What makes a great riding student?
Try your best!
All I ever want from my students is for them to try. You don’t need to be a future Olympian or ride a fancy, flashy Grand Prix prospect. You don’t need to be able to write a book on gaits, tack, lateral work or rider aids. You don’t need to bounce when you fall or land on your feet… You can have an ‘off’ day, feel tired, or feel weak. And it’s ok to be afraid!
As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that matters is that you care about your horse, want to learn, and are willing to try your best. Students who try are a pleasure to teach, no matter their level. I have enjoyed lessons with ‘happy hackers’ on a chunky native or cob just as much as lessons with more competitive riders with powerful warmbloods and ambition. Because it’s not about that – it’s about the rider’s attitude and honesty.
Admit when you’re nervous
It’s ok to be nervous! When you think about it, riding a horse is just a little bit crazy! You’re on a panicky flight animal that weighs half a tonne and could choose to dump and trample you at any moment – and all you have for control is a few bits of leather! A little fear isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you have some sense!
Especially as riders get older – and I’ve seen this a lot especially with women who have become mothers – we gain an awareness of our own mortality, which we perhaps lacked as children or teens. Many adult riders or returning riders remember their younger years and lament the passing of all those fearless times. Perhaps there’s even some embarrassment tied to this change.
But it really doesn’t help to try to suppress your fear and hide it from your instructor. As an instructor, I can tell when someone is nervous or afraid. No matter how much they try to pretend, there are always tell-tale signs. But if the student doesn’t open up about it, there’s only so much I can do to help. You need to be willing to be honest about your feelings. It’s normal and sensible to feel some nerves during a lesson as by definition you’re going to be exposing yourself – or your horse – to new things. And trust me, as soon as it’s off your chest, you’ll feel so much better!
Talk about what you want to do
The hardest thing, as an instructor, is to have a student who doesn’t have any preferences – or doesn’t share them! I can set goals for you that are achievable and worthwhile – but if they aren’t the goals you want to achieve and you don’t enjoy the experience, there’s not much point. Of course you may not be fully aware of all the possibilities – and in that respect I am here to help guide you! But having some general idea of what you want to do or even simply what you find interesting is really helpful.
Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve is great but most of the time it’s the short-term goals that you’ll want to focus on. So by all means discuss your dreams with your instructor but also offer your short-term goals and tell us what things you want to improve or work on more. It could be that you simply want to have a lesson because that is what will best motivate you to ride your horse. Or you may want to get your horse going more correctly in general and improve their responsiveness. Or you may have a very specific end goal in mind such as a competition you’d like to attend. Or you might simply want to have fun! Whatever your desires, sharing them with your instructor can help make the lesson a more fulfilling and useful experience, as well as a much more enjoyable one!