, in the hunt field or in whatever aspect of our sport appeals to them—are truly the specialists.

These teachers have:


• The skill to develop great school horses and match rider and horse to both the benefit of both.

• Incredible patience and the ability to explain the same concept in a myriad of different ways.

• Eyes in the back of their heads so they can sense a problem before it happens and carefully protect the students’ confidence.

• An understanding of the requirements of the show ring or hunt field and can prepare and help their students to safely and successfully gain experience in these venues.

• The ability to gently push their students outside of their comfort zone so they develop the core riding skills to achieve their own personal best.

• The ability to give their students the foundation necessary to pursue whatever riding specialty excites their passion for our sport. 

Too often these teaching “specialists” who provide their riding students with the “elements” necessary for safe and effective riding and the foundation necessary to proceed on to the “college and grad school levels” don’t feel valued for their expertise. Yet these are the specialists who work with 80 to 90 percent of the riders involved in our sport. 

Fewer than 20 percent of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association members participates in the top competitive levels of our sport. And our coaching specialists for this level are counting on those of us who teach the fundamentals
to prepare the next wave of riders whose goals and talent lead them to the top.    

We are also the ones who are responsible for creating educated recreational and competitive riders and potential horse owners who have the skills to enjoy their chosen sport, appreciate the variety of opportunities that our sport has to offer and have a deep respect for their equine partners. 

I believe that we are valued for what we bring to the sport, and we should all take great pride in what we do and realize that without us the pyramid has no base and will crumble.




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