Advice for the frustrated rider

Red Poppyist

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Feb 17, 2020
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I'm in my 20's but never got to have long-term riding lessons when I was younger. Over the last 8 months, I've been taking up lessons again because I would like to get to the point where I could have my own horse as a hobby and maybe enter a few small shows.

What makes things difficult is that I have a mild disability- cerebral palsy- that affects my walking and makes my legs/heels a bit stiff. But I don't use a wheelchair or anything, and I am able to go to the gym and get through life just fine.

When I got back into riding last year, my previous riding instructor did not seem to make a big deal about my mild disability. Yes, my heels weren't perfectly flat, etc,. but I was secure enough in the saddle. I was able to progress to things like learning to canter and doing trotting poles. I was not the best, but I was enjoying myself.

I've moved to a different state a few months ago, and started riding at a riding school here. However, my new instructor seems to really harp on things that I'm not able to do well. I can't keep my heels down, I twist my torso around too much. Particularly, her style of riding is to only control the horse using your legs, and I've realized my left leg is weaker compared to my right. I'm not able to steer him adequately, and he meanders around the arena in any direction he wants. Today was my 4th lesson on this horse, and all I've done is walk around and around while she tells me to steer him by pushing with my left leg and seat. Still I struggle with what she asks me to do. Safe to say, it wasn't a very good lesson and she told me that next time she'll have me walk on the lunge line.

I've sat on a number of horses in the past and never had a similar problem with steering, but I feel very disheartened by this. I see a lot of people with cerebral palsy much worse than mine ride at the ParaOlympics for example, but why is it so difficult for me?

Honestly, I feel like I'll never progress like this. Part of me wants to quit because it feels futile and I don't like leaving my lessons feeling frustrated at myself and my disability. Can anyone offer me some advice? Should I keep at it, or switch riding schools?
 

Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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Don't quit! For everyone there are instructors you fit right in with and those you don't, and sometimes you just have to move on, it's no one's fault, you just don't click.

But before you do that I'd have a frank discussion with the instructor, is she aware of your disability? Does she really understand what that means in terms of physical limitations? If yes to both of those why is she still pushing you to do certain things? You may find she understands perfectly but feels that given how well you manage in the rest of your life that with practice you will be able to improve on those areas, and that you being better at them will be better for the horses. Sometimes it's worth it's weight in gold to drill on the basics to build muscle memory (that applies to every single rider) so that when you go on to do more you have a strong base established :)
 

Skib

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Dec 21, 2003
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It doesnt sound as if this is the right teacher for you. Can you shop around and find a different place, to learn with someone experienced in teaching disabled riders? The heels down business always drives me mad too, as it is an old mantra and not necessarilly right.
However, if you do continue I can make a few suggestions.
First be open with the RI, discuss with her your disability and what you can and cant do.

My own left leg is weak - most peple have one leg stronger than the other anyway.

More important are your seat bones. Are you able to put your weight fairly evenly on the two seat bones? And is your seat sensitive to feel the alternate up down movement of the horse's hind legs through your seat?

Do not be put off by the idea of a lunge lesson. At the Spanish Riding School in Vienna students were taught for a year on the lung - the first part of my own lessons for about a year with our excellent long term RI were on the lunge with a teacher skilled in teaching people how to balance safely on a horse in spite of disabiities. Lessons on the lunge meant I had little use for the rein. I to was taught to steer by just looking where I wanted to go.

If the just looking isnt working for you, one RI described using my tummy button to steer with, pointing your tummy button at the place where one wanted to arrive well in advance of the actual turn.

My most recent old lesson horse often went crooked - for lots of riders. It happens, dont get frantic about it. He was also very sentitive to the aids meaning one didnt have to use strong cues. Which was good for me as by then I was almost 80.

I started riding in old age and one of my hips does not open properly. So my weight tends to be on the right. I instinctively counter this by holding my head to the left but a crooked rider needs to know how to correct any imbalance which is likely (in my case) to unsteady me on the left rein, i.e. riding anti clockwise or round a left bend. I was taught to correvt this by distancing my right shoulder from my left knee, imagining an elastic thread.

Once one has learned from a skilled teacher how to secure one's balance on doesnt need to think about it all the time. But learning to sit balanced on a horse is important for safety.
Your new teacher should know all this anyway.If you are not learning and there is still a lack of communication, you are the customer. Find another teacher.
But do go on riding. It is so good for one.
 
