5 Secret Goals for Teaching Orange Level Horsemanship

Orange Level Horsemanship acts as a bridge between advanced beginner and intermediate riding.

ZOEY doesn’t feel like a beginner anymore. She can coax her quiet horse into a hand gallop, and handle a few shenanigans out in the field. She’s jumped a few obstacles that LOOKED big, and she’s balanced enough to hop through little grids without her stirrups and reins.

Sure, a long takeoff spot at a jump still catches her off guard, and okay, the trickier horses still humble her, but she knows her stuff! She’s itching to get out into the world: to gallop, to compete, to show everyone what she can do.

But the real magic happens when she starts to ride with some finesse on the flat. The more she focuses on the details and works on accuracy, balance and rhythm, the easier everything becomes. Smooth, effortless patterns and courses at the canter are no longer lucky accidents — and a few particularly synchronized moments make Zoey think that maybe there’s more to advanced riding than the fast and flashy stuff!

Orange Level Horsemanship builds on the concepts introduced in Blue Level and acts as a bridge between advanced beginner and intermediate riding

 It’s a pretty exciting time for most of our students. This is where we let them participate in fun outings such as hunter paces, and enter over fences classes or barrel races at local shows.

Their riding is starting to look and feel like “big kid stuff,” and although they might not be captivated by the arena work yet, they’re starting to dip their toes into some actual dressage, riding with increased contact and bend.

Throughout this journey, there are a few extra milestones we hope to help our students reach:

#1 - They act instead of react

Beginner riders are often reactive. They slow the horse down after it accelerates down the long side. They canter halfway around the arena on the wrong lead before they get organized enough to ride a simple change. If their horse ducks away from an obstacle, they sail ten strides past it before turning back to reapproach.

Intermediate riders, on the other hand, use their hours of saddle time to develop feel and timing. They have a sixth sense about what the horse is about to do, and ride proactively, with positive intent. They set the horse up to canter on the correct lead from the first stride, and when they feel the horse’s shoulders starting to drift on the approach to a fence, they immediately adjust their course and use their outside aids to prevent the run-out from happening.

We’re not expecting perfection in the saddle from our Orange Level students — we know they’ll still occasionally create messes to clean up. But we do expect them to ride actively more often than not, and to continually work on that most important and invisible aid: intention.

orange level horsemanship student jumping bareback with good seat

#2 - They find their sticky seat

Orange Level students are spending more time moving at speed, more time hopping over fences (even the Western riders tackle a few little jumps!), and more time riding across uneven ground.

They’re going to experience some adrenaline, and their horses will, too. In other words, stuffs going to happen, and we want to feel good about their ability to handle it.

By now, Orange Level students should have spent enough time riding without stirrups and in two-point that these activities are second nature to them. Their balance and security should be reflected in their ability to sit the trot effectively and maintain a steady lower leg at all times.

They should gain confidence from increased riding fitness, and ride almost automatically through situations such as their horse stumbling, refusing a jump, or taking off at an unexpected moment.

orange level horsemanship student cantering around turn

#3 - They get really comfy with the canter

Although Blue Level students spend a fair bit of time experimenting with new canter skills, this is the Level where we see students really start to OWN the three-beat gait.

They’re riding ring figures and full courses with no more trot than it takes to change their lead. They’re crossing uneven terrain in a galloping seat, and making adjustments to their pace, balance and bend.

Along the way, they’re starting to get a feel for timing half-halts, and influencing the horse’s length of stride. The canter should feel just as easy as the walk and trot, and full of all the same options!

#4 - They ride both sides of the horse

If your students haven’t already learned NOT to pull on the inside rein, they’re going to get a serious education from their horses in this Level.

In order to ride with the degree of balance necessary to execute flawless figure-eights and bending lines, students need to use more sophisticated aids, especially their seat and outside leg and rein.

Practicing riding with increased contact often encourages students to refine their communication: they can whisper at their horse instead of shout.

orange level horsemanship student riding with intention

 We still spend a lot of time at this Level riding patterns and turning exercises designed to encourage forward movement and control of the horse’s whole body, and to discourage steering by the nose. The introduction of basic lateral work also helps students move toward this goal.

#5 - They create good habits

Orange Level is all about attention to detail, much to the dismay of some of our more impatient students. We expect solid equitation before students move up, which means working toward consistently correct alignment in the saddle, riding with increased accuracy, and always keeping track of posting diagonals and canter leads.

We find that English Orange Level students often go through a phase of jumping ahead of the horse. If they’re used to the mechanics of jumping out of the trot, it’s easy to overdo it when taking fences in stride at the canter.

It doesn’t help that the average age of our Orange Level students means they are dealing with major growth spurts:  newly-long bodies are always awkward for a while!

It’s worth taking the time to polish away some rough edges before students start practicing true intermediate skills

We hope they appreciate that patient practice now will lead to good things in the future. And when that future arrives?

joyfull orange level horsemanship student riding horse uphill in field

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself misty-eyed as you watch your students take the arena, course, or field by storm. Beginners grow up in the blink of an eye, and when they arrive at this Level they will make you extra proud!

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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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