Preparing for Lessons and Training – for the nervous, the ambitious, the under-pressure or stressed rider

wiola riding yorks

Quality coaching is often expensive and you are likely to be determined to get the most out of your lessons. Many horse owners will only have 1 or 2 lessons a month and it can often take a great deal of planning, arranging for transport, time off work or certain amount of gymnastics to fit a busy family lifestyle around horsey ambitions.

As a result of the above, many riders put themselves under considerable amount of pressure to do well, to learn as much as possible, for their horse to be “on his best behaviour” and generally, for the entire universe to conspire so the training is as beneficial as possible 🙂

If the above rings true to you, read on as I share some tips and suggestions that I collected in the last twenty years of teaching vast variety of clients with tiny to huge riding ambitions. I feel that as an instructor, I learn from each and every rider and horse. Some routines that work perfectly well for one person might be completely unsuitable for another. It’s useful to pick and mix until we find the right preparation tactics that let us enjoy the entire lesson process.

1. Shift your mindset from one needed when riding on your own to one needed when having a lesson.

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If you ride with certain goals in mind, be it improvement goals, relationship or pleasure goals or competition goals, you are likely to get on your horse with some plan in mind of what you will do during the session. You might even map out exercises you want to practice on the day and spare a thought to an outcome you are after. You probably accounted for how your horse might feel on the day and you might even have a plan B/C/D depending on what feedback your horse gives you during warm up.

Now, the lessons come with a different challenge altogether. You very likely book them to work on something specific or to progress in general terms. You don’t have full control over the exercises chosen by the trainer. You can of course give feedback to them as and when you ride but you will most likely be pushed to some extent out of your comfort zone in order to improve. You will be listening to your instructor, your horse and your own body – it takes a lot of practice to be able to give enough focus to each and at the right time and so you are likely to feel less coordinated and with your aids less timely than if you rode by yourself. At the same time, if your instructor has a style of teaching that “rides the horse for you at each step” you might feel huge improvement in your horse’s way of going but not be quick enough to process the information to the point of being able to replicate it later.

Then there is your horse. He will have to adjust to all your emotions and increased pressure and that means his reactions might be out of character, both in plus and in minus.

All the above and many other factors that I am sure you could add here yourself mean that it really helps to shift your mindset from control to curiosity…

The best results I have seen in both riders and horses while teaching myself, riding and observing coaching sessions happened when riders arrive for training curious as to what they will discover in their horse and themselves on the day. This allows for reducing or eliminating frustration that comes from not being able to live up to own expectations and lets you focus on there and then.

You can just loosely think about it as you groom your horse and prepare for the lesson. Try to define your state of mind, thoughts, wants, ambitions for the session ahead. Then find a way to shift your mindset between “I WILL DO it WELL this time” to “I WONDER what we can learn about each other this time”.

2. Have a stretch!

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Once you found a short routine that suits you, you will not want to school without doing it before getting on. The level of body awareness and ability to act upon what we feel is what differentiate “riders with feel” from those who apparently “don’t feel”.
The three simple stretches/exercises I recommend are:

1. Piriformis stretch
2. Upper body stretch
3. Balance exercises

3. Catch Your Breath…

If you are a busy amateur rider with a non-horse related career you are likely to be in a bit of a rush. Even if you are not, spare 5 minutes to just sit down and do nothing but breathing…It’s something I am learning through yoga and it’s unbelievable how influential this can be on ability to control emotions, both negative and positive as well as having a very interesting effect on the horse as far as his own concentration on the rider goes. I will write a separate post about it this month but do catch your breath before your training. Whether your a hyper type or a more phlegmatic person by nature, it works either way.

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During the lesson:

1. Focus 80% of your energy on listening

Give 40% of your listening attention to your instructor and the other 40% to your horse. The remaining 20% focus reserve for telling things. I see many riders who tell, tell and tell and who might as well ride by themselves because they listen to neither the trainer nor the horse. Some try so hard to listen to the instructor they forget to listen to the horse. Practice the listening balance and you should see the effect in increased skill acquisition for a long time after the lesson has ended.

2. Stop and Think then Ride and Feel

It is a well known fact that horses learn best not during but after the activity when pressure have ceased and brain is resting and processing. It is no coincidence that many good trainers give their horses a complete break on a loose rein during training session or even get off and walk with the horse for a minute or two before going back to the exercise. It helps to apply similar tactic to oneself…It’s very tricky to engage both our analytical and sensory skills. You might find it useful to stop and think about the exercise or what you are after, understand it in the way that lets you visualise the outcome, then proceed to try the exercise or movement just letting yourself feel and make mistakes…

3. Be determined to help your horse understand

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Many a time riders try so hard to help the horse DO something instead of helping them UNDERSTAND that something. Try to focus on how to explain it better in the way that an animal can process the request. Forget humanising the horse and telling yourself “he knows how to but doesn’t want to do it now because [enter a good excuse here]”. We “know” many things, it doesn’t mean we can “do” them as well as we know them every time we try.

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