University of Vermont AAHS

MAXIMIZING THE RIDING LESSON:
Help your students get to most out of your lessons
by Jan Dawson

To the Student

Assuming you have chosen your instructor wisely, interviewed various instructors, checked references with former students and with current students, even taken a trial lesson or two; now it is time to consider how to get the most benefit from your riding lessons.

It is important that you be a physically comfortable as possible. Clothing should be appropriate to the discipline, Western or English and should include an ASTM/SEI approved helmet, hard soled boots or lace-up shoes with at least a half inch heel, riding pants or jeans, if the latter, snug ones with some stretch are best, gloves, and a riding shirt that tucks in. Outer clothing should not flap or be so long as to catch on the back of the saddle. Clothing made specifically for riding will either be waist-length or have slits to allow for the saddle. Above all, IT MUST BE COMFORTABLE because if it isn't you will be miserable and will sit and move To accommodate your clothing..

You should be in a positive frame of mind and be prepared to learn. There is no reason to feel embarrassed because of perceived inadequacies. After all, if you knew all the information already, you would not be taking the lessons. You should be ready to start from the beginning without being offended because only then can the instructor know exactly where you are and what your individual strengths and weaknesses are. Experience with horses does not necessarily mean you have mastered all the skills that your chosen instructor deems necessary. While you need to be alert and prepared to learn you should still be relaxed. You are doing this because you enjoy it and have made the decision to learn more and improve your skills.

Most students take lessons once a week. More lessons will probably allow you to progress more quickly especially if you are using a "school horse." However, more lessons per week are more expensive. A once a week schedule requires that you only miss your lesson when absolutely necessary. Missing lessons is a principal cause of problems for many adult riders. Everyone is busy and there are many demands on time what with work and parenting responsibilities. Be sure to schedule your lessons at your most convenient time and if you foresee problems check on the instructor's make-up policy. When the student is a young person, it is up to the parent to prevent over scheduling.

Riding is an athletic discipline and is such is more easily learned by the young. If you are not a child you will find it helpful to do some stretching before each lesson. Stretches that emphasize the legs, inner and outer thighs, front of thighs, buttocks and back. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime. Your instructor should begin each lesson with some appropriate stretches but you will still benefit by doing some on your own before you mount up.

When in class, be attentive and if you do not understand something ask that it be explained further. Children spend many hours a day in school and are accustomed to being taught. Adults have often forgotten how to be students. They have also forgotten how to make a mistake since they usually arrange things so they stay out of areas of doubt. Be prepared to flub-up and don't worry about it. It is all part of the process.

Riding is a discipline so remember that while your instructor is explaining something she or he is not intending to give you an opportunity to sit sloppily out of position and let your mind wander. Get your money's worth by listening. Parents should pay attention to the younger student's attitude in a lesson because if the student is not attentive, not only is the youngster not safe but the parent is buying an expensive pony ride. Sometimes it is better to put off riding lessons until the child has matured sufficiently to remain attentive throughout the lesson.

During the lesson whether it is private, semi-private, or a group lesson; whether you are experienced or not, and even if the student is a child, it is important that the student attempts to do what the instructor asks. Maybe it is not the way you have always done it. or maybe the instruction doesn't seem to make sense; if you understand the instruction and you see no safety reason not to, follow the instruction. The instructor needs your cooperation to get you where she or he is trying to go with the lesson. Kids are used to following instructions all day, adults, well, not so much.

After the lesson, as soon as possible, maybe in the car before you leave the stable, make notes. Did the review of the previous lesson go well? Were there any weaknesses? What was the subject of this day's lesson? What skills were involved; what sub-skills? Were you able to master them? What problem did you have? What do you need to think about for next time? If you ride your own horse what do you need to practice? You might even consider keeping a journal. If possible, clarify any questions you discover while making your notes with your instructor before leaving the barn. If the student is a child, this is a good activity for a parent after each lesson. Remember, be interested and supportive, and proud, not an interrogator.

Many adults are quick to be disappointed if progress is not perceived to come quickly. We live in an environment where overachieving is rewarded. We are taught that the harder we work, the better we do. If we just push harder we'll see more progress. This is not necessarily so with riding. Our bodies don't cooperate and the horse has not read the book. Usually the more you push the worse it gets. This can also be true for kids but remember, they take instruction all day long for nine months out of the year. A lesson is seldom as stressful as for child as for the adult professional who wants progress, lots of it, and now.


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