Last summer and into the fall I was taking weekly lessons with a trainer that I loved and then riding a couple more times on my own each week. I loved riding with Mary because she really fine-tuned my riding and clued me in to some things I was doing wrong that Iwasn’t even aware of. We were working on really basic stuff, like riding a circle that looked like a circle instead of an amoeba and maintaining contact through transitions. I loved riding with her; the only problem was that I had to trailer to another barn for each lesson and it took 3 times as long as it would to take a lesson at my own barn. (The problem with my barn is that there is no real arena, just a small pasture).
I stopped taking lessons around Thanksgiving and rode as much as I could on my own all winter long. I feel like I improved my riding, but I’m wondering how much I’ll really be able to progress without regular input from a trainer. Am I dooming myself to a pattern of mistakes I don’t even know I’m making???
Since regular lessons aren’t in the time or the money budget, here’s my plan to improve: (I love numbered lists!)
1. Read, read, read! I’m slowly amassing a library of equestrian how-to books by the great riders and teachers. My favorites are George Morris for hunter equitation and Alois Podhajsky (sp?) for dressage. A lot of stuff in the books is over my head and written for a rider with a skill level superior to mine, but the more I ride, the more it makes sense to me. I find myself riding and thinking, “Oooooooh, this must be what he’s talking about in Chapter 7!” Riding is one of those things you can only learn by doing, but I find that reading makes me more informed of the theory behind what I’m supposed to be doing when I ride. Slowly but surely my practice is matching up to the theory.
2. Ride, ride, ride! As I said before, the only way to learn to ride is to get on a horse and RIDE! Even when I’m hacking around the barn or trail riding, my balance is improving, my legs are getting stronger, and I’m becoming more aware of my body position and my horse’s movement. The more I ride, the more I become familiar with his quirks and his moods and our partnership grows. Before this winter, I was afraid to canter on Baron. I was afraid he would get too quick and I wouldn’t be able to bring him back down, and I was afraid of falling off! This winter we cantered up and down a long dirt road nearly every time I rode. The more we cantered, the more stable and comfortable I became and the more I trusted my ability to control him. (He’s a very good boy; he always comes back to me when I ask.) I definitely need work at the canter, but the only way to improve is to canter, canter, and canter some more!
3. Go to some clinics! I read that Jane Savoie (big deal dressage trainer) was so poor when she first started riding that all she could afford was a somewhat broke-down ex-racehorse with suspensory issues. Regular lessons weren’t in her budget either. She compensated by saving up for a clinic every few months or so where she did an intensive day or weekend with a trainer she respected. She would take the trainer’s suggestions and go home and try to improve the specific areas the trainer had pointed out. I haven’t had the opportunity to take Baron to a clinic, but this is something I have on the goals list. In addition to improving my riding, I think it would be fun for Baron. It’s a nice change of scenery for him and he would love to meet the other horses at the clinic. He’s a social butterfly!
4. Get free advice from other riders! Ask people at your barn who ride better than you to critique you or to give you some pointers. Most people are happy to give their opinion and you may get some helpful advice. If it’s crappy advice, just ignore it! Also, I love the forum on the Chronicle of the Horse website. I often post questions on there about how to deal with training issues, like “How do I deal with my horse rushing at the trot?” Some people who comment are full of $#!%, but some are knowledgable riders and trainers who have explained things in a way that made perfect sense to me. For example, my question about rushing at the trot got some good responses about how it is most likely a balance issue for Baron. I got some great advice and some tips on exercises to try at the trot.
I would love to be a horse owner with unlimited time and money to spend on improving my riding, but I have a life, responsibilities and expenses outside of the barn. Like most horse owners, I’m becoming a better rider slowly but surely, with a lot of time and hard work and a little creativity!