Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced:  Check One

From the President
Jan Dawson

[reproduced from Winter 2002 Caution:Horses]

Many forms for lesson and trails rides ask this question of new customers:  are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced rider? 

Depending on the discipline, area, type of program, general experience, or necessity of learning, the same person might be characterized as any of these at any time.  The situation is not improved by asking how many lessons someone has had because the person that grew up on a ranch in Montana or South Texas probably never had any lessons.  He will say, I never had a lesson but I have been riding all my life." 

Unfortunately, the sentence, "I've been riding all my life" is the same statement that the weekend rider will make and this rider will not understand that his hour or two once a week for many years does not equal 10 to 12 hours a day doing cow work on a horse to make a living for the family. 

A "D3" level Pony Clubber is in the lowest level but by general standards no one would call someone who has passed her "D3" exam a beginner.  Some riding programs will move students into what they call the "advanced class" as soon as they have experienced their first canter or gone over their first crossed poles even though their balance on the horse may be extremely precarious.  It is the terminology of that barn.  When that student goes to camp or on a trail ride he or she will say "I am in the advanced class at my riding school."  To most people that statement would not signify a student who could barely trot and only do a little canter. 

Experienced instructors and trainers are accustomed to this problem and simply go with the flow.  Most tend to run all students through the basics anyway to make sure there are no glaring holes that need to be fixed.  It gives them a chance to evaluate, rebalance and formulate a plan for the student. 

Trail ride wranglers, inexperienced instructors teaching without supervision (not a good idea ever), and horse sellers may not be so aware that the student knows only what his or her lesson program has taught him, or less if he is guessing.  He has learned a scale for beginner, intermediate, and advanced and does not realize that it is not universal.  The youngster who has been taking riding lessons and been learning to jump in a nice ring may be unaware when she goes to try out her first horse to take home that riding in the pastures and meadows is quite different.  It may be different to the horse too, often with disastrous results. 

Questions that an experienced instructor or trainer will ask automatically may not occur to the inexperienced.  Where have you been taking your lessons, in a ring only or do they include cross-country?  If you are learning Western Pleasure, have you ridden only this type of horse or have you ridden out of the arena?  Where do you plan to ride this horse?  Is this comparable to where you have taken your lessons?  You have ridden all you life but what training have you  had?  What type of accidents have you had and what do you believe to have been the causes? 

If the questions are for a public trail ride where the guest is likely to go one time and not be around for a whole week as with a guest ranch, the questions become critical and the ride needs to be managed as if all riders are BEGINNERS unless different information can be documented.  Wranglers would want to know the following:  Have you ridden before?  How many times?  Have you had lessons?  How many?  Have you owned your own horse?  How long did you have your own horse? 

Because of the terminology and self-evaluation problems, it is impossible to safely take a ride out without a pre-ride skills test.  Just because a wrangler demonstrates skills to a bunch of people does not mean that they can do them.  Having the skills test is insurance for the wrangler and ranch that not only were the customers shown the skills but they had to demonstrate an ability to perform them. 

The skills test sort of takes the place of the instructors going through the basics with everyone just to make sure that there is nothing missing.  The skills test will also let the wrangler see if any horse/rider combination does not work or if some one is going to be so nervous as to be a danger to himself or a hazard to others. 

Beginner, intermediate, and advanced should not mean much to the people with the responsibility for safety.  They are only labels and will never give anyone reliable information about anything other than a rider's perception of his or her own skills or a parent's perception of the skills of their child - and that is another can of worms altogether.

Reprinted with permission of the copyright holder and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.   P.O. Box 39, Fentress, TX 78622.


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