5 Principles for the young Horseman


On the 12th of April 2014 I gave another demonstration at the Equiday; the biggest horsefriendly event in the Netherlands. The theme was: ‘Natural-Horsemanship: a good start for the young rider.’ I was assisted by one of our talented young riders Ellis (8yrs.) and her lesson pony Indy.

We shared some of the most important techniques and basic principles that every instructor or assistant should know to help their young riders be safe and have fun while riding horses. Of course these guidelines work just the same for starting adults. That’s why we decided to line them up for you.


Reading horses
The first thing starting riders should have is a basic understanding of their horses (body) language. You should know what it means when your horse flattens his ears, puts them forward, blows, licks or swishes his tail. I strongly believe the following that I always share with my students: ‘I can teach you hundreds of techniques and exercises for your training. And those are all nice and will be effective. What when all is said and done it’s all about learning to read your horse.’

Communication on the ground
And what is the easiest way to practice these new exercises and knowledge? On the ground of course! Doing groundwork you get the chance to do three very important things before you get into the saddle:

  1. You practice your reading skills from a position that you can easily see how your horse responds.
  2. You get the chance to practice basic techniques such as slowly increasing pressure and quickly releasing it to reward your horse.
  3. You build a relationship and a way of communicating with your horse so he starts to trust you better and have more respect for your wishes when you actually get on his back.

Balance & Seat
And then you get to your first real riding lessons. Wouldn’t it be great if every ridingschool offered their starting riders their first lessons without reins, on a longeline?

We think it’s immensely important that the first thing a young rider learns is what we call ‘playing passenger’. Or: learning to go with the movement of the horse instead of trying to boss around an animal that weighs 100 times more than it’s rider, and that you don’t really understand completely yet. That’s why our new students always get their first riding lessons on a longeline, or even without saddle.

This way they can concentrate entirely on their seat and learning how to not be in the horse’s way. By riding bareback they also learn not to brace with their legs and feet but to keep their balance with their core and cheeks (The pillows God gave us especially for riding horses!)

The brakes & Gas pedal
When you’ve gotten enough confidence and you don’t have to constantly grab the saddle to balance yourself it’s time to learn how to use ‘the brakes and gas pedal’. We give our riders 1 single rein to do this; it runs from the horses head to it’s saddle (with a knot that unties when stressed) which we call the ‘emergency brake’.

By using this single brake you don’t teach yourself any bad habits such as pulling on two reins or balancing by your reins…because you don’t have any! Instead you learn to be calm about stopping and quietly turning your horses head to one side (remember; if you stop one side of the horse….the other side will stop as well!) which will cause him to stop and relax.

This is also the moment to teach the younglings to, with polite phases, ask their horses to move forwards.

Now that you’ve learned all of the first steps, it’s time to learn how to steer your horse. This is something that we do a bit differently than most riding school as well. The kids starting out in our lessons still don’t get to use two reins to steer yet. Instead they learn to steer their ponies around with a stick. This mainly for two reaons:

  1. With a stick it’s a lot harder to forcer your pony to do something. This means you get forced to ask politely and correctly and there’s less chance of a fight. Also it’s a lot easier to use your seat and posture correctly when you ‘push’ your horses nose around with a stick instead of pulling it around with the reins.
  2. You still don’t get the chance to learn any bad habits like pulling two reins in an emergency, when you spook, loose your balance or simple don’t get the result you want to right now.

When all of these things are set into place (the young rider understands her ponies behavior fairly well, she knows how to warm her pony up from the ground, she’s got a nice stable seat, knows how to use the emergency brakes and gas pedal, and she uses her seat to turn….then, and only then she’s earned the privilege to ride with two reins: something our young riders are very proud of when their moment comes.

Just imagine: a world where it’s normal to ride without reins, and you literally have to earn your spurs (or reins!)…what would that be worth to you?