How To Get The Most Out Of Infrequent Lessons
If you can't afford the time or money to take lessons on a regular basis, you might wonder if it's even worth it to shell out the money on training when it's impossible to be consistent with it. I know that for a long time I thought that any lessons at all were "out of the question" for Dino and I! It seemed like a poor return on investment when I couldn't commit financially to riding with a trainer at least once a week.
But I changed my thinking, and I'm going to tell you that YES, it is worth it, but you'll have to do some extra work outside of your lessons in order to make the same progress as someone who has access to a trainer once a week or more. These tips are also REALLY helpful for those who don't own or lease a horse and only get to ride once or twice a week in lessons. While regular, consistent help is great, you can still learn and progress by taking lessons once a month or even only a few times a year.
1. Show up ready to ride, learn, and listen. When you DO have a lesson, make sure you are really "bringing it". Bring all of your focus with you and pay attention to what your trainer is saying. Do what they tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. Try your hardest. That's what you're paying them for!
2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I'm not saying you should be a total Chatty Cathy during your lesson time, but if you are unclear about an exercise or concept, ask questions! Gain as much understanding about the how and why of what your trainer is teaching you as you can. If you're feeling something on your horse that you don't understand how to deal with, speak up!
3. Get media. Photos and videos are GREAT learning tools. You can use them to track your progress and zero in on areas that need improvement. If you ride without a trainer most of the time, it's important to have a plan for what to work on in your daily rides, and visual media is a huge help with that. Things often also look much different than they feel.
4. Ask for homework. If your trainer doesn't already give you homework to practice between lessons, ask for it! You'll be able to practice and build upon the skills you learn during lessons and be able to show up at your next session having improved upon where you were the last time.
5. Educate yourself. Guys, the internet is an amazing thing! Read blogs by more experienced riders and trainers, cruise the forums, check out websites, and watch videos. The more you understand intellectually about riding and training, the more you'll be able to apply that knowledge in your own riding. USEF Network offers live streaming of major competitions in every discipline, and the George Morris Horsemastership Sessions are incredible learning tools for any rider. Watch how the best of the best get it done, read about riding and training until your eyeballs fall out, read magazines, get books on subjects that interest you, and LEARN! There are TONS of resources out there, and many of them are FREE!
6. Write about it. As a blogger, I'm a little partial to this technique, but I find that keeping some sort of daily riding journal helps a LOT to sort out concepts in my mind, make a plan, and track our progress. It doesn't have to be online or public - you can jot down your thoughts and feelings in a notebook if you want.
7. Work out. Being fit is ALWAYS an advantage! Try to find a form of exercise you enjoy and work out in addition to your saddle time. Especially for riders that don't get on a horse too often, this is a huge part of being able to move forward and improve. The fitter you are, the better you ride, and there are tons of rider-centric workout plans popping up everywhere these days.
8. Practice makes perfect. In between lessons, really apply yourself during your daily rides. Keep in mind the things you want to work on and improve, and set a goal for each and every ride. Don't let yourself get lazy just because you don't have someone giving you instruction from the ground! Practice the exercises and techniques you learn in lessons, work hard, and strive for improvement every day. This attitude is, in my opinion, THE most important part of being able to be successful without regular professional assistance. If you only 'show up' for an hour lesson once a month, you're not going to get anywhere, and then your lessons WILL be a waste of time and money. With riding, as with anything, you only get what you put into it.
What tips do you have for 'making it work' without frequent, regular lessons?