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carthorse

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My initial reaction is that you need a different teacher, but @Jessey has a good point about making sure your teacher understands there are limits to what you can do. She is asking you to ride in a way any beginner would find difficult because of the co-ordination and core strength needed, it may be that your problem is more that of novice rider than disability.

One thing I would say is that if you have to ride with a flat or toe down position it would be a good idea to buy some caged endurance stirrups so that if something does go wrong your foot won't get caught.
 

Red Poppyist

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Feb 17, 2020
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Don't quit! For everyone there are instructors you fit right in with and those you don't, and sometimes you just have to move on, it's no one's fault, you just don't click.

But before you do that I'd have a frank discussion with the instructor, is she aware of your disability? Does she really understand what that means in terms of physical limitations? If yes to both of those why is she still pushing you to do certain things? You may find she understands perfectly but feels that given how well you manage in the rest of your life that with practice you will be able to improve on those areas, and that you being better at them will be better for the horses. Sometimes it's worth it's weight in gold to drill on the basics to build muscle memory (that applies to every single rider) so that when you go on to do more you have a strong base established :)

Thanks for the advice Jessey :). Yes, she does know about it- I was really upfront about it during my first lesson, but I've never been asked to give that degree of leg aids before, so I didn't know it was something I would find difficult. I'm not sure how others are taught, but from my past experience it seems like quite advanced leg aids (leg pressure + shifting seat pressure) for someone just starting out. I'm happy to work on basics (what I did why my old teacher) but at the moment I can't even steer the horse!
 

diplomaticandtactful

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Apr 25, 2003
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It's so important to work with the right person. When I needed help with two of my horses who were very unhandled and difficult, I went around a few places and met instructors. one lady was very harsh, she was ruled out right away, even if she had been ok as a trainer I didn't like her and she would intimidate me. I found the right person by chance, and he helped me learn. I have fused vertebrae in my neck, my knees are rubbish, I have arthritis in my shoulder, and an unreliable back. I have to be careful how I work and ride. So I avoid school work completely, I hack out, my horse goes in a straight line and on a long rein. It works for me. Have a long chat with the instructor and see if you can both understand where you are coming from, if not find someone else.
 

carthorse

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Jan 6, 2006
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Thanks for the advice Jessey :). Yes, she does know about it- I was really upfront about it during my first lesson, but I've never been asked to give that degree of leg aids before, so I didn't know it was something I would find difficult. I'm not sure how others are taught, but from my past experience it seems like quite advanced leg aids (leg pressure + shifting seat pressure) for someone just starting out. I'm happy to work on basics (what I did why my old teacher) but at the moment I can't even steer the horse!

To be fair to the teacher that's not advanced leg aids, it's correct ones. I wonder if you're trying to overdo it though? If her horses are trained to this then it's a common mistake to overdo the leg and seat and end up unbalancing yourself and the horse, maybe try a much softer aid, more look where you want to be going and letting your body follow as that alone will alter your leg and seat pressure (try it sat astride a stool with your eyes shut, you'll feel everything shift).
 
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Red Poppyist

New Member
Feb 17, 2020
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It doesnt sound as if this is the right teacher for you. Can you shop around and find a different place, to learn with someone experienced in teaching disabled riders? The heels down business always drives me mad too, as it is an old mantra and not necessarilly right.
However, if you do continue I can make a few suggestions.
First be open with the RI, discuss with her your disability and what you can and cant do.

My own left leg is weak - most peple have one leg stronger than the other anyway.

More important are your seat bones. Are you able to put your weight fairly evenly on the two seat bones? And is your seat sensitive to feel the alternate up down movement of the horse's hind legs through your seat?

Do not be put off by the idea of a lunge lesson. At the Spanish Riding School in Vienna students were taught for a year on the lung - the first part of my own lessons for about a year with our excellent long term RI were on the lunge with a teacher skilled in teaching people how to balance safely on a horse in spite of disabiities. Lessons on the lunge meant I had little use for the rein. I to was taught to steer by just looking where I wanted to go.

If the just looking isnt working for you, one RI described using my tummy button to steer with, pointing your tummy button at the place where one wanted to arrive well in advance of the actual turn.

My most recent old lesson horse often went crooked - for lots of riders. It happens, dont get frantic about it. He was also very sentitive to the aids meaning one didnt have to use strong cues. Which was good for me as by then I was almost 80.

I started riding in old age and one of my hips does not open properly. So my weight tends to be on the right. I instinctively counter this by holding my head to the left but a crooked rider needs to know how to correct any imbalance which is likely (in my case) to unsteady me on the left rein, i.e. riding anti clockwise or round a left bend. I was taught to correvt this by distancing my right shoulder from my left knee, imagining an elastic thread.

