How do you keep learning when riding alone with or less experienced riders?
I'm a young adult (mid twenties) with a nice young pony at a friendly boarding barn that takes great care of said pony. I've always taken my riding seriously and am always looking to improve my riding and horsemanship skills. I'm a competent, but by no means spectacular horsewoman and rider.
I was very lucky to have excellent, regular instruction for most of my childhood. During summer or winter breaks from school I always had some sort of intensive working student position and really enjoyed the hard work and learning. However, I ultimately decided that I'd rather keep horses fun and do something else for a career. So, for about the past four years, I've been riding consistently, but without regular instruction. Mostly I was riding horses owned by other people.
In those situations and in my current boarding situation, I am the most experienced and skilled rider present. Please understand that I say this with no disrespect towards my fellow boarders. They are lovely people - mostly re-riders or first time horse owners and I very much enjoy our shared rides, conversation and drama-free barn time. And I enjoy our walking trail rides very much, while they are happy to join me after I'm done with my trot/canter sets
I learn the most when I am surrounded by those who are more skilled and more experienced than I. I am really missing the informal learning that happens when I am able to share barn time with those who have many more years (or simply more miles/hours) in the saddle than I do.
I'm not in a fabulously horsey-area, so searching for a new boarding barn is out. I'm exploring some excellent options for lessons (trailering in), but that are far away enough that they will have to be a weekend-only thing.
Others who are in my situation - what do you do? I read COTH, books on riding and horsemanship and watch videos of excellent riders online so I have good imagery to focus on. I'd imagine my situation is similar in some ways to those of you who ride at home. What tactics do you employ to ensure that you are continuing to grow and learn as a horseman and rider?
Or perhaps this just a natural part of becoming an adult in the horse world? Recognizing that you may not always have a mentor (or five or ten ) readily available?
I would say, you're sitting on the best instructor of all, the horse you are riding. So challenge yourself to listen to that horse and apply what you have learned through all those years of instruction.
I pose this question not to give you a hard time, but as 'devil's advocate:' do you really consider yourself the 'most skilled rider' at your barn if you can't enjoy what you are doing (like those 'lesser' re-riders) without someone telling you what to do?
If you haven't read 'the classics'- Littauer, Wright, Podhjasky, you would do well to find a copy on Amazon or e-Bay. And there are all sorts of free ways to learn, just to go any show, even local unrated shows, and observe- the good and the bad, both are equally instructive.
Thanks for the response, Beverley. And perhaps I should have been more clear. I absolutely admire the women I am currently riding with. I think you are right on with your "devil's advocate question". Perhaps I need to start finding the quiet joy in nice walk in addition to enjoying a good school on the flat or over fences.
Been reading and re-reading the "classics" as I have access to a great inter-library loan system through my university and can find just about anything through that.
Anyways, I think your advice was spot on - thanks for treating me kindly. I was worried that I had come across as extremely ungrateful and condescending in my first post and am grateful that you choose to look beyond that and offer me some advice.
There is a way you can take lessons from anyone, anywhere.
You need a helper with a video camera connected to a lap top computer, Internet access, skype on your and your instructors computer. Your helper runs the camera on you and your horse while being connected through skype to the instructor's computer, also with skype. Instructor watches you in real time on her computer while instructing you verbally through cell phones (you have a headset). Helps if instructor has two way calling so the camera helper can also have a cell phone and hear instructor for camera angles and zoom. Thats it.
As long as you have access to weekly trailer-ins you should be fine. Then you will have a weekly goal and a time to "check in". It is important to get regular help (I am a pro and I took take at least one if not more lessons a week, because nobody can teach themselves how to ride with no help), but it is also good to learn how to structure your schooling and work on things creatively on your own between them.
I'm a (much) older rider who keeps horses at home.
When time & money align, I am able to have a trainer come to me, but that happens way too infrequently to say I am "in a program".
What I do is treat each lesson as homework - embedding the memory of the Good work and trying to achieve that on my own between lessons.
I tell the trainer what my intentions were when she's next there to critique my progress and that seems to work for me.
Totally agree with reading the classics in whatever discipline you ride.
George Morris for Hunters, Podhajsky for dressage, etc.
