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Why do you still take lessons?

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  • Why do you still take lessons?

    I'm writing my next column about teaching and why riders take lessons forever. My husband thinks after 40 years of riding I should already know what I'm doing. He doesn't get why I still take lessons (or more to the point,why I still pay for lessons He hasn't yet tallied up all the money I've spent on trainers, but I know he's thinking about it.

    I'll also be writing about what makes a good teacher and what makes a bad teacher, having just returned from a clinic with a brilliant horseman but terrible teacher made even worse by far too many riders he was attempting to teach

    So my questions to my fellow HJ riders are:
    Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?
    What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
    Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?

    And any other thoughts you have about teaching and riding.

    Jody Jaffe

  • #2
    I have been riding seriously for 42 years. I still take lessons, now because I have MS. My instructor has been working with me for years. Since I do not have a very good proprioceptive sense and my sense of balance is very poor, my instructor's patient years long work on my basic position has kept me walking instead of in a wheelchair (where I was for a while decades ago.)
    Having said that I searched for over 30 years for an instructor that was good for my riding. For many, many years I went without lessons, relying on the best riding teachers I could afford, my own horses. There is nothing to teach horsemanship like being totally responsible for everything. All this time I was not riding just for "fun", I was listening to my horses and trying to learn to get their willing cooperation. Listening to my horses, reading lots of books on equitation, experimenting and evaluating my results I managed to keep my riding within acceptable bounds.
    I never got into showing. With my undiagnosed MS I never had enough energy to show!
    It is the combination of my solo experience and my current lessons that keep me a decent rider with good hands in spite of being disabled with MS.

    Teachers: good teachers have unlimited patience. They also know good horsemanship! Really good teachers also know theory and how it applies when up on the horse.
    Bad teachers are not patient and they tend to blame the student or the horse for the lack of progress. They can be especially prone to feelings of inferiority when trying to teach a person who already knows how to ride. There are riding instructors who are quite good at teaching beginners but who completely shut down when they are trying to give a lesson to an experienced rider who is decent in the saddle.

    I do not have the energy or money to go to clinics. I try to get one lesson a year with a very good teacher I've known for over 40 years. She encourages me to go that little step further in my desire to become the best rider I can be in spite of my MS and my horrible balance and coordination.


    • #3
      Even Michael Jordan had to practice.

      I am not saying I am MJ, but this is the analogy I use (or I talk about orchestral musicians or the like) & explain that my instructor takes lessons, and that instructor takes lessons etc all the way up.

      If I called my instructor my "coach", I think I would get fewer exasperated looks.
      Last edited by Hippolyta; Dec. 18, 2012, 11:51 AM.


      • #4
        Why keep taking lessons? Because a good horseman never stops trying to learn. Even riders at the top of the sport still get coaching.

        What do they do for you? They help reinforce what I already know, but also help me advance as a rider by learning how to handle different situations, horses, and questions. It is a confidence builder for me, because even though I've been riding since I could walk, I never had formal lessons and had some nasty spills. I am not at the top of my sport and probably never will be, but I at least want something to strive for! I also want to make sure that I am a "safe" rider. Staying in lessons helps ensure that that happens lest my horse or I develop too many bad habits.

        What makes a good teacher? One who continues their own training education and who is able to “read” their students well. They know when to be tough, don't tolerate shenanigans, but also understand when a student is frustrated, and help them work through it without theatrics. Additionally, I am one who has a huge amount of respect for the instructors who can admit that they aren’t the right instructor for a student and will refer the student to someone who might be a better “fit” for them. They're also respectful of your time and don't do things like talk on their cell phone during lessons, etc.

        What makes a bad teacher? Lack of patience and instructors who take advantage of or lie to parents or students. Instructors who don’t stress the importance of flatwork and who give into pressure from students or parents and allow the student to jump long before they’re ready.

        Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one? I look at clinics as a great way to possibly learn new things to work on. I do not expect a clinic to magically solve everything that is wrong with my riding or with my horse in one session. It’s a great way to get ideas of exercises or to get a different perspective from what is hopefully an expert in the field. However, from my own experience, many clinics can be a complete waste of time as it seems like many trainers just want to show up, collect their money, and leave. They don’t always necessarily benefit the horse or the rider the way they are supposed to. My typical suggestion is to always audit first or check around with other people who you trust and see if they can make good recommendations of clinicians to ride with.
        In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.


