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Why Young Horses and Young Riders Can't "Learn Together"

Updated on August 30, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

"It will be Great,They Can Learn Together"...

I have heard it so many times, from inexperienced horse people. Parents of children who ride and are considering buying a horse say this all the time. I think it starts because they begin doing a little research on their own. Reading some horse classified ads and they notice that the young inexperienced horses are much less expensive than the well-trained ones.

To the untrained horse parent, it makes perfect sense. They find a cheap young horse and think they are getting a great deal. Since their child is in lessons that is when I hear the classic dreaded sentence" Well, we think it would be great, they can learn together!" I cringe when I hear this. Mostly because it seems that by the time they are telling you this exciting revelation, they have already made up their mind on the subject. Let's be real here, most kids are so excited to get their own horse they would never admit to their parents that the horse was too much for them or that they were scared.

This is my very first pony, her name was Jill. I had Jill before I even had riding lessons. She was given to us by a family friend.
This is my very first pony, her name was Jill. I had Jill before I even had riding lessons. She was given to us by a family friend. | Source

Flash For Cash- My Family Almost Made This Very Mistake

My family almost made that mistake with me when I was about 9 or 10. I had been riding at a local lesson barn for about 3 or 4 years. Had gotten past my initial fears and was confident on the well-trained lesson horses that I rode weekly.

There was a boarded horse at the lesson barn that came up for sale. His name was Flash for Cash, Flash for short. He was a gorgeously marked leopard appaloosa gelding. I remember him as being pretty tall, but that could just be because I was shorter at the time.

Flash had a sweet and gentle personality on the ground. My mom even really liked him, she spent time with him when she worked at the farm and thought he was a really cool horse, not to mention gorgeous. So when it came up that Flash was for sale, I was immediately interested. My parents had been considering buying a horse and it seemed like this might be the perfect opportunity.

I took a lesson on Flash that week. He did not do anything wrong, we walked and trotted. I remember he felt big and bouncy and like there was a delayed reaction when I asked him to do something. I was thrilled to be up on that horse but realized quickly that we weren't really communicating well, he was just taking me around. He didn't respond to how the lesson horses normally did, and I reacted to that by becoming passive and just going along for the ride.

I finished the lesson, nothing bad really happened. I have to admit now that I was disappointed about how it felt to ride Flash. At the time I just thought he was the perfect horse for me and was disappointed when the trainer discouraged my mom from buying him for me. I was so disappointed. I just couldn't understand what the trainer meant when she was saying that neither Flash or I would continue to learn if we became partners. Neither of us knew enough at the time to balance the other out.

There were a lot of tears involved when I realized Flash wasn't going to be my horse. I continued to visit him each time I was at the barn, and I fed him his favorite treat, peppermints. Shortly after I tried him, Flash was sold to a great home. A woman who planned on using him for trail riding. We heard later that he had been all over the country on rides in the national parks. Flash found his person, at the time it just wasn't meant to be me.

This is Frostline, the lesson horse I rode for years, first hated and then learned to love.
This is Frostline, the lesson horse I rode for years, first hated and then learned to love. | Source

Why Can't A Young Horse And Young Rider Learn Together?

So, I still haven't answered the direct question of why beginner rider and the green horse can't learn and grow together. I guess it isn't impossible, but it certainly isn't setting anyone up for success.

So why won't it work? A green horse is probably lacking in a lot of areas. They have not had a lot of life experience, they are young and haven't seen much of the world yet. This causes many of them to lack confidence. When a young horse lacks confidence he needs his rider to have enough confidence for the both of them.

What Does A Green Horse Need That A Inexperienced Rider Lacks?

A green horse needs consistency. He needs a rider to give him consistent cues all the time. A rider that has the feel and the timing to correct him and reward him when he is doing what he is supposed to do. Feel and timing is a skill that a rider can only develop over time on a horse that is already trained. When you learn how to give the cues properly on a well-schooled horse, you will learn to time your cues and reward properly until it becomes second nature. Correct, reward, correct, reward. Training a horse is like a conversation back and forth where they are learning to understand what we want. If we are unable to give clear signals, the horse will get frustrated.

Frustrated horses act out. Whether it be learning bad habits like, grabbing grass or ducking out the gate. To the scarier stuff like bucking, bolting and rearing. None of which are behaviors that an inexperienced rider should be dealing with.

Situations like this where a young rider and green horse get to a bad place is a recipe for an accident to happen. It put's the rider at risk. As well as making it harder on the horse, when someone more assertive has to retrain these behaviors out of him.

A young horse needs a strong leader to teach them, and so does a young rider. The young riders strong leader though needs to be an instructor, not a horse that doesn't know what it is doing,

It Takes Time For The Inexperienced Rider to Learn To Be The Leader a Young Horse Needs

Young riders need leadership, that's why they take lessons right? In a lesson program on a well-trained horse, the instructor is encouraging the rider, talking them through everything. So the student is getting fed the leadership they need through the instructor.

When a young rider gets their own horse, a young or inexperienced one, hopefully, they would still have lessons, but what about when you are on your own? When young horses misbehave it is often because they are confused about what you are asking them.

Then it spirals downward, the rider can't figure out how to get the horse to do what they want. Then their body becomes tense, which is going to make the young confused horse tense, which could lead to not so fun behavior. Which in turn scares the rider, and then they can no longer give the horse the leadership and confidence they need to learn what you want and what is expected of them.

Get Help Finding The Right Horse

If you decide you are ready to purchase a horse for yourself or your child. Enlist the help of your instructor and heed their advice. Take your time and look until you find the right horse, there is no rush! There are tons of horses out there looking for good homes.

Buy a well-trained one that has been there and done that, learn as much as you can from it. Have fun, build confidence and trust in your horse. Remember, horsemanship is a journey, the time for the young and green horses comes a lot later on the trip! Be patient you will get there!

Much later in life I did finally earn the right for my trainer to say I was ready for a green horse.It was a lot harder than I ever imagined,but well worth it.
Much later in life I did finally earn the right for my trainer to say I was ready for a green horse.It was a lot harder than I ever imagined,but well worth it. | Source

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