5 Secret Goals for Teaching Blue Level Horsemanship

There’s a light at the end of the beginner tunnel, and Blue Level horsemanship students are having epiphanies left and right... they know the dance steps - it’s time to tune into their equine partners.

Noah attended Rising Rider Camp when he was six years old, and it left him with an enduring love of horses. In the two years since that camp, he’s unlocked the mystery of posting diagonals, started jumping, and convinced a laid-back old school pony to canter.

If you asked him which activity he enjoyed the most, he’d say he liked them all — except dressage.

All that changes during his first solo ride in the cross-country field. As he lands off the little log jump and feels the old pony thundering uphill, his hobby becomes an addiction.

He spends the next few years riding out every chance he can get, on any horse offered to him, and winning blue ribbons at schooling horse trials.

His newfound passion leads him to year-end Championships, a pony of his own, and — don’t tell anyone — a secret appreciation for dressage!

It’s a tough call, but if we could only teach one Level for the rest of our lives, it might be Blue

And we’re guessing our school horses might agree.

There’s a light at the end of the beginner tunnel, and students in the mounted Blue Horsemanship Level  are having epiphanies left and right. They’re learning some finesse, starting to help their horses out, and finally achieving some dreams – like riding outside the arena and/or jumping real fences.

In the midst of all this excitement, there are a few unwritten things we like to make sure our Blue Level students can do:

#1 - Start taking charge of their own destiny

By the time students reach Blue Level, they’re usually figuring out just how much horses matter to them – and if they’ve got the passion, they’re actively looking for additional opportunities to ride.

Once our students earn both of their Green Level ribbons and start working on Blue Level, we allow them to participate in our quarter-lease program and ride a well-matched school horse an additional day a week.

We’ll also extend riding privileges to trustworthy working students at this Level, allowing them to take beginner ponies out for a rejuvenating trail ride or put in miles on a rehab project.

Blue Level horsemanship student and horse on a rest break

Particularly fortunate students might even start looking for a horse of their own.

One way or another, if they’re riding outside of lessons, we love to see some initiative and the desire to practice. Lessons at this Level start to include more in-depth discussion and evaluation, so Blue Level students should constantly check in with their own alignment, and start thinking about ways they can work to improve on their own.

#2 - Make the transition from passenger to pilot

Part of that journey involves realizing just how much their balance affects the horse’s balance – and how good it feels when the horse is moving well.

Our Blue Level students are not exactly riding with steady contact and impulsion quite yet, but they can learn to recognize things like rhythm, balance and bend, and learn how use their own bodies to help the horse achieve them.

In previous Levels, the focus was primarily on staying on and getting the horse to go where it was supposed to. Now your lessons can get a little more sophisticated.

We know our Blue Level students are ready to move on when they can ride at the walk, trot and canter almost unconsciously, giving their brains a chance to assess how the horse is going.

They know the dance steps: it’s time to tune into their partners.

#3 - Pay attention to detail

The first step to becoming a good dance partner? Awareness!

Blue Level students need to learn the difference between a horse that is moving freely forward and one that is “stuck” or behind the leg. They need to know how it feels when a horse is straight and bending correctly and when he is crooked, falling in or drifting out. They need to keep track of all of their aids independently, and care enough about diagonals and leads to get them right every time, not just when they happen to remember.

Caring is the key here. We can teach our students all kinds of strategies for checking their own balance and their horse’s balance, but in order for the details to make a difference, they have to want to get it right.

#4 - Become problem-solvers

Of course, things aren’t going to go right for them all the time.

In fact, Blue Level is often where students start to experience some real bumps in the road. They’re jumping or running barrels, they’re leaving the safe confines of the arena, they’re making big bold steps outside their comfort zones – and inevitably, they’re going to make some mistakes along the way.

Blue Level rider's horse eating hay bale jump on xcountry

Horses are going to get strong, or stop at fences, or perform the worst trot EVER right after a canter without stirrups.

While our job as instructors is to generally minimize risk, there does come a point where your students have to leave the shallow end of the pool. They need to experience a little bit of trouble to truly learn how to get out of it safely.

Along with all of the emergency stops and safety drills, Blue Level students are going to have a lot of conversations where you ask them to slow down and think like a horse.

 They’re going to have to learn calm, methodical methods for correcting a refusal or run out, and how to cope when their horse spooks or gets carried away in the field. They’re probably going to need a few time-outs for deep breaths (or tears, especially if the students in question are pre-teen girls!).

It’s all part of the learning process. Make sure your students know that, and remind them to forgive their mistakes as well as learn from them.

#5 - Begin to believe in themselves

If we want our students to take just ONE thing away from Blue Level, it’s confidence. They have put in the hours – they are ready to ride at this Level.

Blue Level is full of firsts for many riders: first canter (or lope) without stirrups, first walk/trot/canter dressage test, first gymnastic grids, first cross-country ride.

Through every single one of these experiences, if we’ve prepared them well, we’re building up confidence layer by layer.

We want them to feel the results of their hard work in a position that keeps them secure as their horse soars over an low oxer, or as their horse runs up a hill. We want them to realize their instincts are pretty good when their horse gets a little carried away and they quickly regain control.

Blue Level horsemanship students riding in an open field

We want them to think, “Hey, maybe I can ride.”

Because once they figure that out, there’s no stopping them!

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We’ve been blessed with many talented photographers over the years: students who voluntarily stood in sweltering/ freezing arenas, capturing lifelong memories of lessons, camps and shows. We’re grateful to all of them!

One former student, Delaney Witbrod, is now a professional photographer with a gift for animal portraits – see more of her fine work here. We’re also grateful for photos of Western riding donated by LLPro instructors – particularly Bit of Pleasure Horse School and Joyful Hearts Photography!

You’ll find illustrations throughout our online courses and printed materials graciously donated by our friend Rhonda Hagy. Evan Surrusco contributes additional illustrations and handles most of our photo processing. Contact us for information about their work.

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