Anna loves horses and wants to be a good rider. But she’s afraid of losing control. A horse spooked and took off with her once, so every time old Sage starts to move faster, Anna’s body gets tight and she forgets how to breathe.
Now that she’s learned to trot, she knows the canter can’t be far off. Every week when she arrives at the barn, she swallows her anxiety and thinks, hopefully, this won’t be the day.
Ever since Madison’s first lesson, she’s wanted to jump. Her best friend takes lessons at a different barn and is already showing over crossrails.
Madison sometimes loses her stirrups when she trots, and definitely has to hold mane to stay in two-point. Occasionally she gets left behind when her horse takes a bigger-than-usual step and her hands fly up in the air.
But every week when she arrives at the barn, she looks at the jumps set up in the arena and thinks maybe, this will be the day.
Yellow Horsemanship can be the toughest Level for a lot of students
They’ve mastered the basics – but controlling both their horse and their own body is a work in progress. They’re being asked to build strength and balance – and learning that riding can be physically demanding.
Meanwhile, they see other riders jumping, cantering, showing or trail riding – and they want to belong.
That’s why we think Yellow Level is the most important of them all
We want to give our beginners a strong foundation that keeps them safe in the excitement to come.
Along the way, we hope they’ll learn to appreciate the little stuff: better balance, improved communication with their horse, and the ability to ride joyfully without going fast.
So here are some important goals to share with your Yellow Level students:
goal #1 - Get ready to canter
Once students learn how to trot, cantering is the logical progression, right? In some circumstances, yes. But cantering, like jumping, can be a high-risk activity… especially for a rider that is unprepared.
We’ve found that students who really take their time at this stage learn to canter easily and successfully. We’ve also seen that riders who canter without a solid foundation at the trot are the first to fall when something goes wrong… particularly if their horse doesn’t have an “easy” canter, or they are not confident in their control. We tell our Yellow Horsemanship students that their patience and hard work will be rewarded when they get to Green Level. They’ll be cantering all over the place and jumping with ease!
We actually have a lot of thoughts about determining a student’s readiness to canter, starting with this members-only blog post: Ready or Not: How to Prepare Your Students for Their First Canter
goal #2 - Learn that there is more to life than cantering and jumping
Good riders know that you can have a lot of fun without going fast – and that the slow gaits are often the hardest to master. We hope that even our youngest Yellow Level students will learn to appreciate this sentiment.
As they practice ring figures and two-point over ground poles, we like to explain how top show jumpers use flatwork and poles to train their horses. The future is not all 4’ jumps and gallops into the sunset!
In the meantime, they can…
goal #3 - Dabble in disciplines
There are so many things a walk-trot rider can do! Introductory Level dressage tests and equitation patterns. Mounted games and walk/trot barrel races. “Show jumping” competitions with the fences set as ground poles. Beginner divisions at small schooling shows. Every opportunity you create exposes them to a new corner of the horse world and gives them the foundation they need to actively participate down the road.
Besides, just like horses, our human students learn best when they can put their new skills toward a purpose. They can have fun, stay busy, and might not even notice that these activities are helping them…
goal #4 - Work toward an independent seat
The hidden purpose in most of our Yellow Horsemanship lessons is to give students the saddle time they need to develop their seat. This is a process that can’t be rushed. Even naturally talented riders need plenty of practice to achieve the balance and timing our horses deserve.
For beginners, this process is critical for their safety.
We like to emphasize a strong base of support with stirrups – achieved through a correct leg position and lots of two-point! – and a secure seat without stirrups at the walk and trot. We’ve found that this combination gives our riders confidence in their own ability, which is often just as important as physical skill!
goal #5 - Earn their independence from YOU
During their initial lessons, your students likely always had a helping hand available, whether they were putting on a bridle or trying to get their horse to leave the group in the arena. Yellow Level is where we instructors take a literal step back and start letting our students work through challenges on their own. (Always in a safe environment and under supervision, of course!)
This means they get to tack up and untack on their own, without you hovering over their shoulder. This means they can adjust their own stirrups and tighten their girth, and learn to do both safely while mounted. This means plenty of safety drills so the right response is in their muscle memory when something goes wrong.
Most importantly, it means our Yellow Level students have to learn to be problem solvers. They have to think about things from their horse’s perspective and determine the most effective way of handling a situation. They’ll be working on this for years – better to start practicing early, before the stakes get higher and they really are on their own.
Your trust will be their reward!