The Purpose of The Lesson Horse

Photo by Adam Hill.

BY Maddy Brown

One of my biggest frustrations in this industry is the lack of understanding and consideration for the role that lesson horses play. So often, I see riders complaining about lesson horses for a huge variety of reasons: for their perceived lack of quality or value, for having to ride one they don’t like, for not getting to ride the one they do like, for their trainer not having enough lesson horses, or for the lesson horses not being available at their convenience when their personal horse is out of commission. I’ve dealt with all of the above and I know I’ll continue to do so, but I think it’s important that people understand the reality of lesson horses, and that’s that they aren’t here for your kid to ride forever and climb the levels with your one or two lesson a week commitment. They’re here to get you started, safely and productively, while you decide just how far you want to take this.

Lesson horses are incredibly special creatures. They have to be easily caught by beginners who don’t know how to properly approach a prey animal. They have to stand like statues on the crossties while tiny kids take the better part of an hour to get them clean. They have to hold their head still while beginners jam the bit into their teeth for the fiftieth time in a row to put the bridle on. They have to stand still at the mounting block while someone stands for too long with all their weight in the left stirrup and then slams down on their back with no consideration for their comfort. They tolerantly teach riders who are unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unclear, who catch their mouths and bounce on their backs and kick at their sides, and every single time, they are expected to just come again without so much as a swish of their tail or pinning of their ears. And any time one of these horses has a moment where they act like a regular horse or force the rider to really ride, they’re labeled annoying or rude or bad or lazy or whatever.

Lesson horses are not intended to take you up the levels and jump big jumps and win all the classes. If these horses were this beginner-friendly and this tolerant AND the hack winner with an auto lead change, you couldn’t afford them! That’s not to say these horses can’t be winners if you ride them well and pull your weight, but their ability to win in the show ring is not where their real value lies. Lesson horses exist to bring new riders into the sport. To teach them the ropes and get them started, lay a foundation, and prepare them to make a bigger commitment to the sport by leasing or purchasing the next step horse. Lesson horses are not responsible for chasing your Olympic dreams for you. They’re responsible for getting them started in the first place. For riders to act like a lesson horse isn’t valuable because he isn’t the winner in any company is ignorant and unfair.

Every horse you ride has something to teach you. Whether it’s the old school pony who likes to root when you’re not paying attention, or the younger lesson horse who will only pick up the right lead if you ask *just right*, or the ultra reliable skip-change king, they all will add to your toolkit that you can one day apply to the fancier model you get to take you to the next level. Don’t forget about all the lessons you learn along the way and remember that without lesson horses, you wouldn’t be riding at all!