Katie Phalen, of Waredaca Farms in Laytonsville, MD, is the author of Practical Horseman magazine’s Beginning Adult Rider series. She teaches an adult-learner program structured so individuals can advance at their own pace.
Katie Phalen: Welcome recreational riders! Enthusiasm and experience are key qualities when looking for an instructor for a beginning adult rider. Tonight we’ll talk about how to get started and choose an instructor who first your needs.
EquiSearch: How can a beginner combat fear?
Katie Phalen: First, keep breathing! When people are tense, they stop breathing and their muscles tense up. The other thing is to think about what specifically you need to be doing. Don’t think about your fear. Look where you’re going. If you open up your vision to the outside world, you realize there’s something going on besides what your horse is doing under you. You don’t want people driving around staring down at the steering wheel. That would make for a pretty dangerous highway.
EquiSearch: What’s the difference in teaching kids and adults?
Katie Phalen: Adults have bigger fears–they’re seen the world and know what can happen. Adults are often more verbal. You have to make sure you get to the point of the class. The best way for adults to learn, often, is just by watching.
EquiSearch: Some background on Katie?
Katie Phalen: I’m writing a series for PH now. The magazine had been thinking about this topic for a while–and thought of me after I wrote about Pony Kids–lessons for 4-6 year-olds. I want to give adults and kids good basics.
Laura: Do you thing beginner adult riders are afraid to jump–more so than beginner kid riders?
Katie Phalen: Kids usually do flatwork only to get to jumping. As a rule, adults only want to do the flatwork, then move on when they’ve mastered more than they thought they could.
Shenoa: Katie, I am 42 and just beginning. I still don’t feel like I have a solid seat–after about year.
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, the shortest route to a secure seat is a longe lesson. A longe lesson has the instructor in control of the horse–by a lead–and the rider circling. The rider doesn’t have to worry about fear and can focus on their seat. Also, pay attention to body alignment. In front of a mirror, get in riding position and practice feeling balanced in all the moves you would make on a horse. Any balance problems show up faster on the ground than with the barrel of the horse.
Shenoa: Thanks, I eventually do want to do competitive trail. That sounds good.
Katie Phalen: Laura, first make sure everything’s working well at the walk and trot. Once that’s under control, you can think about cantering. If you haven’t cantered for a while, start cantering again with a trainer.
Katie Phalen: Once that’s under control, you can think about cantering.
Laura: the walking & trotting is going great
Katie Phalen: Visiting the seat issue again–your seat should be solid at the walk before moving on to the trot–and solid at the trot before on to the canter.
EquiSearch: Do many beginning riders want to progress fast?
Katie Phalen: Riders should feel comfortable saying to their instructors “I don’t feel comfortable going this fast at this gait.” Riders need to be able to feel comfortable with their instructors.
Laura: I want to take my horse to a show, but my trainer says that she isn’t ready. That’s because she doesn’t let me ride her in my lessons. I end up riding a lesson horse instead.
EquiSearch: What can riders do between lessons to keep progressing?
Katie Phalen: Do work on the ground–like in front of the mirror.
Shenoa: I like my instructor but I have a walker and he doesn’t trot. He goes into a flatwalk then canter.
Katie Phalen: Think into their riding seat, Have their elbows hanging like they should be with the rein.
Shenoa: And I can’t ride the canter
Katie Phalen: Position themselves so they can work either rein. Practice 2-point–stay balanced over your center of gravity.
Katie Phalen: Laura, there’s probably a good reason for riding a lesson horse during you class. If you feel the horse is safe for you, try a couple of lessons with other trainers. The trainer might not feel safe with that horse in a lesson setting. Ask the trainer why.
Bubba: My sis in law is teaching my on one of her horses. I am at the beginning end of learning. She wants me to find a balance point to become for comfortable. She has me standing up in the stirrups at a walk as upright as I can do it. Do you recommend that?
Katie Phalen: And make sure to listen to the answer. Sometimes, I’ve been in a position where students wanted to do more with their horses than I thought was safe.
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, go back to the longe lessons.
EquiSearch: Shenoa, are you looking to show your horse?
Katie Phalen: If you have a walker, I’m assuming you only show in Walker classes?
EquiSearch: Bubba, we’ll address your question in just a moment!
Shenoa: I am not showing yet… I am still working on my confidence and prefer to do trail endurance.
Katie Phalen: There are often times I have a student who can’t learn to sit and gait on their own horse. When they take a longe lesson on a different horse–who might have a quieter seat. They can know how it feels. Know what it feels like to sit a trot on a horse with a quiet movement. Still, try working on another horse, then go back and apply those feelings to work with your Walker. Try it on an easy horse, then build up. I have a student who has a Quarter Horse who lopes by diving into the gait. I put that student on a different horse, then she could go back and work with him.
EquiSearch: That’s good advice for all of us! It certainly is nice to know how it is SUPPOSED to feel!
Shenoa: Thanks… I will talk to my instructor about that.
Katie Phalen: Bubba, yes as long as you keep your weight down in your heels. Your weight has to be back in your heel without swinging you leg forward–which will throw you back into the saddke00it’s a great exercise as long as you remember where you heel is supposed to be.
EquiSearch: Sounds like you’re probably on the right track!
EquiSearch: What price range of classes should a beginner look for?
Katie Phalen: At our farm, a group one-hour lesson runs $25 per rider. Our farm has a very low overhead–we’ve been in business since 1932. I’d say it depends on the market, but anywhere from 20-40.
Shenoa: I am a boarder so I get a lesson for $20 per hr.
Katie Phalen: You might get different lesson rates for boarders versus outside students.
Shenoa: I am from Indiana so our prices are somewhat less.
Katie Phalen: With lesson costs–what state and area are you in can make quite a difference.
