Becoming an Independent Rider in a Lesson Program

In my last post, I talked about how few lessons I've had this summer, and how that wasn't a bad thing.


Really, this post goes back to late March of this year, or the moment I knew I was leaving my old barn.  At the time, I thought I'd be seeing my trainer much less, so I started preparing myself for that by pretending I didn't have a trainer.

All photos in this post are NDPC outtakes taken by my mom. Thanks, Mom!

I started to become more independent of my trainer for the first time.  I started to say "no" when she asked me to do something before he was warmed up enough to really do it.  I started to really think for myself, and acted like I wasn't in a program - which I have been for my entire adult riding career at this point.

(This post also is a shoutout to EquiNovice's thought provoking post on a similar topic (who, incidentally, also rides with my trainer.))


For my entire adult riding life, if I didn't have regular lessons, the wheels would fall off between lessons.  But after a summer of very few lessons in which the wheels most definitely didn't fall off (quite the opposite, I think) I realized that the wheels were falling off while I was in regular lessons because I was letting my trainer practically ride and think for me.


I'm not saying regular lessons are a bad thing, but you have to make a conscious effort to be a thinking, independent rider in that situation.  It's fine to rely on your trainer heavily when you're a beginner/intermediate rider, but there comes a point where you are not going to progress anymore until you become more of an equal partner in the trainer/student relationship, and less of a...remote controlled robot?

And it's okay to be at the point in time where you're not independent of your trainer.  I was there for a long long time.  Just know that it's not the end-game, and you've got a serious responsibility to start developing that independent thinking whenever and wherever you can.

Showing by myself and warming myself up are also things I didn't think I'd ever be capable of.   And I am more than capable of them now.  

So, I'm going back to regular lessons next month because I'll have to, but with a new attitude toward them.

Anyone else made this transition?

25 comments:

  1. I had to make this transition basically by jumping into the deep end of the pool - I moved from an all-inclusive program right after college (I had no life so spent every spare minute at the barn) to a barn where the trainer really REALLY did not work for me, and did not like my horse besides. So I stopped doing lessons and had to figure out a lot of things. It wasn't a great phase, but it did force me quickly into a more independent attitude that I've carried with me ever since, even when I had regular weekly lessons.

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    1. Wow, I can't even imagine an all-inclusive program. That had to be hard to get used to when you left.

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  2. This is such an important change for the adult ammy rider. When I first moved away from having a regular trainer/lessons/program, it was a huge change even in just handling the day to day. Steep learning curve for sure and lots of evaluating what I actually wanted vs just doing what I was told. I'm more or less back in a program now but it's definitely a different perspective.

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    1. That makes sense. I think if you've only ever been in one or the other it's hard to understand, but if like you you've been through both, it starts to make sense.

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  3. Not gonna like, I love riding in lessons because I don't have to think. I just do what I'm told and presto! My horse goes better because I'm relaxed (don't have to worry about how to fix anything) and because I'm essentially a Grand Prix rider's robot.

    OTOH it makes riding by myself more challenging. Le sigh.

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    1. TOTALLY with you. I can ride so much better in a lesson than I can on my own, but my newfound independence means the gap is closing between the two. I don't think it ever goes away though, if it did we wouldn't take lessons.

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  4. This is such a great point. I think it's sooo easy to fall into the trap of not being able to do anything without someone holding your hand. Lessons are great, but processing and learning on your own is just as important.

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    1. Yeah, you hit the nail on the head with 'processing'. You need time to think through this stuff and play. At the end of the day, they can't ride for you.

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  5. I call it the trainer riding the horse through you syndrome and while you can learn a ton and improve a lot, you can also become very dependent. The trainer is deciding the what to do, when to do it, and giving the rider constant feed back about position, aids and etc.. This is all good until the rider tries to do anything on their own without the trainer! Sounds like you have made good progress to being independent...

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    1. That is exactly it, that constant feedback. I often get to the end of a lesson and have a hard time remembering what we did (which is part of the reason I started blogging) because it's just reacting physically and not really thinking the whole time.

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  6. Excellent post! For a very long time I felt just as you described. I was heavily reliant on my trainer to point out what I was doing wrong and basically fix it for me. I also relied on them to provide me with weekly to-dos. So yes, I was a riding robot. Not until I got really burnt out after a month of intense training, did I ever let myself go without instruction. I started reading/watching more instruction articles/videos, started going through COTH forums, etc. What happened was just as you described! I started thinking more for myself. I have become able to connect a lot of the dots for myself (he’s bulging his shoulder because I’m doing xyz). I have found it more difficult to go back into training though, because now I’m thinking through the suggestions before blindly taking them.

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    1. OMG, the bulging shoulder thing, totally. And the weekly to-do's also, I think part of the reason I never progressed much before was that I expected my rides on my own to go the way they did in my lesson if I just did the exact same exercises. There's so much more to it than that.

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  7. Great post- I've had to be independent for a long time. now that I'm in a regular lesson schedule I consider it more of a partnership then for me to just do what I'm told. Not that I don't listen, that is why I have her. I just share my perspective as well.

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    1. Yeah, it's a fine line between listening and being that student that's like "I got this, I know better, I don't need you". It really does take input from both. They won't know exactly what you're feeling, and you won't know what they're seeing.

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  8. I feel like I'm started towards this transition right now. I just bought a new horse and moved to a new facility. My trainer is out for occasional lessons and training rides, but it's still a big change from being in her program 24/7. I'm looking forward to the increase in independence! Someday I want to be able to tackle horse ownership on my own, but for now this feels like a good intermediary step between having my hand held and going it alone.

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    1. I can definitely see that. Being in a program is great, but it does take some independence too.

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  9. I kind of went the opposite, living where there was no coaching beyond the odd clinic, then moving to a place with a coach. It was really hard to just relax and trust in the program!I'm going to be moving again, and I think have similar feelings to you...it will be nice to be more involved and thinking again, but I still would like pro help stay on track progress wise.

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    1. Totally, it takes a balance. If we didn't have coaches we'd never progress, but also if we only ever ride with a coach we also won't progress. Give and take.

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  10. I love this post also! Like T, I also sort of went the opposite way but then fell into letting my (previous) trainer ride and think for me. I think when taking weekly lessons it's tough to maintain a good balance between independence and still trusting/following/allowing your trainer to make changes. It all comes down to trust of course but still being able to question appropriately especially if something just doesn't feel right. Don't get me wrong, there's NO way I'd have made any sort of progress if I didn't get involved in a weekly lesson program but it's still important for me to try to maintain some sort of balance.

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    1. Exactly - you can't not have a coach, but you also can't always have a coach. You have made such good progress since riding with your current trainer!

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  11. Great post! Yes we still gotta remember to be the monkey driving the car even if we have a microphone in our ear.

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    1. Lol! That reminds me of the NPR This American Life ad where they say "And I'm like...the chimpanzee lost control of the van? Was the chimpanzee ever in control of the van?"

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  12. I think this is a great post. I come at it from the other side, I haven't really been in a "program" since I got my first horse at age 12. There were a few periods (never more than a year) where I would take weekly lessons with a trainer, but even then I never had a trainer with me at a show and I made decisions about my riding direction independently. After two years of riding on my own more than 90% of the time, I'm struggling a bit with having more frequent clinics and where the line is where I should compromise my independence to trust what the clinician is telling me (my post today shows that I haven't gotten this right yet).

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    1. I agree, although for me, it's less about trust and more about just critical thinking, and also giving myself the time between rides to process and think.

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  13. I think I have the opposite problem. Not in a regular program so I depend on myself too much when I should be getting more help.

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