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Tips and Training

The problem with weekly horse riding lessons

16 March 2016

The problem with weekly horse riding lessons

Accountability is a great thing. Having someone on your side, who will keep track of where you are, where you have been, and help you get to where you are going is invaluable in life, in work, and in your hobbies.

I have a tendency to be a bit of perfectionist, and I’m also slightly addicted to learning. I love placing myself in a space where I feel like I’m the “stupidest” person in the room and then learning everything I can as fast as I can so I can take it all home and try it for myself. You know those annoying people who buy tickets to expensive master classes with world leaders in their field and then spend the whole night talking to their buddy next to them about how they can do it better/ differently/ in their sleep?

Yeah. I’m NOT one of them. I hate those guys. Seriously! Shut up and learn something, idiot!

I’m also someone who came relatively late to riding. I didn’t ride much as a kid, except the odd riding camp during school holidays once or twice. I didn’t even get to own my own horse until I was well into my 30’s.

So when I was earning enough as an adult, and had my own car, I took myself off to lessons, every week. I rode school horses in groups, I rode school masters in private lessons, and finally I rode my own horse with various instructors. Always on a weekly basis. Religiously. Because I wanted to learn.

This year though, I stopped. I kinda just went cold turkey. It’s a traumatic experience, particularly when as a business owner myself, I understand the value of what I was taking away from my instructor’s business when I cancelled my $80 a week, every-week-for-46-weeks-of-the-year lesson!

I walked away from that person who I was paying to hold me accountable, and started to take my own responsibility for that. I also began to look to my horse to keep me accountable too.

The result? We’re actually working together the best we ever have.

Don’t misunderstand me- I’ve not gone off in my own little world thinking I know it all and don’t need help. I’ve got mentors that help me when I need, that I visit to work on a particular issue, to get started on something new. The main person that I work with now sets me up, loads me up with a new skill and a new understanding, and then sends me away to play with it, experiment and learn.

I’ve come to see that for me, the weekly lessons had become more of a hindrance than a help.

The weekly lessons, that I thought I was doing the right thing in investing in, week after week, month after month, were actually not letting me grow and develop as a rider, and importantly, as a trainer of my own horse.

For me, the problem with weekly lessons is the unspoken expectations.

I sympathize strongly with instructors and coaches with the difficulties of what they have chosen as their vocation and what is often for them their true Great Work, because the weekly lesson is such a difficult beast to deal with.

As an instructor you have just an hour at a set time each week to deliver the best outcome you can for your client. If the horse is cranky, or the weather bad, tough luck to you. The rider has paid you, it’s time for you to do your magic.

And you can’t possibly risk boring the client by working week after week on the same exercise with the aim to perfecting it. The client wants to feel like they are always improving, moving, learning new skills. Shoulder in last week? This week let’s try travers.

The pressure to not only keep the horse and rider safe but, in reality, “entertained” is immense. The expectation is to be busy, busy, busy, working, going from this exercise to the next, getting through as much as you can in that 1 hour to get your “money’s worth”.

The client expects not only to be told how to correct those niggling issues they can’t feel or see for themselves, but also to achieve always better results when out at competition, to be adding new skills and movements to their repertoire. They don’t want to practice the walk- trot- walk transitions for a whole hour until it’s perfect.

Or do they?

Here’s the thing. Just as there are “horses for courses” there are instructors for different riders and their differing wants and needs.

I am grateful for every instructor I have ever worked with and ridden for. I recommend each of them to different people for different things. Each and every one of them has taught me something about me, and taught me something about my horse.

I’m not a super competitive rider. Sure, I like to go out and do my best, and just like the next person I get frustrated when he spooks at that shadow in the corner of the arena, or when he warms up really well then I loose his back as we go round before we start the test.

For me, my time riding and training is less about the ticking off boxes, of having done that, learned that, tried that. The more I grow and the more I learn, the more I realize I have so much more to learn. I have so much more to perfect and tweak and test and measure. I have so much more to learn to feel.

So while I saddle up with a rough plan of what I want to work on that day, when I get on, I let my horse tell me where he needs to go. I listen more. I take more breaks. I ride HEAPS more transitions. I do less of the “fancy” stuff and more of the basics. Sometimes I ride for 20 minutes, sometimes over an hour.

If he gets it right the first time, I don’t do it again, and we take a break.

That kind of work doesn’t fit so well in a 1 hour time slot where the instructor feels under pressure (imagined or real) to always be working, improving, adding feedback, tweaking, changing, challenging, pushing.

Then there are the riders who only practice and school in their lessons, either for lack of time, or confidence. Working and riding in front of your instructor provides great guidance and “eyes on the ground” but if this is the only time you train each week, it creates a dependence and reliance on that person that is detrimental to your own learning. You loose your ability to think creatively, and you actually forget to “feel”- because someone is telling you when its right and when its wrong.

Riding and training and practicing what you learn in your weekly lessons means that you have to work through the challenges that comes from sitting on an intelligent creature who might not like the wind blowing that way today, or may be grumpy he’s had his morning nap time broken.

There’s a lot of riding in horse riding lessons and often not enough discussion. Now that might sound odd, I’m paying for horse riding lessons after all, yes? Let me ask you though, when was the last time you sat down with your instructor and discussed your goals for the next year, the next few months, or even next week? Often we talk about what we’re going to achieve in this particular lesson, but how does that tie in with the bigger picture?

Communication is vital to a good, healthy productive relationship with your instructor. If you have that, if your instructor regularly checks in with you about how you feel you are both progressing, what elements you are concerned about, where you feel you both need some work, rather than turning up, giving you a bunch of things to do and then leaving- then hang onto that person.

If you don’t, don’t be mad at your instructor. Next time they come round, just take a moment, ask them questions, tell them what you need and what you want, ask for their guidance and support.

Give your instructor the chance to become a mentor for you and your horse, to become a part of your journey, and not just the conductor of it.


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