Riding in a Program, Part 1

I’ve recently had an influx of students requesting help with the Parelli natural horsemanship program. These students want help learning the Parelli program and passing the levels. They want to be part of the Parelli program. I think this is great because it means these adults are investing in continuing their equine education. They are investing in expanding their knowledge. They are investing in their equine partnership. They are investing in themselves.


A lesson program can lend you support if you like to compete.

In a four part series, I want to look at the value of riding in a program, be it a personalized program created by your trainer or a national program advocated by a clinician or an association. Part 1 will simply introduce what riding in a program looks like and some of the advantages it offers. Part 2 will discuss the value of riding to a curriculum, Part 3 will cover personalized programs, and Part 4 will look at national programs and certifications.


Let’s get started!

What Is It?

What does it mean to be riding in a program?  First and foremost, it is a commitment to regular lessons. It does not always mean weekly lessons either. You could be taking lessons several times a week, once a week, twice a month, once a month, or a few times a year. So long as you are studying with a particular professional on a regular basis and working on his or her techniques at home on your own time, then you’re riding in a program. You should have specific skills to work on that build upon each other to improve your riding and improve your horse. As you master skills, you should increase your education depth and be presented with new skills that require more finesse and knowledge.

When you ride in a program, you should come out of it stamped by the professional, so to speak. Your riding will have certain characteristics that harken back to that trainer. Certain skills will carry more weight than others; you will likely have a certain pattern in how you handle training situations; Your seat position will be stamped too. Some people might not consider this an asset, but I believe riding in a program can be very advantageous to most riders most of the time.


When you ride in a program, you are likely seeing a trainer with a fair bit of regularity. This means you will have a professional checking in with you, guiding you, correcting you, and answering your questions. It makes it much harder to screw things up! You are also likely to develop skills and confidence faster this way.


A good lesson program should support your goals and desires.

A program will also define the skills you will learn beforehand and give you building blocks to look forward to. A very well designed program can tell you that beginners will start by learning skills A, B, and C and will define what is considered mastery of those skills before moving on to skills D, E, and F, and so on and so forth. These building blocks and skills assessments are part of a larger curriculum, which should be clearly laid out and easy to follow. This does not mean that a rider should be able to skip around different parts of the curriculum, it just means that a rider should be able to look over an entire curriculum and understand the progression.

Furthermore, a program will often give you something to measure yourself by other than just shows. Yes, showing, ribbons, and judges remarks are excellent ways to measure your progress in a public arena. However, it is also nice to know how you are progressing without having to spend money on a horse show. A well designed program should be able to easily accommodate this and allow riders to know how well they are doing based on their mastery of skill sets. This may be achieved by offering levels within a program. Beginner level, Novice Level, Intermediate Level are just some examples.


A program can become formulaic. This can lead to monotony and obscure individualism and creative thinking. We must remember that every horse and every rider is different, learns differently, and performs differently. This inherently means that a program will never be a perfect fit for every horse and rider. It can be a very useful fit, it can be early perfect. It can even be perfect for a period of time. But it won’t always be perfect forever and ever, amen. There will come a time when a program is not right for you.

Programs can also allow outlier and timid students to be marginalized or even feel invisible. A student must take responsibility for her own self in a lesson program. This means asking questions, being active in the barn community, and having conversations with other riders and your trainer. Skip this step and you are much more likely to be a doormat or a wall flower in a lesson program.

The other disadvantage to a lesson program is that it is not always a perfect fit, and you may find it necessary to leave the program at some point even if there is still more to learn. This is because the program may not be working for you or your horse, your focus may change, or your training approach may not match up with the program. Do not be afraid to admit if this is happening. If a program isn’t working for you and your horse, it is best to bow out gracefully rather than to wait for everything to come crashing down in a shambles.

Try It Out

If you enjoy consistent training that provides you with building blocks to improve your skills, a riding program would be good for you. It is also very beneficial to anyone who needs to train up a young or green horse, and for riders looking for success on the show circuit. Expect to work hard and spend time “doing your homework” between lessons, but you should reap many benefits from choosing to ride in a program.

However, do your homework before hand too! Research equine professionals in your area and see what programs they have to offer. Decide if a trainer is close enough to you to be beneficial to you and your horse. You also need to decide how often you want to ride with the trainer, what your goals are for you and your horse, and your riding philosophy. Once you have picked out a few professionals, give their program a trail run. Sign up for three or four lessons and see if the fit is right. If it is not, be polite and give your best effort in the lessons, but then move on. If a program is unsafe or a particularly bad fit, don’t be afraid to bow out after one or two lessons.

Moving On

As I mentioned above, sometimes you will outgrow a program, or simply have a change in philosophy or riding style. Do not be afraid to politely move on! If your goals have changed, your focus has changed, or the quality of the program has changed, reevaluate its value to you and your horse. If the value isn’t acceptable, it’s time to move on.

If a program seems to be hit or miss for you, it might be time for a break, or it might be time for a change. In these situations, take some time for yourself. Go trail riding, or take some time for some low key hacks. Spend time just enjoying your horse and assessing what about the program isn’t working for you. If you just need a break to fiddle around with your horse, let your trainer that you need a break for a while. A good professional will be understanding and may even offer some helpful advice. If, however, the program no longer meets your needs or the needs of your horse, it’s time to move on. If you are boarding in house with the trainer, I would suggest planning your exit before saying anything to anyone. Gossip doesn’t do anyone any good, and that is what comes of telling your barn mates that you plan to leave. You also don’t want this information drifting back to your trainer secondhand. Once you have a place to go, politely and directly inform your trainer of your imminent departure. If you do not board in house, leaving a program is much less dicey–simple finish out the lessons you have paid for and do not renew. You may need to politely inform the trainer that you will no longer be using his or her services, but that is about it.

Once you have left a program, you may want to take some time to detox with your horse. Enjoy just riding your horse and rely on your own knowledge to maintain a certain level of discipline and fitness. In a month or two you should be ready to get back into a regular program, and by this time you will hopefully have found a new one that will work for you.

The Boss Crew

Three happy students in the NGF program.

2 responses to “Riding in a Program, Part 1

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