So, why do you take riding lessons?

Sandi teaching natural horsemanship clinic in McDonough GA

So, why do you take riding lessons? There is an obvious answer – to learn! However, I find more times than I should admit while I’m teaching a lesson I find myself silently saying the words “so why do you take riding lessons?” This is a difficult post because I do not wish to insult anyone, but it puzzles me why people will come to me, (or anyone) for help and yet it seems like they want anything but! This blog is not here to chastise or upset anyone. I want to help you recognize how you can maximize your training by examining  your approach to lessons.

Sabotaging your training time.

First it’s important to do a self evaluations as to why you may be sabotaging your training time? There are so many ways to sabotage your own learning. Could it be a lack of confidence? If so you may be  unconsciously creating a situation where you feel more in control? By that I mean you tell the trainer what you are going to do instead of allowing the trainer to do their job. Asking questions should always be encouraged, however unless you view the instruction as abusive or inappropriate it is in your best interest to follow the instruction. After all, this is the person you came to for training. Particularly disturbing to a trainer is when instruction is given and the student says, “I’m going to do it this way”-meaning their own approach.


You may have fear? If so perhaps you do not want to get on the horse? You may be hoping the trainer will hop up and create magic for you. For years I mostly trained clients horses. Often the owner didn’t come to the barn and most did not take lessons. The horse was stabled with me and when training was complete the horse returned to it’s owner.  Although I will admit it’s pretty cool when you can make your day connecting with horses. I began to feel I was not doing the right thing for the horse, (or rider) in the end. When the horse went back home to its owner the odds for the owners success with the horse was probably less than I’d hoped. Most often the owner did not know how to ride the horse the way it was trained. It wouldn’t take long before problems began to surface. It became clear to me the best way to help both horse and rider is to work with them together.

Solution to fear 

If fear is holding you back from utilizing your training time then absolutely let your trainer know. Fear can be overcome with correct instruction. If you develop your skills you will soon find you are no longer afraid because you have learned how to work with each situation that arises. If your trainer does not take your fear seriously then you have the wrong trainer.


Are you disorganized? You schedule a lesson based on an hour of your trainers times. She/he are there and prepared but you are still tacking up your horse. Even worse you have not yet groomed your horse. I have shown up for a session and have had to wait for the student to retrieve the horse from the pasture! After tacking up the horse you take more time to get into the arena. Then, you need to warm up your horse. By now you can easily be 30 minutes (or more) late for the session. More often than not that trainer cannot, will not extend your hour. You are required to pay the full fee since that time was reserved for you. Personally, I try my best to be understanding and certainly we all have times where we are running late, but if this is an ongoing habit you may want to rethink your approach.

The trainer is working, even if it is the most fun job on the planet. Time is income and income is necessary to keep any business running. If there is another session scheduled immediately after you the trainer cannot extend your time without inconveniencing the next person. Even without a session the trainer has many other aspects of business that is scheduled into the day. She/he must move on. More often than not I find an hours lesson takes up 2 hours of my time. If you multiple that by several sessions a day it adds up to both lost income and even longer days.

A trainer I once rode with was very strict about respecting her time. For a year I was never late, always early. One day on the way to a session there was a horrible accident. The traffic was halted. This was in the “olden days” when we didn’t have cell phones and not even car phones.  There was no way to reach the trainer. I was 40 minutes late. She was standing in the arena waiting for me. Of course I apologized and explained the situation. She didn’t respond at all. I climbed up on the horse and had a lovely lesson for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes she stopped me and said “we’re done, see you next time”.  I was shocked. She simply turned around and walked off. I’ve thought about that throughout the years. I do not agree with her cold approach. I would never do that, but I clearly understood why. She was working. My time in her schedule was up regardless of why I was late. She couldn’t give me more time without making her day longer/harder. As I said, her approach was a little rude, but I understand the reason for the dismissal.  Oh FYI, I did have to pay the entire hours fee!

Set yourself up for success

What can you do to correct this situation? First, start out earlier than you think you need. With horses nothing seems to go as planned. It’s better to be too early than late. Have your horse groomed before you load or if at your home barn well in advance. Then you will only have to do a minor touch up before you tack your horse up. Have a check list of all the supplies you could possibly need including leg wraps, fly spray, bit, bridle, pads, saddle, water for yourself and possibly your horse.  An emergency kit is always a good idea. I’ve been amazed at how many people come to my farm for a session and forget to bring bridles, girths and even saddles!

