How Many Riding Lessons A Week Do You Take?
by Nikki Alvin-Smith
As a trainer it is easy to say that you can never have enough instruction to advance your education. Too often I see folks training their horses diligently but heading completely down the wrong track. Naturally you want to step in and say something but of course that is not a good idea. Who wants advice they haven't asked for after all.
Whether you are re-training an OTTB, starting a young horse in his career or showing a schoolmaster at FEI to garner a USDF medal, it is important that you have sincerely good help from a ground person. And it is quality of the lessons not the quantity that counts folks. Although to progress and stay on track I'd say a minimum of two lessons a week and training alone three or four times a week.
I used to say that anyone can train as long as they have more knowledge than you do - but I don't believe that anymore. Unless you have made horses to Grand Prix, shown that level - how can you have the necessary vision to make adjustments in training along the way with a clear road map.
Unless you have learned how to apply principles you read in a book or see on a DVD or even watch at a clinic in a correct manner how do you know what you are doing right or wrong. Yes, the horse will 'feel' good to you most of the time when it is correct, but it is not enough.
For example when training a youngster you will use your outside leg behind the girth to engage the hindquarter and make an upward canter transition along with the inside leg at the girth. Great. But then if you don't refine that outside aid what will happen when you start half passes at the trot. You come off the short side of the arena, apply the outside leg back and whoa - your horse throws in a canter stride. Didn't see that coming? At what point do you work your upward transition with a brushing aid? You are going to need to have that in perfectly, like a window wiper effect for canter work too. Because you'll need it for flying changes. When is the right time for your particular horse to begin lateral work or lengthening? These questions are not just a question of learning the dressage pyramid. Your horse is an individual with a different conformation to other horses. Both his body and his mind must be protected and developed correctly. Isabel Werth once told me that exuberance in a young horse, or any horse, was to be encouraged. A few bucks was a good sign - a sign of passion. But how do you make sure this does not become habit forming. These are all questions that an experienced trainer will know.
It is very frustrating to not be there keeping an eagle eye on your students when they are schooling alone. Certainly as a rider it is important to not only lesson. That can make you robotic and unthinking. When students arrive at a clinic you can see fairly immediately whether they have been 'following orders' with their work between clinics or have embarked on a journey without a compass. Again - frustrating.
If you are serious about making a career in riding, whatever the discipline, it is essential you take regular instruction from the best you can find and afford. Some great riders are not good trainers/instructors. So do your due diligence and find the right fit for you and your horse.
A good trainer will know when to push, when to consolidate and when to 'hold.' They will balance the needs of the rider with the needs of the horse. They will not shout. They will give you keywords that work for you. They will individualize the lesson to you and your horse. When you are simply 'not getting it,' they will rephrase and take a different approach. When your horse is 'not getting it' they will change up the request.
And please folks, as Anne Gribbons says in her new book " Collective Remarks." Do not stop and chat during a lesson. Save your questions for after the lesson - respect your trainer. It's fine to ask a quick question during a walk break but to constantly be babbling on is not helpful. If you are talking you are not listening. It is as simple as that!