        • #5
          Why keep taking lessons? What do they do for you?

          I keep taking lessons because there is so much more I want to learn. I also value my trainer's eyes on the ground, because it's really easy for me to fall into bad habits without even realizing that I'm doing it. As an adult amateur with limited time and the limited fitness that comes from riding a desk for 10-12 hours a day... lessons are the way I stay on track and continue to progress, particularly now as I am exploring a new discipline.

          What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?

          A good teacher can adapt to the learning style of the student (and possibly the horse) in front of them. Anybody can parrot the right phrases (my husband can stand there saying, "heels down! elbows in!" after all) but a good pro can establish the hows and the whys of things. "Anchor yourself with a deep heel by stretching up in your core, letting your knees and ankles be hinges," is a lot more helpful than having someone just yell, "heels down!" all the time.

          Good trainers are also able to structure their lessons to create progress even when things aren't going to plan. They can adapt the exercises to address horse or rider issues on any given day, know when to push a bit to create progress and when it's better not to go outside a rider's (or horse's) comfort zone. They can accurately assess capability (and suitability) and are both realistic and respectful about working with each horse/rider pair, perhaps to the point of sending them elsewhere if the rider's needs and goals are not a good fit for their own program.

          Bad trainers... well, there's been plenty on that subject on this board in the past. I'd say that that bucket includes people who have not educated themselves sufficiently to teach the proper basics or who teach people who are beyond their level of knowledge, people who are not respectful of their clients, whether that means making derogatory comments about them or maybe even to them... insisting they buy new horses instead of working with the ones they have, etc.

          Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?

          Clinics are a great opportunity to get feedback from another set of eyes, possibly from someone who judges a lot and can provide some fresh insight, and perhaps learn some new ways of dealing with riding issues that you've been wrestling with for a while. Often the clinicians are luminaries in the field and have a wealth of experience to offer that the local professional hasn't had, or possibly the clinician can offer some fresh insight to the professional about new approaches to work with a pair that has been riding with that trainer for a while.
          We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


          • #6
            So my questions to my fellow HJ riders are:
            Not specifically H/J, so you can disregard my answers if you want, but I do not think they are discipline specific.

            Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?

            Even opera divas take singing lessons.

            Without lessons, it is very easy to fall into bad habits, so you need lessons just to stay at the same level of expertise.

            If you compete, you need lessons to either become better at your current level, or move up to a more difficult level.

            If you don't compete, you have been riding for a long time and you are happy with your current level of skill, then lessons are less important.

            What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
            Ability to see what you are doing right or wrong, understand what is causing it, explain it, and give you intructions on how to fix it.

            Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
            Another perspective. A different way of seeing and saying things. If I have 5 things that I need to work on, my regular instructor may be focusing on 3 of tehm. But the clinician may focus on a DIFFERENT 3 things. Where there is overlap, it reinforces the importance of that factor, and my give me a better exercise or thought process. Where they are different, it reminds me to work on the things my regular instructor isn't focusing on.

            For example, I have a problem with sitting crooked. Sometimes my regular instructor reminds me of theis, but recently, we have been focusing on other things, and she hasn't said much about it. But the clinician REALLY got at me about sittin crooked.

            Sometimes we get in a rut. I had the same clinician (years ago different horse) tell me "she is capable of doing much more than you are asking for. You need to ask for more." Both my regular instructor and I had been easy on here because she had been coming back from a health problem. But she WAS over it, and it was time to stop cutting her so much slack.

            A different technique. The clinician had me carry my hands in a different way, and my horse went much better.

            HOWEVER, to benefit from a clinic, you need to have enough experience to figure out what things work and what things don't. Ther have also been plenty of times that a clincian has suggested a dfifferent technique, and it just doesn't work well for THAT horse. But I try to keep it in the back of my mind because it might be "just the thing" for a future horse.
            Last edited by Janet; Dec. 18, 2012, 01:56 PM.

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


            • #7
              I told DH I would stop taking lessons when I made it to the Olympics

              Even the best still practice and I'm definitely not the best.


              • #8
                Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?
                I take lessons because I want to continue to progress in my riding. I try to keep raising the bar for myself. Because I do that, I like having someone with a good eye and a depth of experience on the ground helping me. I know that they won't push me until my horse and I are ready, but they will push when we need it. They can see what maybe I can't feel and help me fix it. Regular lessons keep me from getting into bad habits that would be detrimental to my riding and hard to break.