Plan whatever time you need to settle your horse in before you are expecting him to focus on you. Make certain you have enough time to warm him up before the trainer comes into the arena to work with you. The exception to this rule is if you are not comfortable or experienced enough to warm your horse up on your own. If you feel you need your trainers expertise in warm up then you should expect your lesson to start when the trainer enters the arena, even if you are just warming up.

If your horse is inexperienced at travel and you are leaving home for your session you should plan on a minimum of an extra 30 minutes to walk him around and let him settle his mind before you begin to tack him up. You may need to lunge or do some ground work with him as well. If the environment is new to your horse you can initially expect the horse to be distracted and at times act rather silly. If you are not feeling rushed you can take all that in stride transmitting the proper calm body language back to your horse. I see riders tense and moving like their on speed and not paying any attention to how the horse is reacting to them. Sometimes the rider will get angry and do something unkind to the horse. Why would a horse want to work for you or follow your lead if you turn into a scary monster? Training should be about a relationship between the horse and the rider. A horse should want to follow his leader versus be weary of him.

The trainer is only going to see what you present. All the amazing work you do at home or on your own won’t help the trainer to guide you if you present a different relationship during your lesson. Have you ever said, “he’s not like this at home”? Maybe you’re not like that at home either? The trainer would not expect a horse in a new situation  to be at his very best, however he/she will also be able to determine the foundation of training through all of the variables.

Social Butterfly?

By this I mean you truly love the social aspect of being in an environment where you are interacting with other people who have a common interest.  It can be real easy to slip into a chat session.  I admit I enjoy the stories and happening of my students. Many of my students are very interesting people. I have to try not to get distracted. When that happens I feel I’ve short-changed a student. If the student keeps talking it really is my responsibility to bring them back to the task on hand.Training takes focus. Whether you are training from the ground, classroom sessions or under saddle you should always have your focus 100% in the moment. Horses live in the moment and training means understanding what direction the horse needs every moment. I much prefer private sessions since it is not possible to be in the moment with more than one team at a time.


Regarding this situation it would be best to allow the trainer to initiate conversation. When someone comes to my farm for a session and I find I have a few minutes I will walk over while they are tacking up and say “hello”. However, if I’m involved in another task I will just smile and wave and keep working until their scheduled riding time. Remember, they are working so respect their time as well as your own.

Lack of practice between sessions

Last but by no means least. As a matter of fact this point is HUGE! The number one reason students do not make progress is because they very seldom practice between sessions. First, horses learn through consistent repetition. Second, you learn through consistent repetition! See how that works? You must first learn a technique and then you must develop feel. Feel is something no one can teach you.Time in the saddle develops feel. Repeating a movement or technique will eventually become a natural feel that you do not think about, it’s just instinctive. Through practice both you and your horse will be ready for the next step in training when you attend your next session.

Let’s fix this!

Life is busy, no doubt about that! Although your intentions may be to work with your horse somehow the day is gone. Perhaps tomorrow and tomorrow… It will never work unless you make an appointment with your horse! We make appointments for the doctor, hair salon, business, etc. So, why not make an appointment with your horse. Don’t be over ambitious to start.That may end up in failure. I always recommend starting with 3 days a week, (minimum in my opinion to make progress and also to be fair to your horse). You can even include your training session. Write it down in your calendar and stick to it! Before you know you will create a habit and your progress will motivate you even more. If you can work up to 5 days a week. I can hear the protesting from here! If you get crazy and start riding 6 days a week make sure you give the horse 1 day a week off. Horses need a day off too!

You have scheduled time in your day for your lesson. You are paying hard-earned money for the session. Unfortunately, time passes quickly. Our horses do not stay young and spry. Neither do we – trust me on this one! Why not make the most of it? Go for it and excel.  C’est la vie!


2 Comments on “So, why do you take riding lessons?

  1. Sandy, I was in a workshop for therapists yesterday and we were talking about times when you have to tell a client a difficult truth. While necessary and therapeutic it is not necessarily easy to do. Thank you for the courage you display (as always) in telling us some hard truths. I always know you are doing so for the best good of your clients and their horses. I definitely found my obstacle in your list, but then, you know that. And I love that, as always, you post problems and challenges followed by solutions. And let us know that even the smallest changes can have big results. Thanks.

    • Thank you for the feedback,Diane. I’m happy to know you understand my intentions are to help everyone achieve the best results when training their horses. Being receptive is half the battle-for all of us! It’s a journey for us all and an amazing one at that.

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