Getting the most out of your riding lessons
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Getting the most out of your riding lessons

Riding lessons and instruction are an important part of your personal development as a rider, as well as the ongoing schooling of your horse or pony. Whether you're a relative novice or a competent, independent rider, a regular programme of instruction should form an important part of your riding progression. It's fair to say that there is no rider, however skilled or experienced, who cannot benefit from good quality instruction- even top level horse men and women who compete internationally all undergo regular training, without exception.There is no point within the riding career of any horse lover, hobbyist or professional, at which they should reasonably consider that they have reached a standard at which they are ready to go it totally alone and don't need a little guidance every now and then!

I can already ride- why do I still need lessons?

If you have reached a point at which you consider yourself to be a reasonably competent and safe rider, and are at a standard you are happy with for your riding pursuits, it can be tempting to think that that is enough, and that your course of instruction has reached its natural conclusion and you're ready to go it alone.But schooling is an ongoing process for horses and ponies, and you will sometimes need a second opinion or a little direction to address any issues that come up with your horse or pony's performance and their ongoing schooling needs. Similarly, riders can easily fall into bad habits, and losing the correct posture for riding, position in the saddle and the effective application of aids is all easily done without even realising it. Effective horsemanship and good stable management is an ongoing, lifelong process- and something which you owe to both yourself and your horse or pony to engage in.If you have a clear idea about what you want to do with your horse or pony and limit your riding to hobbyist hacking and casual riding, you will probably require less frequent instruction than somebody who is seeking to raise their standard of riding on an ongoing basis or to engage in competition. However, you should not consider leaving your lessons altogether.

How often should I be having riding lessons?

Exactly how often you should consider having your riding lessons depends greatly on you and your horse, your aims and ambitions, and how things are going for you as a rider.There isn't really any way to schedule lessons too frequently- although unless you are engaged in higher level competition, several times a week may prove to be a little overwhelming- and people who own their own horse or pony and ride regularly may have lessons ranging in frequency from once or twice a week, once a month, or once every few months, and anything in between.In order to decide how often you should be having lessons, it's important to think about your own circumstances, how well your level of ability matches the activities you perform or would like to perform with your horse, and the schooling level of your horse or pony.It's perfectly reasonable to alter the frequency of your lessons at different times, perhaps having more regular instruction if you find that any problems arise or if you are aiming to compete in a competition or nail a particular skill or movement with your horse.If you simply like to hack out and are confident in your ability to manage your horse or pony safely and effectively, lessons once a month or even just a few times a year to address any specific problems, give you some food for thought and make sure that your standards aren't slipping may well be quite sufficient.A great number of keen riders who actively enjoy their lessons and seeing marked continual improvement of both theirs and their horse's training and skills, many choose to have lessons every week or fortnight in either a group or individual setting.It's up to you!

Picking the perfect instructor

There's a lot to be said for having regular lessons with the same instructor, as they will get to know you and your horse and be able to chart your progress and any problems accordingly. However, there is nothing wrong with having instruction from a couple of different instructors on a regular basis, or attending workshops or one off sessions with a new trainer, who may be able to give you a unique and different viewpoint on your riding and horsemanship which can be immensely valuable.Make sure you pick an instructor who teaches in a style which you enjoy, that you can engage with and understand fully, and who also challenges you and encourages you to push you and your horse to higher achievement levels.Also ensure that your instructor is qualified and experienced enough to be able to teach to your level- realistically, you may at some point outgrow your initial instructor, and find that they have taken you as far as they can within the remit of their experience and knowledge and recommend you to another coach who can ensure your forwards progression.

Effective communication with your riding instructor

While it may seem like it at times, your riding instructor cannot read your mind! It's important to open up a channel of communication between yourself and your instructor, mention any issues you are having, or areas that are giving you particular difficulty in mastering. Similarly, if you don't understand something fully or even disagree with something your instructor says, it's important to speak out and ask them to explain themselves fully or consider a different approach.Make it clear to your instructor what your aims and goals are, be they raising your standard of riding or learning a new skill with a view to competition, or simply maintaining the skills you have already acquired and keeping your horse well schooled.It's also important to be realistic about your ability and what you will be able to achieve and how- if you have never tried jumping before but are keen to get a clear round, don't be surprised that your instructor may first want to work on your skills on the flat and over trotting poles before pointing you in the direction of a two foot fence. Your instructor should always take some time at the end of every lesson to ask how you feel things have gone, what you will do alone between lessons, and how things are shaping up in the bigger picture of your riding development.Happy learning!

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