Do you prioritize the horse or the student?

In a lesson situation, do you prioritize the horse or the student when things “don’t go to plan”?

Susie (early teen) has been leasing saintly schoolie for 6 months and saintly schoolie is getting increasingly irritated with her lack of balance/dealthy-grip on their reins over jumps. Trainer has been trying multiple things (including putting Susie on different horse occasionally) but progress is slow.
Saintly schoolie is meanwhile fed up with the whole thing and proceeds to crow hop once after a crossrail. Susie falls off and unfortunately she breaks her arm.

Then Susie proceeds to tell everyone who will listen than she’s been “bucked off” by the bad pony (which means other parents approach trainer saying they don’t want their kid to ride the pony formerly known as a saintly schoolie as “he is dangerous” - but that’s another matter).

Now, for the sake of the horse, Susie probably should take a break from riding that particular horse when she gets back to lessoning until her skills have improved. [u]But[u], doesn’t that validate her as well? and how will she learn to ride through a problem if we take her off the Saintly Schoolie and move her to a different horse whenever issues pop up?

And how do you also make her (and the other lesson kids) realize that she is not riding Saintly Schoolie anymore not because he is “bad” but because she can’t ride him at this point?

I’m sorry, but I would never have let it get to that point with my saintly schoolie. A rider who is using the horses mouth for balance has no business jumping. Anything.
We used to make these ones do lunge line work without reins until they could remain balanced. Do they not teach like that any more at the horses expense?


I agree with ^^^. The horse comes first. Just because a student wants to jump, doesn’t mean they get to. They have to competently W/T/C a simple flat course before they can add “lumps” in it so that it’s now a jump course. If student is too impatient to safely do the above, I wouldn’t jumping at schoolie’s expense! If that means they go somewhere else where a trainer will let them either hurt the lesson horse or themselves, so be it.


To be fair, Susie is unbalanced but not really using her horse’s mouth for balance. The deathly-grip when cantering/jumping seems more due to fear. (and after 4 years of lessons with her peer, she and her parents expect her to canter and jump 18 inches as all the other girls do it).
But that’s exactly my point, when you run a lesson business, where do you draw the line? How much do you expect Saintly Schoolie to put up with?

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I think it is no business of anyone why a certain person rides horse X or does not ride horse X and I am confused why a lesson barn would feel the need to explain to others why Susie is or is not riding a certain horse.

If asked directly if Saintly Schoolie is dangerous I would start with the best answer which is that all horses are technically dangerous, being living creatures they have a mind of their own and through no fault of their own the rider and the horse have a difference of opinion.

I agree with the above poster, that it makes the most sense for Susie to take a step back from jumping, learn some balance and control and then try again.


What are the parents like? Somebody here needs to explain to these parents - who then need to explain to their daughter - that riding is a SPORT and like all sports, not everyone has the same capabilities or progresses at the same rate. And that is not a bad thing! Good lord already. To add to the mix, in this sport we combine our endeavors with another living breathing thinking being - the horse. And this horse is telling you Susie is NOT ready for what is being asked. And she may never be.
I say the parents need to be talked with.


Prioritize the horse, always. Lesson students are expendable. A good school horse is not - they are worth their weight in gold.

I am another that would not have let it get to that point that the school horse got soured. It sounds like Susie needs to have a different mount – and possibly some lunge lessons with a neck strap (stirrup leather) until she learns how to be better balanced.

It may be she needs a different horse, for whatever reason she may feel the schoolie is too fast, or too bouncy, or too whatever. Sometimes matching students to lesson horses is a bit like a Goldielocks exercise - there are students who won’t canter a circle on horse A but can do a whole course on horse B.

For what it is worth, I don’t think it’s particularly egregious that a new-to-jumping rider is unbalanced jumping. I’ve been present for a lot of up-down lessons and even taught a few myself – very few kids take to jumping naturally right off of the bat. There is usually a learning curve. We just have to do our best to make sure that curve is safe.

My goal with kids is this – they have to learn how to be proficient at an exercise before they learn how to fix a problem with the exercise. It’s a bit like math; you can’t expect a kid to understand division before they learn multiplication. I worry less about the kid learning how to work through a problem, and worry more about them being able to ride safely and fun – they can learn to fix the “problem horses” when they are in their late teens and they have more tools under their belt and a better seat.