                What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
                A good teacher, in my opinion, has a depth of experience to help you with your goals. They are always finding new ways to help you grow in your riding. They keep things safe, but also know when it is appropriate to push. If they don't know, they have a support network to help them out.

                A bad teacher creates unsafe situations, is not creative in their teaching, and generally feels that they are the expert and no one should question them or their program.

                Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                Clinics can help with new ideas, they can help identify issues that maybe you have been blind to, and they can provide a different perspective to issues you may be having (something your trainer has been telling you about over and over, but maybe the clinician tells you in a different way that clicks).


                • #9
                  Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?
                  I have been riding for 38 years. I grew up learning from the classic books and the horses and ponies themselves with lessons being a luxury that I took here and there with different trainers and barns on my own ponies. This past summer, for the first time in my life, I have been taking regular lessons at a show barn on their ponies and mine. I absolutely love it and they are helping to improve the bad habits that I have gotten into over the years. I am very thankful to have this opportunity at this point in my life. I wish I had been able to do this earlier, but I never really found an instructor as good as the one at the current barn.

                  What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
                  A good teacher is one who not only communicates well to the rider, but also one who wants their riders to excel at what they are doing. They actually TEACH, not just preach. A good instructor is one who can have their riders actually get and reproduce what they are telling you to do.
                  I have only had one "bad" instructor. That one was years ago and she did not even know what changes were. First and last lesson with that one!! lol
                  I boarded with another one in Iowa who gave lessons, but they were not really learning lessons, just riders plunking around doing the same thing every time with little variation and no real instruction.

                  Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                  I have never attended a clinic, but have heard feedback from those who did. It would be nice to watch, but I have no desire to ride in one. My body is way too old to ride that intensely.

                  And any other thoughts you have about teaching and riding.
                  If you find someone that you click with, keep working with them. Don't be afraid to move on if you need to, either.
                  Proud to have two Takaupa Gold line POAs!
                  Takaupas Top Gold
                  Gifts Black Gold Knight


                  • #10
                    Someone mentioned Michael Jordan -

                    He had to change his game over his career, to develop into a leader and fill the voids where his team needed him. He didn't always play with or against the same people, so he was always adapting, changing and improving different areas of his game, often with the help of coaches.

                    I only recently was able to own my own horse. For the 20+ years of riding leading up to that day, I was always changing my game, learning and adapting to whatever horse I was lucky enough to ride that day.

                    And now my horse is helping me develop a whole new set of skills because he may have needed my "game" when we first met, but now we are learning from each other to maximize our potential as a team. Lessons and clinics provide us with continuous opportunities to learn from each other, as well as others.


                    • #11
                      Why take lessons? Because it's not a bicycle

                      What makes a good instructor? One who tells you what to do, not what not to do. One who can explain why. One who has patience to understand that ingrained bad habits are not eliminated by one correction but must be unlearned over repeated corrections. One who accepts part of the responsibility for your inability to get something right despite being repeatedly told something. One who can adapt his/her way of teaching to a particular student's way of learning or recommend another instructor whose teaching style would better fit the student's learning style. One who can be honest with students about factors impeding their ability to progress (fitness, suitability, etc.)

                      What makes a bad instructor? One who fails to recognize his or her strengths and weaknesses and doesn't work to improve. One who has contempt for students. One who puts students in unsafe situations. One who doesn't care. One who lets outside distractions, bystanders, phone calls, text messages, etc, interfere with a lesson.


                      • #12
                        We don't all keep taking lessons

                        I quit taking lessons because it wasn't fun anymore, and then when I thought it might be fun to try again, they were too expensive. I accept where I am as a rider and I enjoy my time with my horse.


