There is a saying among animal behaviorists - it takes "1000 Hour Eyes" just to understand an animal. Trainers often mistakenly presume that people coming for riding lessons naturally understand horse communication and psychology as the trainer does. They forget that students cannot immediately identify and respond appropriately to changes in their horse's behavior. The reality is that a student must devote 1000 hours of focused attention to watching a certain species of animal before the student is able to understand that animal's psychology and communication.
The vast majority of horseback riding trainers neglect to teach students about horse psychology and communication. This makes lessons frustrating because students don't know why they're doing what they're doing, or why the horse is responding the way he is. Students who don't know how to read a horse's feedback are in danger of frightening or angering their horse.
Worse yet, many trainers in competitive programs deliberately misinform students about the horse's emotions. They don't want the student to become afraid, because the horse is afraid, and stop taking lessons or going to shows.
If you're confused by what your horse is trying to tell you, or want to learn about horse behavior before starting riding lessons, join us! It's never too late to learn!
Here is a road map of how we teach students at Pony Pros about horses:
Step 1) Learn to understand your pony on the ground.
Step 2) Learn to ride on the longe so you have a balanced seat.
Step 3) Learn to ride independently in an arena walk, trot, jumping, cantering.
Step 4) After you can ride at a trot in the arena and are started on catering, then you can trail ride. Trail riding is not safe until you already have strong riding skills. (You will get to take your pony on in-hand trail walks early on, though.)
When students reach about 400 hours of "horse eyes", they are generally very confident and safe around horses. They can ride at all gaits on many different types of horses and change back and forth easily, even in one lesson, without stress.
On the path to reaching a professional level with horses, there are seven readily identifiable levels of horse experience:
Beginner: Fewer than 20 hours experience
Novice: 21-80 hours experience
Intermediate: 81-200 hours experience
Advanced: 201-400 hours experience
Experienced: 400 hours experience
Amateur: 1000-10,000 hours experience
Professional: More than 10,000 hours experience
We've found that students need at least 3 hours around horses per week to continue improving in their ridden work. That's why we recommend that students at Pony Pros take at least two 1-hour lessons/week, which comes to 3hrs/week with grooming time. With less horse time than that, and students do not make steady enough progress towards "1000 hour eyes" and never become confident enough around horses to truly enjoy them. With even a week off from lessons, students back-track, losing skill and confidence, which decreases their enjoyment. Riding regular promotes muscle-memory and stamina, as well. When the body is less tired, the mind can better focus on learning and retaining new skills.
A PonyPro is a student who is passionate enough about horses to crave 1000 hours of horse experience!