Shenoa: I learn a lot from watching other riders.
Katie Phalen: That’s great Shenoa. Adults can learn a lot by watching other riders. Watch the other person thinking “This is what that person does well” and “This is what I would change.” Watch live riders or on videos. If you go to a horse trial or a show, watch the jumping and which riders are able to stay in control of their horses–those are the riders who have good seats. I don’t give clinics, but I do go and watch quite often. I am a working mom–and work around my kids’ schedule. That’s why I can empathize with my students and their time and money crunches. Watching is a great way to learn in that setting.
EquiSearch: Watching is extremely helpful!
Bubba: I have a silly question. After I ride I get a red bruise-like marks a couple of inches below my knee in my inner leg. One person says that means I have my legs in the proper position. Another says I should have no marks. I am learning using a dressage saddle.
Katie Phalen: Bubba, it probably is a saddle problem. The students that I’ve had with that have had a saddle fit problem. If you’re riding in a dressage saddle, it may be that there isn’t enough knee roll for you. Check to make sure you’re riding with your weight clear down in your heels–if you still get marks, then you know it’s a saddle problem. I like to start riders in a basic saddle–not necessarily dressage. If you have a long leg, you can’t get enough weight down in your heels when you learn on a long-stirrup saddle. I recommend an all-purpose saddle.
EquiSearch: What are you wearing when you ride?
Bubba: I have been riding in jeans but tomorrow I am getting breeches. I am riding a 1300 pound warmblood. The dressage is the only one that fits him (Bubba) right now.
Katie Phalen: Breeches or chaps would make a great difference. It’s a good idea to ride in breeches once you’re an adult. When you try to get on in jeans–you understand why people wear breeches.
Shenoa: I am suppose to ask you your thoughts on bitless bridles.
EquiSearch: Breeds for beginning riders?
Katie Phalen: I have a great caveat for that– There are really good horses and pure fools in every breed. Now having said that, you are more likely to have a compatible horse, one that is not totally hot-blooded, in the flat breeds. Quarter Horses, Paints, any type of horse typically Western. Be careful with pintos–just to remember pinto can mean color–not all breeding (with Thoroughbred and Arab mixed in). Draft horses can also be nice.
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, depends on the horse. A bitless bridle is useful if you have a horse who has real mouth issues. I know a gray that had melanomas in his mouth–bitless can be very useful for that. If you have the hands for it and your horse has the mouth for it, I don’t see anything wrong with a bit. Hackamores are more common in Western. The horses in English who have Hackamores often are to hot if you put a bit in their mouths. I wouldn’t put a beginner in that position.
Bubba: When has a beginner achieved enough to get out of the ring and out in open spaces–like a trail ride?
Katie Phalen: Make sure to have a secure seat–and know you can control your horse.
Katie Phalen: You’re not learning to lean how to go in circles in a ring–you’re doing this to go out and have a good time with their horse.
EquiSearch: Bubba, have you been out of the ring yet?
Shenoa: It took me almost a year. I was dumped once badly. My confidence was gone. Now I can’t stay outta the woods.
Katie Phalen: Know that there are temptations out on trail–that you don’t have in the ring. Make sure the horse is trail-ready.
Bubba: Sort of. I rode him bare back around their property.
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, I try to set people up for a good experience when they go out on the trail. That means getting horse and rider ready.
Katie Phalen: Bubba, bareback is hard to learn for adults!
EquiSearch: How did you like riding bareback Bubba?
Katie Phalen: There’s not much to hold on to if you get in trouble. I teach emergency dismounts. Use those if the horse is headed somewhere you don’t want to go and you can’t control it. (Like headed for a busy highway)
Bubba: It was fun but I was sore in some unique places. I rode him at a trot. Bubba is a big couch
Katie Phalen: The number one rule for emergency dismounts is BOTH feet out of the stirrups. One hand on the pommel, swing that leg over and vault. Land with your knees bent. The thing to remember is BOTH feet out. If you’re younger, look for a vaulting group and learn all types of ways to get off.
Katie Phalen: Adults need to remember to stretch before and after–especially if you ride bareback.
Shenoa: Being older and somewhat pleasantly plump, swinging that leg is a problem.
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, that’s a reality for adult riders–as you look at the adults in classes, that a typical problem Take the opportunity to walk stairs and find other leg building exercise. It can make the difference in being injured–and being really injured.
Bubba: Can we talk about what to look for in a good helmet? I know about some of the certifications but no brand names.
Katie Phalen: Some of the topics we’ve covered today will be covered in the Practical Horseman during the next year.
Katie Phalen: Keep reading!
Shenoa: What procedure do you have for a runaway?
Katie Phalen: Shenoa, it depends! Emergency dismount–if it can be done safely.
Shenoa: What about in the saddle?
Katie Phalen: The way to stop a runaway horse is to plant on rein on the neck and run the opposite rein through that hand and pull it across the neck to make it turn. That’s an accepted method, but not always safe–if the horse is going to fast, it can turn on it’s shoulder and fall.
Katie Phalen: The other thing you can do is circle until you make smaller and smaller circles.
Katie Phalen: Thank You!
EquiSearch: Kate Phalen will be addressing several of the issues that we’ve discussed tonight as well as many others in the continuation of the twelve-part series appearing in Practical Horseman. Each month will build from the previous, offering practical approaches as Katie addresses them in the ring. Talk to you next week – same time and place for our next chat!
EquiSearch: Thank you Katie!
Shenoa: Thanks!! You were a big help
EquiSearch: Goodnight all!
Katie Phalen: Also, the farm Web site is www.waredaca.com
Katie Phalen: Thanks for visiting with me. Happy Riding!
EquiSearch: Thank you for you expertise, Katie
EquiSearch: Goodnight all!