Taking Lessons

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When you get right down to it, it’s not difficult to ride a horse, especially if all you want to do is steer and stop. But if you truly want to expand your riding ability - and your horse’s training - you need pointers and eyes on the ground. And that may mean lessons.

But before you rush out and sign up, decide what you want to accomplish. Are you a regular competitor or a rusty rider battling the onset of middle-age fear' Do you want to venture into a new discipline or stick with your own' Either choice will benefit your riding, although learning a new discipline can be rewarding and fun.

Do you want to sharpen your training skills or just improve your form in the saddle' Maybe you simply need someone to tell you you’re on the right track. It doesn’t matter, but you’ve got to be able to tell the instructor what you want and expect.

Once you decide, call several barns and talk with the teachers. Find out what they do in the lessons and what they want in a student. Do they instruct only at a certain level' Some barns won’t take beginners. Are you required to show if you take lessons' Some stables pressure riders into competing, which can add greatly to the cost. Can you bring your own saddle, provided it fits the lesson horse'

Find out how long the instructors have been teaching and at the facility. Some teachers have taken voluntary instructor-certification courses, while others have not. Although becoming certified shows dedication, it’s not the only criteria upon which you should make a choice.

When you finally sign up, go into the lessons with an open mind and do what you’re told - even if you’re an experienced rider. If you have to adjust your leg, do it and also ask why you need to do so. You may find that once you’ve gotten used to the new position, your riding will improve. Most importantly - provided it’s a comfortable environment - take several lessons before you decide whether to continue.

And maybe you should take at least a few lessons on a school horse, even if you can bring your own horse. You may be surprised to find that wise, old school horse can teach you a thing or two. You may even find that the lesson horse makes the same ”mistakes” as your own horse.

While private lessons are great, I don’t think there’s a better value for your dollar than a group lesson. The lesson is usually longer, and you have the benefit of hearing what the instructor says to other riders, much like attending a clinic. But remember you’re there to learn. If all you want to do is impress the instructor or the other riders, don’t waste your money. Spend it on entry fees instead.

-Cynthia Foley