Gain the most from your lessons – 8 ways to be a better student

Bendigo in training. Photo by Jamie Rees.

We’ve all had a light bulb moment at some point in our riding education, be it on or off the horse, in a lesson or schooling at home. Plateaus frustrate us, but a spurt in progress most often follows and drives us on. Most of the time these light bulbs go off as a result of a lesson. They can happen during the lesson or at some point afterwards, perhaps while we are watching another horse go or even having a conversation with someone. How can we make these light bulb moments happen more reliably or frequently? How can we make our lessons as productive as possible?

Having started teaching in recent years, I’ve found how difficult and puzzling it can be to relay ideas to a student. This experience of being on the other side of the trainer-student spectrum has given me newfound appreciation for instructors. It has also sparked my thinking about how to gain the most out of a lesson.


Here are eight ways to gain the most out of your lessons by being the best student possible: 

1. Listen but also participate in the conversation
Your trainer should not have to repeat themselves forty times to get their point across. Make sure you listen closely to their advice and voice what you are feeling as well; however, do not complain incessantly about how your horse won’t get straight on the left rein, won’t step through with his right hind, won’t stop spooking in the corner, etc.. Your primary job is to listen, and then apply what you hear.

2. Giving every suggestion an honest try
Most of us like to stick to our own program and training techniques because they provide us with comfort; consequently, we often doubt suggestions to ride our horses differently. Your trainer always tries to improve your horse’s way of going. To improve our horses, we as riders have to change. The suggestion a trainer makes might range from lifting the inside hand an inch to warming the horse up in a deeper, rounder frame. If the idea works, fabulous. If it does not work, you don’t have to use it. But if you don’t even attempt it, you will never know.

3. Being on time
This one is self-explanatory. Be considerate and professional if you want your trainer to act the same way.

4. Awareness of your horse’s training and schedule
It took me a little while to gain the experience and knowledge to realize the implications of this statement. Being aware of our horses’ schedules means not galloping the day before a lesson. The soundness and welfare of the horse is paramount, and we must plan ahead to ensure that.

5. Be gracious, and realize that sometimes the horse has a bad day
Not all lessons will be equally useful or productive. Even on days in which the horse is not behaving it’s best.

6. If you don’t understand a concept or technique, ask!
Never continue riding through a lesson if your trainer’s terminology or suggestions confuse you. There is no harm in asking what “drop him at the base” or “level in the reins” mean. It’s especially important to clarify definitions if your trainer likes to add a splash of another language (the original training pyramid is German, but most of us don’t speak German!).

7. Do your homework!
It is always rewarding for a trainer to see that their student has worked on their position or specific movements at home. When you master concepts outside of your lessons, you can move on to more advanced work in the next lesson rather than staying stagnant.

8. Watch your trainer teach other people.
Most good trainers have a base of philosophy or theory from which they teach. In watching other lessons, you will see your own issues reflected in others and the solutions that work for them. I have often only fully understood an idea about my own horse through watching another horse go.


Using these tips will create a more rewarding experience not only for you as a student but also for your trainer.


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