The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (5/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that it’s partially in the way riding is taught, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if only the following prerequisites are met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be the struggle it seems to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

 Attention for the horses emotions

Like in the key lesson ‘Horse stay in Learning Mode‘ where the trainer is aware of the emotions of the horse during training, I would like to see instructors paying more attention to the emotions during riding. Not only that, but also teaching the rider about the horses emotions.

When a horse isn’t listened to, it can languish in a state of ‘learned helplessness’.

Learned helplessness

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALearned helplessness is behaviour typical of an organism (human or animal) that has endured repeated painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn escape or avoidance in new situations where such behaviour would be effective. In other words, the organism seems to have learned that it is helpless in aversive situations, that it has lost control, and so it gives up trying. Such an organism is said to have acquired learned helplessness. *)

Paying attention to the horse

I would like to see that if a horse shows fear or another emotion that prevents the horse from cooperating, the instructor pays attention to it and explains to the rider what he can do to help his horse overcome this.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt saddens me that when a horse shows fear or resistance the instructor really wants positive results for the rider and forgets the needs of the horse.

If he doesn’t know how to do this with positive reinforcement, he will probably suggest ‘be a leader’ or just ‘use your leg/spur/whip’ to motivate the horse to overcome this undesired emotion.

This is not in the best interest of the horse and it doesn’t benefit the human-horse relationship. On the contrary; the rider shows that he can’t be trusted if he falls back to aversives in these kind of situations.

Did your instructor teach you about the emotions horses show? What instructions did you get from your instructor when a horse was fearful or otherwise not cooperating?

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.


*)  Carlson, Neil R. (2010). Psychology the science of behavior. Pearson Canada. p. 409.ISBN 978-0-205-69918-6 and  Nolen, J.L. “Learned helplessness”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved January 14,2014.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)

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