                        • #13
                          Why keep taking lessons? I think we can always benefit from learning. Taking lessons is a way to keep you fresh and have someone keep you on your toes. Human nature says we want to please people so it makes us get on the horse early; clean attire; and submit to a challenging lesson. Lessons force us to ride to “get ready” for lesson day like cleaning for the maid. I enjoy lessoning with others in the group and I enjoy learning from the mistakes of others, and myself.
                          What do they do for you? They keep you updated and fresh.
                          What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher? Now you throw in the monkey wrench. I don’t think there are good or bad teachers but rather those that understand the teaching process and those that don’t. We learn by use of building blocks; repetition; and the reward system. I always say, two “at-a-boys” to one demonstrated mistake. I tend to find good teachers are people that can laugh at their own mistakes; those that don’t take themselves too seriously; and from those who actually know their place in life. I have witnessed many trainers step in a ring and start talking as if they are the “only” trainer and their word is “gospel”. They put down the theories of other trainers. Those I consider people who are caught up in their own line of BS and I won’t bother paying them. To others who will recognize their rider may even know more than them but want the trainers affirmation or confidence they bring to the equation. I like those trainers. A good teacher recognizes you can learn over poles on the ground. I had a top trainer tell me : “you know a bad trainer when they just keep highering the jumps as if that means they taught their rider something.” Bad teachers smoke and talk through your lessons; answer their phones and text; make you wait while they attend to other business. A good trainer is dedicated to your lesson and your time slot and is someone who knows to teach you one good point for the day in a positive way. Trainers should not scream; they should not draw lines in the sand of the “their way or the high way”; they should be approachable and admit they don’t know everything. My husband once said “why does every trainer trash talk another trainer”…the answer “because they lack confidence in themselves”.
                          Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one? I was a clinic junkie but after many disappointing clinics I am down to a few clinicians I will attend if they are anywhere in my State. I am a Melanie Smith Taylor and Frank Madden admitted groupie. If you want to know what a clinician should do, watch them. They assess the group they have and ensure everyone gets a benefit out of their time. Clinics also give you a chance to watch others tackle the tasks at hand. I think clinics bring updated knowledge and different perspectives. I also think clinics make your own trainers a bit more attentive to your needs when they become complacent. Clinics make you sharper and open your desire to learn. They give a new motivation that you can ride with someone new; understand their instruction and give your mount a new location to absorb. Clinics are a good introduction to later showing your horse.


                          • #14
                            I take lessons cause I like to learn & stay on top of my riding skills. Riding without eyes on the ground can lead to bad habits. Unfortunately I don't lesson much unless I am going to head to a show. My horse is older (doesn't need the extra miles) & I have a limited budget.

                            A good teacher is somebody who teaches constructively & is patient (in general has good people skills). I don't need to be told I am stupid or belittled. A good teacher asks what your goals are & helps you work towards them. They recognize when you need motivation or a little hand holding. They keep the atomosphere positive, about learning & answer all your questions.

                            I haven't ridden in a clinic, but I have managed to watch a couple. I learn a lot by watching so then I can go home & re-create the exercises on my own.
                            "I'm not crazy...my mother had me tested"


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by jody jaffe View Post
                              I'm writing my next column about teaching and why riders take lessons forever. My husband thinks after 40 years of riding I should already know what I'm doing. He doesn't get why I still take lessons (or more to the point,why I still pay for lessons He hasn't yet tallied up all the money I've spent on trainers, but I know he's thinking about it.
                              To quote a gentleman I've had the pleasure of knowing my whole life, "If you think you know it all, you don't. You never stop learning."

                              Very few of us make it to tippy top of this horsey thing we love so much, so we've all got room to keep learning, whether it's being a lesson plan or seeking out clinics to get experience and different perspectives. Hell, from what I can see, a lot of people who hold themselves out as "professionals" around here could use a bit of work and taking or auditing a clinic or two or five with someone way more established would definitely do themselves and their clients some good.


                              • #16
                                Jody, I love this question and I am sure you are going to get a lot of varied and useful info for your article. My answer is lengthy and I hope it is constructive. Analysis of the answers might depend on the demographics and knowing a bit about your sources; if that helps I am a former professional who underwent a drastic career change and after a long hiatus from the saddle, I now ride as an older amateur (I’m 58). I have a more-than-full-time job, kids in college and a modest budget for riding and showing, but am blessed with an amateur hunter worth far more than I paid for him, and a wonderful trainer. I take one small group lesson a week, maybe one private lesson a month, and compete at 7-8 local shows a year (and occasionally at something rated). I do 1-2 clinics a year if the opportunity presents.

                                Why keep taking lessons? What do they do for you?

