Learning to play guitar is helping me understand what it must be like for adults learning to ride horses.

Photo: Photos.com

I got a guitar for Christmas.

(Keep reading … this post really is about horses.)

The funny thing is that I don’t play guitar. And, honestly, I have no natural ability or ear for music. But, for some reason, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play.

So, with my new guitar in hand, I’ve spent about 30 minutes a night plucking away at “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

As I (try) to play I can feel my brain and muscles working together to learn a new skill. Each time I hit a bad note in a chord (my fingers not quite listening), I wish I had started playing as a kid, when my brain was more plastic and my muscles more elastic. Learning something new is hard.

Strumming my new guitar, trying not to hurt the poor thing, I started thinking about the many riders who came to horses as adults. (See, I promised we’d get to horses). We've all watched them ride: They try a little too hard and their timing is slightly off. They apply too much or too little rein pressure or leg a little too soon or too late. Their posting rhythm is a bit off and their balance a tad tippy. Sometimes they’re over-horsed, many times they’re under-instructed and unsafe, and often they’re afraid.

Those of us who know better collectively cringe on the rail as new riders pull on their horses’ mouths. We shake our heads as they lope around on the wrong lead, attempt a dressage test above their ability, or take a jump that's too big for a beginner. We sell them that horse that really isn’t the right one for a novice, and then we whisper to each other that the previous owner rode the horse better.

At one point in my life I had the audacity to think I possessed a natural riding ability—that somehow I’d been blessed with a born ability with horses. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I realize that’s not really the case. My ease with horses and understanding of riding comes from that first pony I got at age 3, and the hours I’ve spent in riding lessons, clinics, and horse shows. It comes from hundreds of trail miles, talented trainers, and great horses. I’m a capable rider because I have experience.

I’ve found it interesting, as I’ve talked to the musically inclined, to learn how excited they are to invite a newbie into the fold. They find joy in music and sharing it with others. “It will take time,” they tell me. “It’s all about muscle memory. You’ll learn, and it’s something you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Find a good instructor, be patient with yourself, and practice a little each day.”

I’d say that advice applies to learning to ride horses as well. 

My adventure into guitar playing has reminded me to offer support to those new to horses. It's also made me realize that you don't have to master something to find joy in the daily activity of doing it. With that said, taking on a new hobby or sport as an adult takes bravery and a healthy dose of humility. (And I'll point out that my guitar is probably more cooperative than some horses.) So, next time you see a new rider, consider offering her encouragement. Direct her to a patient and safe instructor. Sell her that priceless horse you’d put your kid on. Share stories about the joy you find in horses. Our industry will be better for it.

How do you encourage and support new horseback riders? And, if you’re new to horses, have you found learning to ride easy or difficult, and has someone special invited you into the horse world and supported your learning?