How you teach a beginner's riding lesson depends upon the age of the student. While getting certain concepts through to young children may not be as easy as with adult newbies, kids are often less fearful than their grown counterparts. Of course, any beginner lesson starts with a quiet, trustworthy horse, appropriate tack and a safe riding area. Keep the first lesson brief, no more than half an hour.
Get started by ensuring the rider has a correctly sized safety helmet and is wearing shoes or boots with a low heel. The riding school should have various sizes of helmets on hand. People unfamiliar with horses may think that sneakers are suitable footwear -- they are not. Wearing footwear lacking a heel invites the foot to slide right through the stirrup. All of this should be explained to the rider beforehand, either over the phone, via text or email or posted on the school's website. Unless the riding school has a dress code, jeans are usually a good choice for beginner rider clothes.
Teach the basics from the beginning. Introduce the rider to the horse, and let her watch as you tack up the animal prior to the lesson, carefully but briefly explaining the purpose of the saddle and bridle. People not used to equines may be intimidated by the sheer size of the horse, even though you know this old gent would never hurt a fly. In future lessons, you can show the student how to brush a horse, pick the feet and properly put on the saddle and bridle.
Take the student and the horse to the mounting block, and show her the correct way to mount. Adjust the stirrups to correctly fit the rider. The "riding" lesson is now starting, and depending on the circumstances, you can let the beginner ride independently in the arena, with you close by, or put her on a lunge line.
After mounting, place the reins in the rider's hands correctly, explaining how they are held. Inform the rider that to pull back on the reins to stop, use the left rein to turn left and the right to turn right, and move the horse forward with a vocal, "Walk on," and a cluck. Yes, stopping, changing direction and moving forward are a little more complicated than that, but we all started with simple concepts.
The Lunge Line
Giving early lessons on the lunge line allows you to control the horse, while aiding the rider's sense of coordination. Start out by letting the horse walk around the arena if he's not warmed up, with you holding the horse with a lead rope. After five minutes or so, go to the middle of the ring and and attach the lunge line, but take the reins and pull them under the throatlatch, around the neck and rebuckle them. Tie any hanging reins into a knot. This way, the horse can't step on them while lunging, and the rider has her hands free. She can improve her balance without snatching on the horse's mouth. The initial lesson is conducted at a walk, but well-balanced students may try a trot by their second lesson.
Initial lunge line exercises include:
- Hands on the hips or legs
- Hands on the mane
- Hands on head
- Hold arms out to balance
- Take feet out of stirrups and stretch.
If you don't use the lunge line on the first lesson, you can concentrate on having your rider steering and stopping the horse, perhaps introducing the figure 8 pattern.
Stress the importance of alignment from the beginning, as well the importance of having a base. Explain that a straight line should run from the ear to the shoulder to the point of hip and the heel. It's never too early to encourage "Heels down." Show the student that her seat should follow the movement of the horse's back.