Why she has a death grip on the reins is completely irrelevant. It’s unfair to the horse & bad business for you as sooner or later that horse is going to start associating all riders with getting hung in the mouth over fences and ramp up the intensity of his expression of displeasure and/or develop a dead mouth. You gently but firmly explain to Susie & her parental unit that everyone develops at different rates as a rider due to the countless anatomical variations of the human body. Then you point out that even the hotshots at the Spanish Riding School spend like 2 years taking intensive training on the lunge line (show them pics/videos) and that you’re going to add in a lesson per week on the lunge line for everyone.

Eta: Was the rein issue previously brought to their attention? Is the family horsey? I know it can be tricky to explain to non horse people the more subtle complexities of equine cause & effect. Sad to say, the footage from the 2020 Modern Pentathelon is an invaluable learning tool in this regard. Stark illustration for non horse people that the horse doesn’t just " do it all himself" & that certain bad riding habits can have significant, dangerous consequences.


Horse trumps rider, that’s horsemanship. Sure, It gets more complicated if rider owns or leases horse, but if one calls themselves a professional they need to be able to have difficult conversations with clients on behalf of the horse.


Agree with all that is said, but will throw out another factor. If the sainted pony reacts again and Susie gets hurt again, liability risk pops into my head. I’d end that lease now…
Moving Susie to another horse isn’t “validating” her. Its looking for the best fit - not every rider is good match for every horse. And its possible that she will have more of a fear factor when returning to riding which will not help her learning process or relationship with the pony.


This doesn’t seem like a situation that benefits either the rider or the horse.


This is primarily a fail on the lesson end of things. Susie presumably only jumps in lessons not alone. It is up to the coach to make sure the rider has the independent seat to jump without messing up the horse. If the rider does not, then you do things like longe lessons or riding a grid with a neck strap and no reins etc.

I have no idea what 4 years riding means. Is that 4 years once a week in group lesson or 4 years riding daily? If the former skills and strength can still be weak.

OP, what’s your role in this scene? You don’t sound like you are the parents, the rider or the coach. In that case honestly it’s MYOB. Susie does not need to learn anything from this and if she goes on to girls soccer and swim team after she heals up the horse world will not mourn her loss.

If I were advising Susie or her family I would suggest she find another barn where she can work on basics. My coach has a bit of a speciality in this, undoing bad hunt seat habits and nasty dressage hands building confidence in a small mostly private lesson program.

If you are just an observer, give the lesson program a Fail in your mind and don’t send any friends kids there. But if it’s at your barn just zip your lip and resist trying to make this a Learning Moment for anyone.

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If Susie is scared and gripping the reins because of cantering/jumping, Susie is not ready to do either in combination, and needs to go back to basics.

It does not matter if she has been at it for four years or forty years. If you are so scared you are affecting the horse, you need to take a step back.


Sounds like Susie is nowhere near ready to jump anything. No balance and a death grip on the reins??

The horse always comes first and if the trainer can’t see that the student is pushed beyond her current skill level, she might need to look at a different vocation.


I feel like there isn’t even a choice to be made here between the student and the horse; they are poorly matched, and so removing the student from the lease is beneficial to both student and horse.

If the student wants to continue riding after healing, she can be put on another school horse and at the same time can be given some lunge and flatwork/pole lessons until she regains her confidence on the new horse (which should reduce the nervous death grip, which might improve on a horse she feels safer with, anyway) and improves her balance.


Sounds like at a minimum this student is not ready to ride unsupervised so I would not let her lease any horse at this point. Sounds like she would just sour another saintly schoolie.


As an aside, when other parents express concerns about Saintly Schoolie, simply state that while not every horse is a match with every student’s individual riding style, you feel that their little Poopsie and Saintly Schoolie are likely to be a good match “because your child rides with a light touch/sits in the saddle in a way that SS likes/communicates well with the horse,” or some other compliment to their child’s riding. And leave it at that.


This would make an excellent tattoo.


I’d be inclined to want to teach Susie that the horse is rarely to blame. She and her parents must learn this lesson or they are not suited for this sport. And saintly schoolie should perhaps be schooled properly when they can see. That is also an education.

I believe this is how I learned.


Student needs to learn lesson #1, its about the horse.
Making her step back and learn better balance, confidence, etc teaches that lesson.
Further, Student needs to recognize that badmouthing schoolie will not be tolerated and is unacceptable, especially when its inaccurate.