I taught my horse counter-canter by reading & re-reading (an re-reading yet again!) Podhajsky's Training of the Horse and Rider.
Dry as dust, but totally correct.
Your progress may not be as rapid as you'd get with consistent training, but it will occur.
Be patient, Little Grasshopper
*friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon: Steppin' Out 1988-2004 Hey Vern! 1982-2009 Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
Like 2DogsFarm said, treat your lessons as homework. I'm really only able to afford 2 lessons a month, so I REALLY pay attention at those lessons. And while I'm not so good at being consistent with it, I try to journal in a planner about good exercises learned at the lesson. Even when I can't remember what I have in my skill toolbox, I can look at my calendar to see what exercises worked and get a frame of reference for where me and my horse were at that time. Because spiral-in-spiral-out was SO effective the lesson I took with a dressage trainer, I'm considering buying a dressage exercise book to get me through the next few months while she's in Florida.
Also, Jimmy Wofford's gymnastic book is fantastic and filled with lots of good jumping exercises so it's not always course work. If you don't do a lot of gymnastics now, you should find that they can really help you stay correct over fences.
Clinics, send videos to instructors, you are right, alone you can learn much, but not tell when you are not doing things quite right.
"Eyes on the ground" is an old phrase, but still holds true today.
Even the BNTs I worked with would have someone watching and commenting regularly, it is the nature of riding that you can't know/feel/see it all when riding and training, as you well know.
Half a century ago, I was very young, went on my own, started my riding school and was doing very, very well.
BUT, I was isolated, way out of the way and alone, the only one that knew much of anything where I was.
After a while I realized, as you are, that I was stuck, so sold out and went back to working for BNT's, as there is where the instruction and advancement I needed were.
I never looked back, that was what I needed.
Today? You can travel, take lessons, there are videos, so much more to complement what we can do on our own.
Decide at what level you want to ride and make it happen, now is as good a time as any.
Just because the other riders at the barn aren't quite as experienced as you are, you can still learn from them. I have met a lot of riders that don't have the mileage that I do, but excel in a different area. One girl where I board has an awesome natural seat and leg. I watch her, and try to replicate. KWIM?
I also board, and only have the time for a few lessons each month. I have a great rapport with my current trainer, so I call/email her often and say, "I'm having a problem with X,Y,Z... what can I do?" She's happy to give advice, youtube links, reading material, etc to help me through.
I also only work on one thing at a time. Right now I'm working on getting
+ my mare to move off my leg with out bucking (mares...). Once we achieve that goal, we'll move onto the next thing. I've found that it helps both of us not get overwhelmed.
Finally I take every oppurtunity I can to scribe, ring steward, audit clinics, watch videos, and never be afraid to ask questions. COTH is a great resource, and I'm sure they are all sick of my relentless questions. . The only stupid question is the ones that you don't ask.
I would say, you're sitting on the best instructor of all, the horse you are riding. So challenge yourself to listen to that horse and apply what you have learned through all those years of instruction..
boy is that great advice. I agree with what everyone has written, but for me, I do keep struggling with really learning what my horses need me to know about them, points that still aren't working. And,as Bluey said, getting an other pair of eyes I trust is very veryhelpful, no matter how infrequent, to give me direction and things to work on. And riding (as with skiing) with those less experienced is also a great way to really hone in on my skills..what am I doing? HOW am I asking for it? I think you're great to be thinking about it, be humble enough to ask questions. I think its those who believe they know it all that get into trouble!
All of your suggestions are extremely spot on and helpful. I particularly appreciate the suggestions to make sure that I am treating the focus of lessons (sometimes on my young horse, some on more well schooled horses) as "homework". I also love the idea of incorporating video into my schooling, whether it is to send to an instructor or simply review myself on a regular basis.
Some of you described very accurately, what I think I failed to describe in my original post. The feeling of being a bit "stuck", but not having anything huge or glaringly awful going wrong. Just know that those little bad habits have crept up overtime
I'm definitely going to keep in mind 2Dogs' "Be patient Little Grasshopper" and Beverley's "your best instructor is the horse you are sitting on" suggestions in mind - both are words to live by!
