What would be a ‘normal’ expectation of my young rider’s progression?

This is a question a lot of parents are asking.

Let me start to answer this question with saying that to me the two most important things are Time and Smiles.

Time

Progress comes with time. Some things are achieved quicker, and some things take longer.

Think of horse riding as developing a partnership. We don’t enter a human relationship with expectations where we should be in 3 months’ time and what we need to achieve in 12 months to make the relationship successful.

No, we start with spending time together, getting to know each other better and then we gradually discover where we complement each other and what areas need a little bit of give and take.

When a rider has a new horse, or they started riding a different horse, the first thing is to get to know each other. The rider needs time to get to know the horse and the horse needs time to get to know the rider. In the beginning the rider might be tense or even a little mistrusting and the horse will feel that.

Like in human relationships, if one party has been burned before, they might not fully trust the other one until they get to know each other.

Trust does not have a time frame, trust develops and takes as much time as it takes.

When a rider has spent time with a horse, they get to know how the horse responds in different situations. Some horses may shy when they see something they don’t know, others might simply stop and look at new things and others again just walk by as if nothing new happened.

Whenever the rider experiences the horse’s reaction the trust increases. Trust means the rider can predict the likely outcome.

If the horse shies and each shy is a small one, the rider develops confidence that the horse is not going to do more than that and if they can easily ride through this shy they feel safe.

If, however, on the other hand the horses reaction is one that does worry the rider then that needs to be addressed, otherwise the rider might lose their confidence.

Time allows us to get to know each other better and outcomes become predictable rather than a ‘wait, see and hope’ situation.

Smiles

A lot of riders have the ‘deer in the headlight’ stare when they sit on their horse. That look can mean many things like

  • Worrying what the horse might do
  • Over focusing and over thinking
  • Wanting to get everything right

When we worry, over analyse or over try we are caught up in our head.

When a rider is in their head, they will always be tense in their body.

A big part of tension is shallow breathing. A tight jaw for example, restricts the breathing. Taking big breaths in and holding the breath creates tension as well.

So, a great sign of progress is when the rider actually smiles, when they laugh and when they chat during the ride. Then we can see that the rider is no longer trapped in their head but instead is relaxed and more in tune with their body.

The horse will feel that too and it allows them to relax.

So, judge your riders progress by the time they have spent with the horse and the smiles they give you. Everything else will follow.