Teaching Adults vs Teaching Children

Updated: Apr 14

Loving horses aside, adults are at the barn for very different reasons than their junior counterparts.

The majority of the students in riding are under 18 years old. This age group learns much differently than their adult counterparts. Along with learning differently, they are also motivated by different things. Children are accustomed to simply being told what to do. They are expected to follow direction without question. Children are still forming their own ideas about life and typically take what a person in a position of authority (their trainer) says at face value. Children rely on others (the adults in their life) to decide what is important to be learned. Perhaps the most prominent characteristic to keep in mind about young learners is that they are Extrinsically Motivated, meaning they are driven by external factors like praise, approval or ribbons.

Conversely, the most prominent characteristic for adult learners is that they are Intrinsically Motivated, meaning they are driven by internal factors like value, personal reward or interest. Simply put; an endeavor is personally rewarding, has value or is of interest to them. When someone is internally motivated it means they are doing something because of their own values or interests. They enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn and actualize their potential. They have an internal desire to make themselves better.

Unlike children, adults decide for themselves what is important to be learned. They do not typically take things at face value but instead usually feel the need to “validate” the information being given based on their own experiences. Adults need to understand the why of things and how things “fit” together. This drives many trainers crazy about their adult clients. But this is who adults are and how they learn.

There are many adults with both the desire and the aptitude to learn to ride well. However their are not many trainers with an education in the universal principals of learning and how they differ in adults versus children. Unlike other sports that are more adult oriented, there is no real focus or format for bringing adults along or supporting trainers with tools for teaching this very different population of students. I'm hoping to change that...even if it's only by a little bit.

Teaching adults is about a partnership between student and instructor. The trainers who embrace this fact will see the success of their adult clients soar. Adults who make sure they put themselves in an environment that is suitable to their needs and under the tutelage of someone capable of communicating a much more in-depth type of learning will find they are happy beyond their expectations and that the joy of learning is just that, a joy!