Many articles are written on how to find a good instructor. This article will focus on how to be a good student.
Good instructors truly want to help their students learn. Instructors prepare lesson plans and bring their best into the arena. They want their students to succeed and have fun. When riding instructors encounter a resistant student it’s surprising and frustrating.
If a student is going to spend the time and money to show up for a riding lesson, it seems logical that they would also do their best to learn. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Some students make teaching riding difficult. These students gain the reputation of being hard to teach and sabotage their own success.
Here’s some advice on how to get the most from your lessons.
This is probably the most important point. Come to your instructor with dreams, goals, questions, and/or a problem to be solved. What do you want to learn? What are your frustrations? What do you like about your horse and your own riding? What do you want to change?
Let the instructor know who you are as a horseman. Much of this happens in the first lesson but bring some desire for learning and growth to all your lessons. What happened since you and your instructor were last together? How did your homework go? If you get confused or lost during the lesson, speak up and ask for clarification. Perhaps ask your instructor to say something a different way. Finally (and this is really important), let your instructor know if you’re feeling afraid or angry.
- Give a New Instructor a Chance
If you’re just starting with a new instructor, give him or her more than one shot. It takes time to get to know a rider/horse pair and to develop a strategy for teaching and training them. It usually takes at least two lessons to get into a rhythm with a new student, develop a lesson plan, and begin to implement that plan. The exception to this is if an instructor is abusive or uncaring to either you or your horse.
- Don’t Argue
Sometimes learning is hard, and students get frustrated, especially when gaining new skills. Students need to learn how to “take a leap” and just try (and try again) before becoming resistant and arguing with their teacher. Maybe what you’re doing feels strange or is a new concept but isn’t that why you’re taking a lesson in the first place?
Advanced riding is a physical endeavor; sorry to break the news, but it’s not easy! Riders need to have control over both sides of their body and their horse’s body too, and still navigate around the arena. Yelling at (or arguing with) your instructor won’t help. Revisit point #1 above and communicate before you get to this point. This leads us to…
- Kill Your Ego
Lessons aren’t about showing the instructor how much you know or how good you are or what a great horse you have. They aren’t about showing off to others in the barn or arena. They’re about learning. Sometimes discovering that you’re not quite on track can be painful to the ego. Learn to let it go and open your mind to hear what your teacher is telling you. Humility is a necessary part of learning.
That being said, demonstrating to your instructor that you and your horse have acquired a new skill is an opportunity for both of you to celebrate everyone’s hard work paying off.
- Know How You Learn
Are you a visual learner? Kinesthetic? Aural? It’s a good idea to know this and share it with your instructor early in your relationship. If you’re a visual learner, you might need your instructor to show you on another horse (or your horse). Most instructors have multiple tools they can use to help you understand a concept or conquer a new technique when you get stuck.
- Be Consistent
If you want to make progress, you’ll need to take regular lessons. It’s not fair to ride with someone a few times a year and then complain you never get anywhere. How many lessons you take per month is something you should discuss with your trainer and is different for every person. Progress is dependent on consistency and a realistic schedule of lessons and practice. If you’re someone who doesn’t practice well on your own, scheduling more lessons will help. Or, if you are diligent about homework, you might not need to get together with your instructor as often.
As stated above, if you don’t practice what you do in your lessons you won’t make progress. What exercises did you do? Did you take them home and work on them? If you practiced leg yields but never once asked your horse to move off your leg between lessons, you’re missing the point and wasting your time as well as your instructor’s time. Not all instructors spell out your homework, assuming you’ll understand that you should practice the exercises given to you during your lesson. If you’re not sure what you should be working on, ask!
- Be Courteous
This should be obvious. Be on time, bring your own tack, groom your horse, dress nicely, park where you’re asked, don’t disturb in-progress lessons, leave dogs and kids at home, and follow barn rules. It’s just basic courtesy.
Riding and horsemanship are life-long pursuits with many rewards. Learning from others is a valuable part of the journey. Riding instructors often become valued allies, mentors, and friends. Regardless of where you are in the journey, just starting or decades in, we can always learn from other horsemen. Open your ears, mind, and heart. You might be surprised what you’ll learn.
Kim Roe grew up riding on the family ranch and competed in Western rail classes, trail horse, reining, working cow, and hunter/jumper. She trained her first horse for money at 12 years old, starting a pony for a neighbor.
Kim has been a professional dressage instructor in Washington state for over 30 years, training hundreds of horses and students through the levels. In recent years Kim has become involved in Working Equitation and is a small ‘r’ Working Equitation judge with WE United.
Kim is the editor of the Northwest Horse Source Magazine, and also a writer, photographer, and poet. She owns and manages Blue Gate Farm in Deming, Washington where she continues to be passionate about helping horses and riders in many disciplines.