Taking a Rider Independent

The road to independence is something that most therapeutic riding instructors struggle with. How do you know when your rider is ready? Is it right for this particular rider? If the rider goes independent can I add back helpers if needed?

There is a lot to consider when thinking about whether or not to take a rider to independence. I will share how I determine if a rider is ready for independence below, but keep in mind that everyone has their unique way of doing things. At the PATH Intl. Conference last year, one of the speakers said “if I ask 50 people how to groom a horse, I’ll get 51 answers” and I have never heard it put more simply! With that in mind, here is how I determine independence:

  1. Rider can stop and steer independently. The rider can use his reins with no prompts or just a verbal prompt. He does not need a hand-over-hand or physical reminder.
  2. Rider can maintain an independent seat. The rider does not need a physical hold from sidewalkers. Ideally, the rider does not need sidewalkers at all, but sometimes it helps to have a sidewalker there for emotional support.
  3. Rider can follow directions. The rider understands and can execute my instructions. If I say “turn left,” she can do it quickly and at the point I ask.
  4. Rider is on the best horse possible. I may switch horses on a rider if the rider is ready to be independent, but the horse is not. Some horses do better with a leader or are not as responsive to a new rider with weak cues. In that case, I’ll take a couple weeks to transition the rider to a new horse before going independent.

A fifth consideration is a gut feeling. This is where I ask myself A) what’s the worst that could happen? and B) how will that affect the rider? If I have a rider lacking in confidence and I need to bring a leader back in for the horse, how will that rider handle it? If I have a rider who falls off, how easily can I get her to ride again? If I am confident in those answers, I am always willing to try it. My goal is to get all my riders to be independent and give them confidence and trust.

What else do you consider when taking a rider independent? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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