I'm an eventer, so all the suggestions of books, both jumping and dressage are applicable.
I wouldn't discount the re-riders as potential mentors or sources of advice, either. Some of those little old ladies (and I can say that because I am one) may not be out there schooling seriously because they just don't want to anymore. That doesn't mean they don't know what you ought to be doing or can't help you improve your riding. One or two of them may well be able to offer you a pair of knowledgeable eyes on the ground.
I was in the military, so for years was often in non-horsey areas or without my own horse to ride. I was lucky to find horses needing work - of varying quality depending on location. But I truly value that time now in retrospect. I distinctly recall a lesson in college where I kept messing up in a line that wasn't set just so. The BO, an experienced amateur jumper rider, came out and talked to the trainer, and she took over for a moment for my lesson. She told me to go out and ride the course and that it was NOT a lesson - she could see me actually WAITING for the trainer to tell me what to do, instead of doing what my eye/body was telling me to do. By cutting the apron strings to my trainer's guidance, it forced me to pay attention to MY ride and actually RIDE. That lesson has stuck with me for many years now!
Now that I'm settled, I own two horses - one hunter, one dressage - and get at least 2 lessons a month on each. I find I progress better with some time between lessons to absorb what we worked on in the last lesson. I know my horses would move up faster if I had more frequent help, but I feel like I'm becoming a better trainer with the time alone, not just a passenger who listens to the instructor. Don't be worried if you "mess up" because those are learning opportunities, too. I doubt this is your last horse, so as long as you aren't abusing the horse, not doing things perfectly is still okay - you can learn so much more from it in the long run. So enjoy the opportunity to develop your own feel, and if you can haul in periodically for a gut check, you'll be just fine.
(Hiya!) We are in a similar place- you for reasons of location and me for reasons of equine soundness! I don't remember the last time I took a lesson and I haven't been in a real program for something like two years. What I have been doing to keep sharp is to watch others' lessons- really focus on the instruction given to fix a particular problem, which I might be able to generalize to something I'm experiencing. If my friend is chipping in every fence because her horse's shoulder is left, and my horse's lateral work is lousy because his shoulder is left, listening to the instructor fix her chip-in builds my awareness of what's going on with my horse and helps me fix my horse's shoulder. If you have mirrors in your indoor, stare at yourself.
Another thing that has helped me identify problems before they become huge problems is to find a place where I won't die doing this, locate a landmark straight ahead, close my eyes, and have my horse walk forward in what my closed-eye self perceives to be a straight line. I pay very close attention to what I think is going on in my horse's body. After about 10 steps I open my eyes to see where I am in relation to that landmark, and then take what thought about what my horse's body is doing and consider that in light of what it actually did! Then I think very analytically: what is my leg doing to contribute to this? What is my left seatbone doing to contribute to this? What can my right hand do better? Then I look at my landmark, close my eyes, and try to fix it. You can probably tell that Tip is in a phase of side-winding like a crab right now, but most of my problems arise from lousy body control on my part. Either I'm causing a problem in my horse's way of going, or I'm not doing a good job at fixing it. So the brief moments of intense focus serve as a good checkpoint. If you don't have problems with straightness you can also do this to evaluate the quality of the gaits, etc. I find I really feel more about how the horse is traveling and how the legs and joints are activating when I'm not processing all that visual input.
I also read the classics over, which have already been mentioned here, and watch a lot of YouTube videos of riders I respect. If I can't sit at a show and watch riders who know what they are doing, YouTube is the next best thing. If you do ship out to lessons on weekends- and I hope you can- take home homework!
"I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep."
- Harry Dresden
I also love the idea of incorporating video into my schooling, whether it is to send to an instructor or simply review myself on a regular basis.
Watching yourself ride really does help. My mom video taped my lessons for years when I was younger. Literally, years. I have boxes and boxes of old VHS tapes of lessons and horse shows. I used to watch the tape of my lesson when I got home from the barn that day, and I always found it really beneficial. Knowing what you look like, and what your horse looks like, while doing different things can make a difference.
Where I board now, the indoor has mirrors. I like it a lot to do a quick once-over on my position or how my horse is moving.