                                Like many, I cannot imagine my riding improving on its own; I want to continue to ride to the best of my ability and bring out the best in my horse. As an amateur, a junior or even as a professional (up until you get to rarified air), that is just not going to happen because you will it. No matter what amount of talent and experience you might have, a lesson gives structure and order to your riding and should leave you with tasks that you can work on independently until the next lesson. A lesson builds throughout the hour, to add layer upon layer of complexity to the ride, and there should be someone on the ground to know when you have enough layers for one day and should work on those exercises before moving up. Then at the next lesson, or maybe 2 or 3 lessons down the road, the layers start building again until the next critical level of complexity is achieved. Without guidance, you are not going to accomplish that in the ring (or at the piano, or on the ice….whatever your game). A lesson should never be “OK, enough trotting; can we jump now?” A lesson should be informative and take into account the whole cloth of horsemanship; discussion should include anatomy, physics and geometry as they relate to movement, planning turns and approaches to jumps and flatwork. In my lessons we often stop to discuss these things. Lessons make me think, plan and execute; rather than aimless wandering around an oval.

                                What makes a good teacher?

                                A good teacher has become educated herself, before trying to train someone else. A good teacher has done her homework and paid her dues in terms of learning (and continuing to learn) everything she can about horsemanship; I like a trainer who has mucked her share of stalls and been a groom, a working student and an assistant trainer before hanging out her shingle and proclaiming herself to be a professional. A good teacher knows about nutrition, soundness, anatomy, conformation, pharmacology and basic first aid, as well as how to flat a horse and jump it. A good teacher demands excellence in turnout, attentiveness, barn manners and attitude, all of which can be within a rider’s control. A teacher should never put her riders in a situation which is unsafe for them or the horse; never over-face a horse or rider. I think that creating fear is the worst thing a teacher can do and it will ruin a student forever. A good teacher listens to her students’ questions and appreciates that she can learn from them, and also encourages her students to learn from each other. A good teacher is calm under pressure and has a plan for handling emergencies. She also has her paperwork in order, sends bills promptly and hires the appropriate help for stable and administrative support when needed. I could go on………

                                What makes a bad teacher?

                                Pretty much the opposite of everything described above. I am fortunate not to have had a bad teacher but I have seen them. A bad teacher has no foundation upon which to rest her purported expertise. Having ridden in the Big Eq or at WEF does not independently make you a capable teacher. There is a method to teaching and communicating ideas that requires experience and training. A bad teacher takes unnecessary risks with her horses and students to appease them when they think that the essence of riding is simply jumping big and she is afraid of losing clients instead of teaching them correctly. A bad teacher tosses around buzzwords and catch phrases. A bad teacher also is sloppy, unorganized, loud, profane or rude in a number of settings. Ringside bellowing is not going to make your rider any better at a show and for Pete’s sake, tuck in your shirt and stop dropping the “f-bomb” in front of the kids. Set an example and remember that these kids look up to you. I could go on here, too…..

                                Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?

                                I especially love clinics as a diversion and a source of new perspectives, and in fact the best thing about them is that my trainer and I often go ride in them together or at a minimum, audit each other’s clinics. A good teacher is not threatened or made to feel inadequate by her student wanting to go train with a “big-name” for the day or weekend, and encourages the student to do so. We come home with ideas for course design, exercises, and sometimes even the unexpected thing like groundwork sessions before even mounting up. Clinics usually feel like getting a golf lesson from Tiger Woods; the excitement of having an Olympic medal winner as your coach for a day is just too good to pass up.


                                • #17
                                  Why keep taking lessons?I was a good, fearless, fit working student years ago. Now, I’m older, I work full time, I’m more concerned with my safety. I have the knowledge but not the same capacity to do it on my own like before. I have a big energetic young 6YO who is difficult but not impossible. So I found a great young trainer who has just the knowledge to be able to handle this type of horse.

                                  What do they do for you?My trainer helps me keep on track when I’m riding him and prevents bad habits that may arise occasionally out of my fears, or lack of focus. She works with my horse weekly and I get 2 lessons per week either ridden lessons or honing groundwork or in hand work principles.

                                  What makes a good teacher? A good teacher is someone who takes the time to really know your horse and you. Who tailors your learning curve to you specifically. Who is firm and steady. Mostly a trainer who is consistent in the work on a weekly basis.
                                  What makes a bad teacher?A trainer who over faces a student or her horse. An unsympathetic trainer. Not all trainers are adept at teaching adult amateurs.

                                  Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                                  I choose clinics which will provide me with a specific need. For example I did a pilates for dressage clinic not long ago (and wrote about it here on COTH). This clinic not only improved my physical abilities but gave me tools that I will be able to use forever.