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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

You've booked your lesson.

You've paid your money (or will right after the lesson).

You're taking the time and you've spent effort getting your horse ready.

So now you THINK you're ready for the lesson. But think again.

Being a star student in horseback riding is an art in itself. Aside from the many variables (like the weather, distractions, mood of your horse) that might play into your lesson, there are many other factors that are critical to making the ride enjoyable and useful for you, your horse, and yes, even your instructor!

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There is no greater pleasure than the one AFTER your lesson, when you can bask in the glow of hard-earned sweat, and reflect longingly on all the feels, aids and balances that you will try to emulate without your instructor's presence over the next week.

In the meantime, take a look-see through this Top-10 list to see how you rate in your Star search!

P.S. The items on this list assume that you have your own horse and are riding independently, although many could also apply to a riding school situation.

10. Do Your Homework.

In other words, don't wait until the lesson to finally pull your horse out of the back field. If you know your horse always goes better the day after you ride, ride him the day before your lesson, so he is at his best when your instructor arrives. If you need to give your horse a day off, then ride two days before and let him rest in between. If you haven't worked in a ring for the past month, book your lesson for a day three weeks down the line, after you've had many rides on your own to get him even slightly "legged up."

9. Be On Time.

If you set the lesson for 10am, be groomed, tacked, bridled, helmet on and maybe even in the ring (depending on your instructor's preference) by 10. Don't make her stand around to watch you groom, unless that is part of the lesson. Try to max out your time with her, in the ring!

8. Be Warmed Up.

You don't have to run your horse off his feet, but it might help to have him working with you by the time your instructor arrives. Even if your lesson ends up going a bit shorter, the warmed-up horse will be ready to go (as will you) and again, you can get the most value for your time. If you know your horse takes 20 minutes to just begin to loosen up, do that before your lesson.

7. Park Your Ego at the Gate.

This one can be tough. We all have insecurities and fear factors that are difficult to let go of in the face of even constructive criticism. Letting go of your ego must be learned just as any riding skill you attempt. Try, try again, and do your best to not let your feelings interfere with your ride. Let your instructor do and say what she thinks will benefit you the most. Otherwise, you'll get lots of sugar coating and no results.

6. Think Later.

I guarantee that most of us think too much while we are riding. Although thinking seems to be necessary when you are reprogramming your body to do new things, it is a hindrance when we are trying to move in tandem with a horse. Things happen too quickly for you to have the time to think, send messages back and forth through your body, and then hope for a good result.  So think as little as possible and do as much as possible. Save your thinking and questions for when you are on the ground, before or after the lesson. In the meantime, put every ounce of your energy into focusing on your aids and your horse.

5. Don't Stop Riding.

This happens all the time and seems counter-intuitive to learning. As soon as we are challenged with a new concept, we stop the horse, drop the reins, sit flat and begin to consider. Which is exactly what the horse doesn't need. Imagine that your instructor is telling you something that is relevant for that second. And if you don't ride it out, you miss the opportunity to learn. Not only that, once you stop, your horse thinks he's gone on vacation (and so does your body) and you lose all the tone and balance you worked so hard to achieve.

So - keep riding, even if you are grappling with a thought (see #6) and don't really know what to do.

4. Respond Quickly.

Many riders go round and round and round, seemingly oblivious to their instructor's suggestions. So, for example, your instructor sees a good opportunity for you to get your horse into a balanced canter, out of the trot, in just that particular corner, in that particular time frame (which is usually only seconds). She tells you to canter. And you don't. But you trot on, past the corner, past the next corner, and then, finally, step into your first canter stride on the straight line.

Although you did get the canter, your horse is now on his forehand, strung out and struggling to take that first stride from the hind end. The straight line was not a help to your horse, which was exactly why your instructor asked for it in the corner! 😉

Let's say your instructor didn't give you enough time to prepare for the corner. Maybe her instructions were a little later than you needed them to be. What then?

Canter as soon as possible after the moment. Or, make a sharp turn, head right back to the set-up area, and attempt the corner again. No need to worry, just do it.

3. Listen, Try and Trust.

These three qualities may take a long time to develop if you don't do them intuitively on your own. But let's face it - you are asking someone to teach you what they know. So of course, it's important to listen to what they say, even if you don't agree at the moment. Then, give it a try. Trust that they are here to get the best out of you, and have your best interests in mind. If you get to a point that you cannot do these three things, maybe it's time to find another instructor. 

