The Riding School: Let’s hear it for the re-riders

Re-riders: “women ages 35-60 who rode as teenagers and who now, having raised their kids or acquired independent incomes, are returning to their youthful passion.” The Riding Instructor gives some tips for a smooth transition.

Top photo: HN

From The Riding Instructor:

In the last month or so, I’ve acquired a group of new students.  Maybe it was a New Year’s Resolution they all made (or maybe the Groupon we offered prompted them to act), but they are all (in proper COTH terminology) re-riders:  women ages 35-60 who rode as teenagers and who now, having raised their kids or acquired independent incomes, are returning to their youthful passion.

I LOVE these students.  Over the years, I have found them to be extremely kind to the horses, very excited to learn, and generally super positive customers to have around the barn (nothing boosts the self-esteem of the teenagers like the praise and esteem of these women so many years their senior).  But I’ve also found them to have their own set of challenges, quite different from the child or adult beginner.  Here are a few things I’ve found really help in re-introducing them to the sport they love so much.

Explain everything you ask them to do and put it into the context of their prior knowledge.  Some re-riders were taught very differently than we teach today; one of my older riders was taught to keep her feet straight forward and to squeeze in with her knees, as was common practice in the days before the “American Style,” Gordon Wright and George Morris-guided equitation became the norm.  What I was asking her to do – in this case, half-seat with a deep heel and a soft, even contact down the calf – seemed against what she had been taught; I explained what had changed in riding theory, did a couple of demonstrations on the ground (knee as pivot vs. lower leg as anchor), and she understood why she was doing something differently.  It didn’t make it any easier, but at least she knew why she was suffering!  Or, in another case, a rider had been taught, in her youth, to squeeze the horse’s side to go forward.  Absolutely correct, but, without the built-up strength from recent saddle time, almost impossible to use with any effect on a beginner school horse.  So I explained that, at this point, a “pony club kick” was in order and that we would be able to use more subtle aids as she re-gained her strength.

Remember, the mind may be willing, but the body ain’t!  Many re-riders, who have good position and knowledge, just don’t have the fitness to do all they should be able to do.  It’s tempting, as an instructor, to push them to do more, because they look like they can.  With beginner adults, the weakness is obvious; not so much with a re-rider.  I make sure that all my re-riders know that they can take a break any time they need one and I pay special attention to their breathing.  I want their heart rates up, yes, but I don’t want anyone fainting off a horse either!

Go slow…Falling off has much greater consequences for a re-rider; adults just don’t bounce as well as kids and, because of a re-rider’s prior experience, they are more likely to fall off at speed than a beginner, who wouldn’t yet attempt a faster gait.  I try to moderate expectations, make sure that there is always an element of challenge, and set clear goals for moving up the training ladder (“We’ll canter again when you can trot a full circuit of the ring without your stirrups.”); I also sprinkle far more riding theory into the lessons of re-riders than of ordinary beginners, as they have more context for the information and it helps to keep them engaged.

Provide lots of opportunity for barn time.  Many re-riders are a little reluctant to ask to hang around the barn as they did when they were kids.  I make sure they know they are welcome, encourage them to learn the barn routines, and invite them along to shows and clinics, even if they aren’t ready to ride yet.  Just like a neighborhood bar, a neighborhood barn can go a long way to providing a real sense of community.

Go re-riding!

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