Why Novice Riders Get Hurt, and What We Can Do About It
Overfacing occurs when you put a student into a situation which her skills are not advanced enough to handle, such as progressing to a faster gait, or a more exacting control challenge. Even if safety isn’t an issue (and too often, it is,) failure and the related frustration will hinder her progress and damage her confidence in both herself and you.
So how do we decide whether or not a rider has developed a particular skill to the point where it is dependable and ready to be used in any situation? Some teachers think that once they have explained something to the student, she should not need any more lessons about it!
But learning most things isn’t that simple, especially in riding, where it’s the body, as much as the mind, which has to do the learning. First the student ‘learns about’ something, that is, the teacher explains it, perhaps demonstrates, and takes the student through the steps once or twice. But unless it is extremely simple (and most things are more complicated than we realize when we start to break them down) the student will make mistakes when she tries to do it by herself.
After a while, with practice and more instruction to improve her understanding, she will be able to accomplish the task without assistance, so she has ‘learned’ it. But the rider still has one more step, and it’s the most important. Only when she can perform the task without having to think about it can she be considered to ‘know’ it. And only at that point is she really ready to build on that skill.
Therefore when we teach each skill, we must repeat the lesson until the student has learned it correctly, and then make sure she practices it until she knows it.( A simple indicator of knowing a skill is, when the student can retain a relaxed and balanced seat all the time when she applies that skill, then she has probably mastered it.)
Second, we must be careful not to introduce too many concepts at one time. When I took up golf, I was given one club—a five iron. I was shown how to hold it, and how to stand, and how to swing it. And that is all we worked on until I could do that correctly. I was given a putter and allowed to go out on the golf course with my two clubs and play a few holes, but every lesson was spent working on my swing with that one iron until the swing was pretty well confirmed. That was the foundation that my instructor wanted to build on.
When a beginner starts riding, in the typical first lesson she is introduced to the horse on the ground and shown how to groom, and even tack up. She is often given the horse to lead out by herself. Then she is shown how to mount into a saddle and given the stirrups and reins. If she is lucky, she will be put on a longe line, otherwise she will be turned loose and expected to ‘control’ the horse. All in the first hour.
This whole approach is rather like giving a first grader her first arithmetic lesson by teaching her the numbers 1-10 and then showing her how to add, subtract, multiply and divide!
So, the beginning—or for that matter the restarting—rider should be given only one simple goal at a time. How much information you give her with reference to that goal depends on normal learning factors—age, experience, emotional and physical factors, etc.
Your goal for your student should be very simple. You want her to enjoy her lessons so she keeps coming back! Many instructors, as I described above, believe that this means taking the student along quickly so she feels she is ‘making progress.’ Unfortunately this usually results in the reverse: the student feels overfaced and inadequate, and sometimes even frightened. And too often, she stops riding, because she isn’t enjoying herself. What people really want in any learning situation is to feel challenged, interested, and, most important, successful in both the short and the long term.
In Part 3, we’ll talk more about achieving those goals.