For beginner riders, this isn’t an uncommon uttering. Chelsea Alexander shares her strategies for dealing with the situation.
Top photo: Flickr/jans canon/Creative Commons License
“Please can I get off?”
These five simple words are the bane of riding instructors everywhere. They are the dreaded words that can potentially lose you business and also ruin riding permanently for a child if not handled correctly. How do you push them gently to keep going without taking them so far out of their comfort zone that you only make the problem worse? In my experience the causes of “Please can I get off” are usually one of three things; of course, each student is an individual case, but in general I have found these techniques to work as soon as the root of the problem is identified.
Perhaps the most obvious and frequent cause, when a child asks to dismount, it’s usually a result of fear, pure and simple. Perhaps they never wanted to get on in the first place, or maybe their horse is acting up and they no longer feel safe; either way, fear is tough to deal with. If the situation is not actually unsafe, just perceived as such, I have found that making small deals works wonders. “Walk a lap for me first and then we’ll talk about it,” usually works.
If the student is nervous or upset in the extreme, walking beside them and trying to talk through the problem is usually effective. If they feel better after walking a lap, taking it in small, slow steps from there is the best way to go about it. If the horse is at all worked up from the nervous riding of the student, walking laps will also obviously work to calm him down which should in turn help the student.
Frustration in my experience is the second leading cause of “Please can I get off.” Instead of working through problems—the horse and rider not ‘clicking,’ the horse or rider having an off day, or a concept (like posting) not sinking in—some students would rather just call it a day on a bad note and save themselves the hassle of actually learning. For a frustrated student, a little incentive can go a long way. Do they want to learn how to jump? Perhaps offer a little work with ground poles. Do they really like trotting but are getting frustrated with steering? Offering a bit of trotting on the lunge line at the end of the lesson as a reward for continuing to work could be helpful.
3. Lack of Self-Confidence
It can be surprising how much of a difference a little self-confidence can make, and how devastating a lack of it can be on a rider’s potential. For students with a lack of self-confidence, the key is not to shower them in compliments—though a little encouragement can go a long way—but to show them that they are capable. Are they uncertain of their ability to get the horse to canter? Offer them a little extra instruction and set them loose—and then offer them helpful criticism on how they did, emphasizing the positive and pointing out that all negatives can be fixed with practice. The rider with low self-confidence needs the instructor to acknowledge that the negative is there in order for the instructor to be believed.
Students may beg to get off the horse, but with a little proper handling, the next day they could be begging to get back on. It is all in how the problem is approached. These three common problems are obviously not all of the issues that might lead to this question being asked, and certainly this complaint is a much deeper issue with an experienced rider, but for beginners these are definitely underlying issues to look for.
Chelsea Alexander is a twenty-one year old final-year student of English and History at Queen Mary, University of London. She has worked as a riding instructor both at a summer camp and a year-round stable, and worked as barn manager at summer camp as well. She has an unreasonable attachment to paint horses, entirely the fault of the little bay tobiano paint named Toby who taught her how to ride.