Our riding level definitions are as follows on our site:
Beginner:(riding level definition) does not ride regularly or at all. Cannot canter or trot for more than one minute at a time, has never cantered outside a lesson, has not ridden at least 40 times and been mounted on less than five horses. Suggested Guided Trail rides: Pear’s Ride (Memorial Day to Labor Day only), 1 hour beginner trail ride, Longer rides walk or walk/trot only.
Intermediate: (riding level definition) has ridden regularly in the last five years (more than 40 times per year), has ridden regularly within the last year, walks, trots and canters comfortably, has ridden more than five different horses. Suggested Guided Trail rides: Nun’s Farm Loop, Yahoo Corner, Juggtown Run
Advanced: (riding level definition) rides regularly walk, trot, canter, rides both english and western, competes, rides more than one horse on a regular basis, can ride with seat and legs. Suggested Guided Trail Rides: All Intermediate Rides above, Quaker Ridge, Gullywhunkel Whipper and Bolster’ Mills
Everyone’s riding level definition is different and everyone’s comfort level is different. For example, we have known absolute beginners to trot on our horses and to canter. We make sure our riders understand that that does not mean they are experienced riders. The reality is that in a controlled situation on a well-trained and regularly ridden horse that has a temperament to put up with a lot of mistakes by its rider, a beginner with the right mental and physical attributes can be comfortable at the trot and canter.
I get many calls from first time riders wanting to know if the Beginner Ride is appropriate for someone who has never ridden. This is one of the best ways, besides a beginner lesson with a great teacher, to get on a horse and fall in love for the first time. But don’t expect more than being a passenger and to learn some of the most basic of skills. The most you should hope to get from this experience is a good feel for the movement of the horse, a little confidence being around them and on top of them and a feel for how well they will listen to you when you learn to communicate in their language.
We use the above definitions because we hear many stories about a rider’s experience level and their history with horses. When a customer tells tell us that they own their own horse, they often think that we will automatically define that as an experienced rider…here is why we don’t. Many people who have owned their own horse have owned one horse their whole lives, maybe two or three over many years but each horse was probably ridden the same way by its rider and learned the same habits, good or bad and became symbiotic with the rider. This is one of the best ways to own and bond with a horse but it is not the best way to become an experienced rider that can ride many different horses.
There are also the stories of the “Horse I Trained”. You know, the one that the owner rode in the yard or paddock one day and the horse just walked along like it was nothing new? Then she took him out and had someone lead her around the area and the horse didn’t spook and was a perfect angel. Soon she was riding him to the end of the drive and galloping him back to the barn to teach him to gallop and trot…and he never once BUCKED! She now thinks she’s trained a horse. Though she does mention that he never liked to leave the yard and if she took him down the road he would spin around and run for home because he was so attached to his buddies. She just didn’t have the heart to separate them. Here is what she taught her horse…or what he taught her. That it was always ok to run home and it was the only time he was allowed or encouraged to run. And that she was not the dominant “horse” in his herd because when he got scared out on the trail she ran home with him, every time.
So as you can see, if we put our own definitions down that opens a dialog with anyone who wants to define themselves as experienced but doesn’t quite fit into our definition. When riders read the definitions they often call and tell me that though they have not ridden 5 different horses in the last 5 years they do feel they are intermediate because… and they go on to explain the training they have. At that point I have a much better feel for the actual mental and physical limitations of this particular rider. These definitions are a starting point to a conversation if you don’t actually fit into the definitions.
The more we know about the rider the better we can tailor each ride to fit everyone’s comfort level. It should never be expected by any rider on a public trail ride that it will fit all of their expectations. The closest we can come to that is to offer private rides and they are costly.
This is how we handle mixed groups on intermediate rides. We ride to the comfort level of the lowest skilled rider in the group. We will do short trots and determine if the horse and rider combinations are going to work at a canter. We may split the group, allow the more experienced riders an opportunity to canter once if the rest cannot or do not want to canter or we may be forced to keep the ride to short trots. Many things factor into this, and they are not always about the least experienced rider. If that rider is showing great control, an aptitude for learning and balance and happens to be a great match for the horse he is on then he will probably get to canter. It won’t be a lot because despite all the great attributes of this rider, his muscles are still not there and the tension from doing something like this in a new environment can tax those muscles even more.
Sometimes the problem is the experienced rider. Whether they feel they are more experienced than the guide and therefore should not have to listen to their instructions or they want to show off for their family and friends, it is inevitably the “experienced” rider, that limits a larger group’s ability to canter. Sometimes it is as innocent as the habits that rider has developed over years of riding in their country or their field so they think they can do certain things without taking into consideration that they do not know the horses and the other riders cannot correct a bad decision once made.
We do our best to make each ride fun. We have a 90% satisfaction rate on Groupon which is an “A” from over 10,000 Groupon guests. We continue to expand, educate our guides and train our horses to give the widest variety and safest trail rides in New England.