Dear Jessica, my instructor is really good so please don't think this is a complaint about her. She is very good and knows a lot and I really like her a lot. But I feel like I am taking the same lesson over and over again, and I don't know what to do about it. Some of it is probably my fault because I don't ride very often. I work full time and I don't have much time for riding, most days I get the stall cleaned and my horse fed (she lives in a little barn behind my house) and that's all I have time for. So I guess some weeks I don't ride at all and some weeks I might get to ride once. In the summer when it's light longer sometimes I can ride more, maybe two or three times a week, but not all that often.
I take a lesson whenever I can and the weather is good and my instructor is in town and my horse doesn't need shoeing or whatever, you know how that goes when you work full time, and so I have a lesson every month when I'm lucky, otherwise every two or three months. Whenever I have a lesson, I feel like it's my first lesson over again, my instructor is still trying to get me balanced in my saddle, get my legs stretching down, get my fingers closed and all that. I can always see some progress during the lesson and I always feel like my horse and myself are doing better at the end of the hour, but then when it's time for my next lesson, we're starting from the beginning again. I'd like to move on, go to the next level or stage or whatever.
If there are several months between my lessons, that's a long time, so I don't feel like I should be doing the exact same things I was working on three months ago, I need to get something different or I won't make progress. Or that's how I feel, anyway. I guess I need you to tell me if I'm right or if I'm wrong, and if I'm right, how can I tell my instructor that she needs to give me different lessons, not the same one every time? Please help. I don't feel like I know enough to design my own lessons, but I'm tired of doing the same lesson over and over. Thank you for reading this, I hope you will answer it. I love HORSE-SENSE and so does my instructor, so she will read this too if you do answer it. Thank you.
I have to sympathize with your instructor too, though. It's frustrating for a teacher to work with someone in your position. Students who take lessons only once a month or even less often CAN make progress, but only if they are able to practice between lessons. Without practice, there's no way for students to build their skills, confirm their technique, or create new habits - and these are the building blocks that enable students to progress.
You need to be absolutely fair here. Pretend that you are someone else taking an objective look at YOU. Take a good look at yourself, your level of preparedness, your physical and mental readiness, and ask yourself whether this student is truly able to build on a lesson and improve to the point at which she is ready for a second lesson. Riding involves both physical and mental skills. Are you bringing improved skills to each lesson, or are you bringing exactly the same skills each time? In other words, could there possibly be a valid reason for your instructor always giving you the same lesson?
Learning to ride is a process of skills acquisition - students are introduced to each skill, taught how to do whatever it is, then helped to practice until (a) they can do it correctly, (b) they can do it without thinking about it, and (c) they've done it correctly so often that they can't possibly do it INcorrectly. Meanwhile, they should also be taught the theory behind the skill, and how it fits into the overall lesson plan.
All of this takes time - but it takes more than time, it requires focused, productive effort as well. If a student masters the skills introduced in Lesson One well enough to build on them, then the teacher should proceed to Lesson Two. But if the student is still struggling with the material in Lesson One, it would be WRONG to try to move on as if the student had mastered the first lesson. If you've ever been in a math class (for example) where the teacher was determined to cover a set amount of material every day, regardless of whether the students understood it, you'll understand just how hopeless it can be to try to learn from someone who is fixated exlusively on the clock and the calendar.
If you think that your instructor simply doesn't have a plan for you, talk to her! While you're busy being frustrated with her, she might be just as frustrated with you, and you'll need to clear the air and figure out a way for you to improve your skills and make progress. You may want to ask your instructor for an overview of her lesson plan for the next six months or the next year. If you feel - or your instructor feels - that you aren't making progress because you aren't praticing effectively between lessons, ask for "homework assignments" in the form of exercises that you can do on and off the horse.
Some riders are not at all ambitious. They may be happy to have a lesson every few months, not because they particularly want to make progress, but because they enjoy "checking in" with the instructor periodically just to socialize a little and be sure that they aren't actually backsliding. ;-) There's nothing wrong with that, as long as both the rider and the instructor understand that the "lessons" are primarily social in nature.
Other riders are very ambitious, and become extremely frustrated when their riding schedules don't permit them to make the kind of progress they wish they could achieve between lessons. If you're one of these riders, let your instructor know. In addition to all of the exercises you can do on horseback, there are hundreds of exercises that you can do WITHOUT the horse, in your home or hotel room, to increase your strength and flexibility and stamina. Here's one example: If you're always standing on your toes in your stirrups, because your hamstrings and Achilles tendons are short and tight, and you know that you could change this with a daily or even three-times-weekly session of riding in a half-seat at walk and trot, ask your instructor to suggest alternative forms of stretching exercises that you can do at home, without a horse. When you DO have time to ride, you'll feel the benefit of those exercises immediately. You will have a more secure seat and leg, and your instructor will have more to work with in your lesson. ;-)
Similarly, you can do exercises to learn to keep your fingers closed, even if you're at home. Tie a set of reins to a leg of your coffee table, and practice holding the reins when you watch the TV news (or whatever else you have time to watch). You can use this to get yourself in the habit of holding your reins correctly, with closed fingers, and it really WILL take just ten or fifteen minutes a day.
If balance is a problem, a little bit of yoga or Tai chi will work wonders - even a few minutes here and there during your workday will help immensely. Don't give up just because you can't ride every day. There's so much you can do to improve your riding, even if you're nowhere near a horse. Show your instructor that you're determined to make progress in spite of your schedule, and I'll bet that she'll find all sorts of ways to help you. Good luck!
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