Making the Most of Lessons

“It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts…it is to teach them to think.” – Robert M. Hutchins


I once had an accomplished student stop in exasperation during her lesson one day and say to me, “Can you just tell me…how exactly do I turn the horse again?” You may be laughing or wondering why anyone who has been on a horse more than twice would need to ask this question, but truthfully, it was the perfect question to ask. It was perfect because it meant my student had found the very root of her problems with the horse and despite the embarrassing nature of the question, wasn’t afraid to ask it. And for that, she was rewarded not only with an answer, but a light bulb moment that exponentially improved all her rides going forward from there. She had made the most of that lesson and it just multiplied from there.

For every rider, there is always room for improvement. There is always a need to return to the basics and freshen things up. But my student really homed in on a key issue and then made the most of her lesson by having the guts to ask the question. I think this is an important skill to have as a student, along with a willingness to work harder than you would on your own and outside of your comfort zone. Making the most of your lessons means more than working hard and doing your homework (although, those are important too!). It means having the right attitude and coming to the lesson ready to solve problems. It means asking questions, providing answers (even if the answer might be wrong), and putting in your best effort to do what the trainer is asking of you. It also means making sure you fully understand the lesson so that you can do your homework correctly at home. I’d like to outline the successful student today, and then hear from all of you about your experiences as riding students.


First and foremost, I think it’s important to listen to your instructor. You are paying the professional to teach you something you want help with. Otherwise, why take the lesson? Some students come to my lessons and they want to tell me all about how some other trainer teaches, and will contradict me at every instruction. This is not constructive for anyone, and is a waste of your money. Let the professional you are seeing that day instruct you. This is useful advice for going to clinics too. We are most likely to meet instructions we are wary of a clinic lesson, but do your best to listen and perform during the lesson. After the lesson, make your notes, ruminate on key points, and decide what you’ll keep doing, what you’ll modify to work for you, and what you’ll toss out. But do not spend the lesson fighting the instructor!

Ask Questions

I think it is important to ask questions, but they should be thoughtful questions that are well timed. I want my students to ask me questions for clarification, comprehension, or for puzzle solving. If a student does not understand the instruction, I want her to ask me what she should be doing. If a student needs me to change how I am explaining the instruction, I want her to ask me to explain it differently. If a student what to understand potential issues or advancement that could come out before the next lesson, I want her to ask me about those too. A successful student will go away from a lesson without any questions about the work done.

Work Hard

A lesson is a concentrated time on instruction and learning. Most lessons are 30 to 60 minutes long, and the trainer wants to maximize your learning in that time frame. This means you will receive the most benefit if you come to your lesson with energy, a positive attitude, nourishment, and a willingness to work hard. Try not to spend your lesson hunting for the next break or asking for a breather. Push through the moments when the muscles feel like they want to give out. Do not give up just yet! Chances are, the trainer has a milestone in mind and is just pushing you and your horse to reach that point before giving you a break. Chances are also good that your trainer can see your need for a break and is just trying to push you that little extra before rewarding your efforts.

It is also important to plan ahead. Do not schedule an extreme workout at the gym on the same day as your lesson. Do not schedule your lesson for the end of a particularly stressful and exhausting day. Set yourself (and your horse) up for success instead!

A Can-Do Attitude

Do you come to your lessons with an open mind and ready to work? Or do you find yourself constantly second guessing the trainer and asking for minor concessions? While it may not seem like a big deal to constantly remind the trainer that you have weak ankles or inflexible hips, these are roadblocks to your success. I do want to hear from my students about their concerns and limitations, but I don’t want to dwell on them or allow them to hold the student back. Instead of worrying about what you cannot do, allow the trainer to offer modifications that will open up new skills for you.

Of course, overcoming weaknesses will be hard work–both physically and mentally–but the reward will be new skills, better riding, and a better partnership with your horse. It is also important that you do not make too many excuses for your horse. Again, explain your concerns once to the trainer and then allow him or her to help you overcome any shortcoming your horse may have. IMGP5654

Be A Sponge

My favorite students do not talk much but listen intently and watch everything I do like a hawk. They will ask questions at precisely the right moments, but mostly they are soaking up what I have to offer. And they do this before, during, and after their lessons. If I’m teaching other lessons, they will come to watch and learn from those. If I am riding their horse, they will watch what I’m doing and listen carefully as I explain my method. They are sponges. And this shows in each progressive lesson. Sponges are usually my hardest workers too. They work hard during the lesson and then they go home and work hard too. They don’t make excuses, they don’t apologize. They just do. And they usually do it right.

If you wanted to break the best student down to percentages, she would spend 70% of her time listening and doing, 20% of her time asking well-thought-out questions, and 10% of her time, observing. To go the extra mile, she’d invest another 10% into work ethic and  improvements. The adage doesn’t say “give 110%” for nothing!

So, what kind of student are you? And what do you look for in a trainer?



3 responses to “Making the Most of Lessons

  1. Caroline, I *loved* being your student for the short time that it was….you are a gifted instructor and I never felt that my questions were too silly. I really enjoyed your getting me to go outside of my comfort zone, I felt so exhilarated trotting! And for this 49 year old beginner (aka, chicken) – that was huge!! I truly hope that I can get back to lessons with you sometime… Regardless, thanks for the memories, and instilling solid basics.

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