BY JENN ZALA
Teaching beginners is simple, and can be done without going nuts. All you have to do is guide them to create the muscle memory necessary to keep their seat and hands independent. By using a formulaic process, it’s easy to move many beginners along.
Newbies are usually so excited to be on a horse that they will embrace anything you can offer them in terms of instruction. Be sure to take advantage of these key moments in the beginning and tutor them when your audience is especially captive. Good habits are not as hard to establish as bad habits are to unlearn.
It’s important not to turn them loose without the experience of posting with an independent hand. Once they start moving and steering, most riders won’t appreciate the tedious task of perfecting posting.
My first step is to get the rider comfortable without the reins. Teaching a respect for the horse’s mouth early on is essential. Next, I get the new rider standing up in the stirrups at the halt without using their hands. Explaining that they can absorb the shock in their ankles, knees and hips to hold their balance and keep it, we practice until they can stay up for ten seconds with their hips centered over the twist (not the pommel or withers).
Next, I lead the horse at the walk and keep the reins out of the rider’s hands. Their next goal is to stand for two seconds, and sit for two seconds consistently for a few laps. The only way this is possible is if their leg is just at the back of the girth, not kicking forward at the top of their post. I insist they use resistance to ease back into the tack to cultivate a respect for the 54 bones in their horse’s back. It usually takes between one and three laps for riders to master posting at the walk in 2 second increments without hands.
Finally, we put it together at the trot. Having a horse that trots on the lunge line like a coin-based machine is your best friend here. If you don’t have that, make sure you have a lead rope and be prepared to jog a few laps with your student.
Beware that some new riders have terrible instincts. Many will grab at the reins or fold forward and pinch at the knee, offering gravity the upper hand at sucking them headfirst into the footing. Do what you need to help them relax and identify the regularity of the gait, then get back to thinking about posting well.
I recap posting up for two, down for two, and find most riders are pleased that what recently seemed impossible now comes easily. I help the rider identify the two beats by explaining that the trot is faster than the 2-second-torture walk that they started with.
We also practice riding without hands to help their balance. At first, I make sure at least one of their hands is out to the side while they learn. We keep practicing until they can get both hands out and post the trot. Then I ask the rider to continue posting with their fingers laced together. I lead the horse with my left hand hold my right palm flat above the withers, and have the rider rest their interlocked hand on mine. The goal is to maintain a steady hand while posting up and down.
I have them exaggerate the movement necessary in their elbows to keep their hands still while standing and sitting to post. A common fault at this time is that the riders concentrate so much on their hands that they neglect the posting technique and start coming down hard on the horses back again. Be vigilant that they don’t develop bad habits while perfecting these new skills.
My last step to the no-hands exercise is to unlock the fingers and pretend to hold the reins. As soon as they prove that they can hold their hands still and together at the trot, I give them the reins and let them trot on the line for the rest of the ride.
By following these steps, I know that I’ve done my best to teach someone to post without annoying the horse or driving myself crazy!
Jenn Zala rides and teaches for Summit Farm in North Salem, NY. She has taught more than 100 people to post and is working on a book about teaching beginners.
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