What are you really getting from your riding lessons?

Have you ever followed someone to a place you have never been and then when it comes time to navigating your way to that same place by yourself, you find you have no idea where to go?

I remember when I got my first horse and started getting some riding lessons I was so excited because I was finally going to learn how to ride properly!  I started having some regular lessons which was great! I would hop on my horse and ride around and my instructor would shout out some instructions that I would follow to the best of my ability.  We would go home and ride for the rest of the week…never sure about what I was doing, but did what I could remember and next week I would go back and do the same thing again. 

Over some time, I thought I had my horse going great, we had attended some pony club events and had some fun together.  Then, I got a job, and got busy and stopped riding my horse for a while.  When I finally made some time for him to go for a ride, I saddled him up, hopped on and I remember very clearly thinking…’well what do I do now?’  I had no idea where to start!  I couldn’t remember what exercises we had done in the past and even why I needed to do them.  I was going to have to start all over again. Feeling a bit disempowered I put him back in the paddock and went back to work.

Fortunately for me, my desire to ride overpowered my disappointment and some time later I found someone who had a very different view on how to teach.  I was asked questions, I was given some direction and I was sent home to practise.  I was given the opportunity to have some interaction with my coach so that I could ask questions about how I was going in between the live coaching sessions.  I started looking forward to riding my horse, understood why I was doing what I was doing and what was even more amazing was that the next time I saw my coach, we would be learning new stuff every time. Through this, the progress I made was astounding!

So why did this make so much of a difference for me?  Even now as a coach myself I still see the instructors out there giving the instructions.  You would think that this gives the rider an insight to what their instructor is seeing and feeling as they get to act on the instructors timing etc.  But what ends up happening is that the rider starts to just ‘follow them to the destination’, just like you would if you were following someone to a new place.  They stop thinking and processing what they are doing as they wait for the next instruction and turn into a puppet waiting for the strings to move them.  This stops any actual learning process as there is no thinking involved, it is just automatic response to an order and therefore, you will be needing to do lots of it to actually get anywhere.  This also has a very detrimental effect on the rider as they become reliant on the instructor to tell them what to do…but what happens when you are at home by yourself with your horse and something doesn’t go as planned?  What do you do?  You have nothing to draw from and of course your confidence plummets….and you go back to your instructor for more help!  Now this may be good for the instructors pocket, but how good is this for you?

So when it comes time for you to choose a riding coach, ask yourself – are they genuinely interested in helping YOU make progress with your horse and reach your goals, or are they just happy to give you orders and take your money?  Do they push you and encourage you to do the very best for your horse or do they just pat you on the back and say you are doing great?  Do they really understand what is it they are teaching you or are they just repeating the orders that they were given themselves?  The answers to these questions might help you to determine if you have an instructor or a coach.

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