Once one has learned from a skilled teacher how to secure one's balance on doesnt need to think about it all the time. But learning to sit balanced on a horse is important for safety.
Your new teacher should know all this anyway.If you are not learning and there is still a lack of communication, you are the customer. Find another teacher.
But do go on riding. It is so good for one.

Hi Skib, thank you for answering my question as well as your advice and encouragement! I can see that we all have things we can work on in our riding, and that's the good thing about it.

Yes, I was always taught to steer by looking where I wanted to go, and also shifting my upper body a bit too (like you described) with some leg pressure, however, this RI teaches me to keep my upper body still and use my seat + legs only.

Of course I'm still learning but previously I felt quite secure in the saddle. The previous horse I rode would act up a bit, but I managed to stay on apart from one fall. I've enjoyed lunge lessons in the past as well, because you can focus on position rather than controlling a naughty horse :)

I will talk to her again, and if we can't reach an understanding, I will try to find someone else.

I want to enjoy my time in the saddle and I do agree with you wholeheartedly- riding is very good for both the mind and soul!
 
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Mary Poppins

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Oct 10, 2004
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I echo the ‘Don’t Quit’ advice. I would find yourself another teacher who can see outside the ‘one approach fits all’ way of riding. There is not one set way to ride a horse, if you haven’t got the strength in your leg to do as she asks, you need to find an alternative way to communicate the the horse. My first thought is to ride with a long stick in your left hand to back up your leg aid.

I volunteer with the RDA and the coaches adapt their style to work with the rider and the horse in front of them. I do agree with the suggestion of getting caged stirrups to ride in. All our riders use these and they help stabilise the leg position and stop the foot falling through.
 
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Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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Thanks for the advice Jessey :). Yes, she does know about it- I was really upfront about it during my first lesson, but I've never been asked to give that degree of leg aids before, so I didn't know it was something I would find difficult. I'm not sure how others are taught, but from my past experience it seems like quite advanced leg aids (leg pressure + shifting seat pressure) for someone just starting out. I'm happy to work on basics (what I did why my old teacher) but at the moment I can't even steer the horse!
I'm not sure I'd consider those advanced aids, perhaps different to what you are used to but leaning the basics (walking, balance and steering) again in this way may feel like a step back into relearning what you felt you had already accomplished but it's a different way of doing it and isn't really advanced, more refined perhaps, unless it's causing you physical pain/issues I'd try not to compare the two and think of it as just another thing to learn :) are you riding English or western?
 
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carthorse

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Jan 6, 2006
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Hi Skib, thank you for answering my question as well as your advice and encouragement! I can see that we all have things we can work on in our riding, and that's the good thing about it.

Yes, I was always taught to steer by looking where I wanted to go, and also shifting my upper body a bit too (like you described) with some leg pressure, however, this RI teaches me to keep my upper body still and use my seat + legs only.

Of course I'm still learning but previously I felt quite secure in the saddle
. The previous horse I rode would act up a bit, but I managed to stay on apart from one fall. I've enjoyed lunge lessons in the past as well, because you can focus on position rather than controlling a naughty horse :)

I will talk to her again, and if we can't reach an understanding, I will try to find someone else.

I want to enjoy my time in the saddle and I do agree with you wholeheartedly- riding is very good for both the mind and soul!

If you were walking down the street you wouldn't turn your whole upper body to look where you were going, you wouldn't even turn your head much, riding isn't so very different. So just look rather than turn yourself, turning too much is possibly why he's going all over the place as that's what you're accidentally asking him to do - a trained horse can be extremely sensitive. Early seat aids come very much from the leg so I wouldn't focus too much on them at this stage as you'll probably make them too big and confusing.

Why do you now feel insecure in the saddle? Are you on a different type of horse, or one that reacts a lot quicker?

The other thing that might be helpful is if you chat to your teacher about your longer term aims of getting your own horse and entering some small shows. What would you want to do with this horse on a day to day basis, and if you went to some shows what classes would you be looking at? What sort of horse would you be thinking of? If she knows your aims it may help both of you as she can work towards them together and she can also hopefully select horses similar in type to the ones you'll be looking at.
 

PaulaC

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Apr 2, 2009
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Find another instructor or another riding school - as an instructor myself it makes me cross to hear what is happening. Move on but do not quit - you will regret that more - just find another place to ride.
 
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