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?


  1. I rarely take lessons. I find it tricky to find beneficial and informative information from the coaches I can afford and that freelance. So instead I save up for clinics with coaches I can't normally afford.
    When I don't take lessons, I too blog and take photos or videos as much as possible.

    For me though, learning on my own has always been my way. I generally have a good feel, even though it may take me a bit more time to understand what I am feeling, so I read A LOT of internet articles and blogs, constantly trying something new to find what works for us and what doesn't.

  2. Listening is so important. People who constantly argue or make excuses are most definitely wasting their money (though I understand there is a line between standing up for something you don't think is right for you and your horse and a constant harangue from the rider of this and that). Good post!

  3. I love this post! I struggle with this too, but... I know that eyes on the ground are the best tool at helping me get out of my own head and really stay on task. I have a bad habit of taking it personally when my horse is throwing a fit or not complying and it's so much easier when someone can snap me out of it. I've always been an active "student of the sport" so I completely agree with your note to read and watch videos!! My trainer was saying the other day how much better my release had gotten over fences at my first jump lesson of the year and I told her I had really been paying attention to what other riders do and that I was trying to emulate the kind of rider I want to be:)

  4. I'm spoiled lately--I've taken as many as 3 or 4 lessons in a month and it is GLORIOUS.

    But I still treat them exactly the same as when I had lessons once a quarter--I like to take a minute at the end of the lesson to verbally reflect to the trainer what we worked on and why to be sure we're on the same page.

    And yes, ALWAYS ask for homework. I can't always re-create entire jumping exercises at home, but I can definitely break them down and do different pieces.

  5. I'm feeling the struggle of not having regular lessons now. I had regular lessons for the last three years from a BNT at a high level and now I'm stuck on my own on a baby. Luckily I've ridden enough horses from his level and higher so I don't imagine I'll have any major problems, but there's something about regular lessons that accelerates the process no matter what the level. It's definitely not feasible right now so I'll be using a lot of these tips in the next few years!

  6. I think remembering the feel of the correctness you acheived in your lesson is huge too. Sometimes I can remember what the trainer said but not put it all together, but when I can rememer the feel, I find that I am much more successful in recreating the correct work. My budget just doesn't allow for regular lessons right now, I try to take 1-2 a month so doing the work in between is super important.

  7. These are great tips! Especially the homework part :)

  8. yesssss i agree with all these things!! i love lessons and a metric ton of them.. but it's always important to me that i am prepared and ready to go for them. it's too expensive to just fritter the opportunity away! i also really like riding with a variety of trainers bc it helps paint a more complete picture than you might get otherwise

  9. This is really solid advice!

  10. This is perfection!! I agree with every point here, and try to always follow them. Listening, clarifying, and homework are my big three (well, also writing, I kept a daily journal for Murray for our first eight months together!). I absolutely hate hearing people say things like "I AM putting my leg on" or "I AM bending him", but I equally dislike hearing a trainer say things like "MORE BEND" when their student is clearly unable to figure out how to achieve more bend.

  11. Even though I'm lucky enough to take regular, once a week lessons I use a lot of your advice to get the most out of them! Great post :D

  12. I had back to back lessons last week, and it was amazing. Usually I only see my trainer once or twice a month, and end up using every tip you put down here. I write notes right after my rides. I have them videoed or photographed if possible. I pick everything apart mid lesson, and won't leave until I am sure I understand what we were doing and why. And I work stupid hard during the time in between to internalize and cement the things we were learning. Oddly enough, having lessons super close together kind of frustrates me now because I don't have enough time to ride between and really get the concepts to the point where they need to be advanced at the next lesson. I think every 2-3 weeks would be perfect!

    Riding is hard work, and expensive. I like to make that most of it!


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