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Teaching beginner riding lessons

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  • Teaching beginner riding lessons

    I have been teaching riding lessons at my barn for a year. It has been a challenge, yet so much fun and rewarding.

    I mostly just cover lessons when the main trainer is out of town. I usually work on things she has already covered and things they need to practice on. I noticed most of the beginners do not have a very "strong" sitting trot. They mostly bounce, raise hands, and habitually start posting in a few seconds.

    What are some techniques or tips you have to strengthen beginners sitting trots. A lounge line is not optional, I often have 4-5 of these kids in one lesson for a hour. Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    I think there's a quote, "Only perfect practice makes perfect". In other words, don't ask these kids to do a sitting trot all the way around the ring for 5 minutes straight. If they can't hold it, they aren't practicing anything beneficial, and are likely hurting their horses backs bouncing around!

    I would have them try and maintain a decent sitting trot across the short side of the ring, then go back to posting (or down to a walk, even) down the long side to reorganize. Then sitting the short side again. Lather, rinse, repeat. If they're really messy, they can hook a finger under the pommel to help hold themselves in place. Better to practice and gain the muscle memory of doing it RIGHT, even with help/in short bursts, than to go around and around flopping all over.

    If your beginners are little kids, I think it's also a strength and leg length (or lack thereof) issue, and there's not a whole lot you can do about that until they grow some. I used to teach beginners at summer camp - have fun!


    • #3
      I think the hardest thing about learning to sit the trot is getting the movement right.

      I have only recently gotten the hang of it and I've been riding for years. I remember when I was first learning to ride English (rode Western before) and was learning to sit a forward trot (big difference compared to a nice Western jog). The instructors would always tell me to "sit still." This would cause me to stiffen my body and try to sit as still as possible. I would slam into my horse's back and quickly start bracing or posing to keep from bouncing out of the saddle. In equitation classes, the sitting trot was my kiss of death. I was very frustrated because it was always so easy when riding Western.

      Only recently (within the past two years) have I figured out that sitting the trot is a deliberate movement - much in the same way that posting or sitting the canter is a deliberate movement of the legs and hips. The difficult thing is that unlike the canter, the trot is different on every horse. It seems like a variation on a side to side, or figure-eight type movement with the hips and a deliberate relaxation of the lower back and shoulders but engagement of the abs. Hard to describe - but the take home message is that when teaching you should be clear to your students that they shouldn't be trying to sit still.


      • #4
        Exactly how beginner are the kids? I work at the camp at my barn and don't think we even touch the sitting trot until they have a very strong posting trot. I would keep working on posting/2 point etc at the trot until they relax and become more comfortable in the saddle.

        If they are slightly more advanced and you have saintly schoolies you could try having them drop their stirrups so they get the feeling of sitting deep in the saddle and letting their legs wrap around their horse.It sounds like they're still pretty new though if their hands are flying around. A lot of the time we'll have kids hold saddle pads/saddle to secure themselves better when their legs are still weak and it also keeps them from hitting the horses in the mouths. Good luck!!
        Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. Explore. Dream. Discover.
        ~Mark Twain


        • #5
          I agree with the posters above.

          Start sit trot work at the point where your students are comfortable, balanced and able to show an independant hand at a posting trot.

          For many students it is a challenge to sit the trot and keep the stirrups from bouncing around. I have the benefit of working mostly one on one with my students and on saintly schoolhorses so I will introduce sitting trot without stirrups fairly early on as I believe it to be easier if on the right horse of course.

          Since you are working with groups perhaps doing some exercizes at a walk without stirrups where your riders can feel comfortable finding their balance in their seat would be a good option to actually having a whole group try to sit trot with out stirrups right out of the shoot.

          My experience is that most students will feel unbalanced working at a sitting trot. They tend to grab with their leg for security.

          Before you ask them do do a sitting trot, go over the concept again at a walk. Make a point out of explaining (again) to your students the basic stop and go. If you press with your leg the horse will go faster. When he goes faster his back will move more.
          "I know it's hard but try not to press with your leg as this will make your horse go faster and become more bouncy"
          Don't ever presume that basics like this is something that is not worth repeating over and over again. I know you said it but they probably don't remember or put it in context right here.

          To reinforce, explain how when you press your thighs into the saddle this will make you lift out of it. Have them practice and feel at a walk. Press your legs in, feel the lift. Relax your leg, feel how you sink closer to the saddle.
          Explain the twoferone. Press and you will make your horse go faster and be more boucy and you will push yourself out of the saddle and loose that security.
          Relax and your horse will trot slower and you will be able to stay in the saddle and feel balanced.

          I like to tell my students that if something you sit on moves up and down basic laws of physics states that you will move up and down too. If you try to fight it you will bounce. The key is to relax and allow yourself to move up and down with your horse. I tell them to try to be like a hackysack. Totally limber and relaxed following the motion of the horse. So what if they end up a little sloppy, that is easily fixed later.

          I always encourage my students to grab the saddle or the saddle pad and pull themselfs down if needed. Once they feel secure they can let go a little and if they "loose the tack" they can pull themselves back down again. It is in my opinion better both for the students and the horses if they hold onto the saddle a little then if they just bounce loose and never get the right feel.

          I teach a lot of beginners and I love it. What I have learned over the years is that repetitioin and safety is key. Think of your last lesson, (whatever subject, riding , science you name it) how much can you honestly say that you remember well enough to apply in practice and under some stress? Remember that your students are sitting on a live animal, not on a schoolbench (even if you know your horses to be just that).
          Don't ever feel that you can't go over something again just because you already said in once or twice!

          Also, when I first started teaching I was afraid that my students wouldn't find my lesson interesting or fun enough and I sometimes asked them to do too much before they were ready.
          Let your students know the short term goal and let them tell you/show you that they are ready to move up a step. Develop a check list for each step and so if a loose but gutsy student says when can we jump? You can tell her, when you can ace the sitting trot!

          Ok, got another bright flash about the sittting trot and other booring exercizes. Let your students know (and repaet it every other lesson) what they need to master before they will be allowed to do "more fun stuff". It will make them try harder if they have a goal then if they think that they are just suffering through the motions of the lesson.

          About 25 years ago I took group lessons at a local barn. When it came to the sitting trot I'd suffer through it but not really try, when we were asked to drop our stirrups I'd drop the inside one and keep the outside stirrup thinking I was slick. I now know that it's very easy to spot a faker from the middle (I'll call my students on it and retell this very story) but my instructor never once called me on faking. Either she was not very skilled or she just didn't care anymore. Since she didn't care and I didn't care (I was 7 years old cut me some slack LOL) I never got any better under her training.

          Final advice is tell every student in the end of the lesson what she did well. Don't look for faults, look for advances. Sure, they pay you to tell them what to do better, but they also want to feel good about their accomplishments and sometimes going for a positive will have more effect.
          "you were on the correct diagonal this whole lesson, you are really setting a good example for the others" will make sure she never posts on the wrong diagonal again in a much more effective way then "you have to do a lap of sitting trot wo stirrups for everytime I catch you on the wrong diagonal" (can be applied to everything)
          Timothy, stop lurking