University of Vermont AAHS

Teaching Safe Horsemanship

Dru Malavase
Bloomfield, New York

[reproduced from Fall 2000 Caution:Horses Volume 5, No. 3]


I've been teaching riding for over forty five years, and took riding lessons for about the same amount of time. Time and old injuries have kept me from riding for the last few years, but I still go to clinics as an auditor, and I still judge and teach.

When I first read Jan Dawson's Teaching Safe Horsemanship many of the examples of exercises were familiar to me; I have performed them for instructors trained in Germany, Switzerland, England, New Zealand, and France, as well as using them in my own teaching. Why are they taught in so many places ? Because they work to stabilize a rider's position so s/he interferes the least possible amount with his horse (sometimes called the best position of function to use the aids) and more important, because they lessen the possibility of the rider falling and being injured. I'm also the product of years of training to be an instructor for the United States Pony Clubs, where in due time I spent several years as one of a task group of instructors teaching new instructors how to teach to the USPC progressive standards of proficiency. As you can guess, I believe in a systematic approach to teaching, applying tests and what are now called "benchmarks" to determine when a rider is safe to move on to his or her next skill challenge. I believe in building on simple skills before attempting advanced ones, without boring the rider to death.

I believe wholeheartedly that it's the obligation of every instructor of riding to educate himself or herself in every way possible to keep his or her students safe from injury.

Jan's approach in what has come to be known as Secure Seatsm , and documented in her article with Elizabeth Greene on the subject was one of those "Aha" moments for me; here is a series of six simple exercises, arranged in a very specific order, which can help a rider to stay where s/he belongs on the horse's back in the correct, safe position which eventually permits moving on to any type of riding. The old cavalry manuals called it the "basic balanced position", and the USPC uses that same term on its standards and test sheets. But after reviewing dozens and dozens of books on learning to ride, I have never seen a system for attaining it condensed to a couple of pages, in a form which permits the rider to do her own checks without relying constantly on the instructor's prodding corrections. It would be a simple matter to list the six exercises on a small laminated card on a wristband and give it to the student as homework after a lesson; if more instructors did that, I'll bet we would see fewer falls from those students, as has been noted in the camps which used the Secure Seatsm .

American riders are known for their impatience with learning the safe basics of riding. "When can I jump?" or "When can I trail ride?" are among the earliest questions most instructors hear from new riders in the first few lessons. Well, I think this is a great way to get those new riders safe enough to tackle the "fun stuff" which keeps them interested in sticking with the sport of riding. Thank you, Jan, for a great idea. I just wish I'd thought of it first !

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