2. Make A Change.

The best students have enough skill and gumption (is that a word?) to make a difference in their horse, based on what their instructor is saying. So if she wants you to get your horse to use his hind end, then do it. If you think you already did it, but your horse doesn't respond, do it again! Or do something else. Or pop in a half-halt and then use your seat and leg again. In any case, make something happen. It might not be the right change, but do something. Then you can fine-tune the horse's response.

1. Stop Talking and RIDE!

Hands up if you are one of those riders that talks while they ride (my hand is up)! When your instructor is in the ring, don't! Instead, listen, try, do, do again, change something... focus all your energy on your own body and the horse. Then talk about it after the ride or through the walk breaks.

Trust me, this list is based on personal experience! Although I've taken lessons for more years than I can count, I have to admit that each of these points take time to actually learn to do well. But every one of them is worth the effort, and makes your lesson experience more positive, more educational, and most importantly, more beneficial for your horse.

Because he is the one that matters most!

Do you have something to add to this list? Post in the comments below!

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!


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Enjoy more reading here:

What Responsible Horse Ownership Really Means: We need to keep in mind that horses are prey animals and long-time domesticated livestock. If we listen well enough, we discover that what we think of as giving might not be what the horses truly need.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

How to Make Horseback Riding Particularly Difficult! We all know people who seem to try to make riding difficult on themselves – maybe without even knowing it!

Start the Year Off Right By Giving the Gift of Exercise: Do remember that the horse is hard-wired to move. Nothing pleases him as much as doing what he is supposed to do!

Do You Want to Own A Horse? Answer ‘yes’ to these questions and you are on your way!



  1. I understand #1. Stop talking and ride – but having asthma changes that rule quite a bit. I find that if I talk, while trotting or cantering, that I can time things a little better. *dressage rider. As a bad habit – I didn’t always remember to breathe during exercises, so talking keeps the breathing in mind

    1. Try talking to your horse. I always encourage riders to say what a good boy/girl the horse is doing. Plus it can make an anxious horse relaxed. Sing a song to him or tell him how your day has been. But your trainer should never put your health at risk. I also have asthma, but I have found that its best controlled when I ride multiple times every day, if I miss a day the next ride isnt so good.

  2. These are great what about;
    -Don’t come to the lesson and tell the instructor what you think you should be doing in that lesson…it’s alright to make suggestions like “Can we ride tests today?” But if you are showing up dictating a whole lesson then perhaps you don’t need the trainer.
    -Please don’t compare your lesson to another students & pout because you didn’t get to work on more advanced movements. You have to remember that you are on a different horse, with different strengths & weaknesses, you might be at a different level or more plainly put perhaps you & your horse just don’t have the skill yet to perform that movement. Leave your ego at home or you are in for a world of hurt.
    -Thank your coach…every time…it’s a little thing but it means a lot…I know I’m getting paid but it’s rarely about the money. Sometimes you spend the whole weekend at a show in often crappy conditions trying to stretch yourself in many directions; multiple students & their horses, schooling & caring for your own horses & competing yourself. It’s really nice to know that although your not always perfect that your students appreciate your efforts.

  3. I’d pick #10 to be #1! If you don’t do your homework, you might as well not have your lessons. Even if you don’t have your own horse and only ride in lessons, you can spend time at home reading up or exercising and stretching your muscles for horse riding. It’ll make your riding better, motivate you, and even motivate your instructor. It’s always easier to teach an enthusiastic student.

    1. Homework can extend beyond that – learn definitions, watch videos, read books, etc…

  4. Good suggestions. As an instructor I do ask new students NOT to warm up for their first lesson(s) with me. I think how we warm up is very important and I want to watch and make sure correct for horse and rider.
    Also please show up presentable! Clean tack, horse, boots!!!!!

  5. I would have displayed this in my own equestrian centre but above all remember that your horse is a living breathing animal and not a machine.also do not expect him to think as you do but learn to think like he does and you will make amazing progress.

  6. Take more lessons. Educate yourself between lessons. 1 or 2 lessons a month just doesnt cut it. An average rider takes 1-2 lessons a week, a beyond rider takes 3, 4, or even 5 lessons a week. Those beyond average riders are the riders that get onto the good college equestrian teams. The beyond riders are the riders that you see going to to high rated shows and winning.
    Also, stop just sitting on the rail waiting for your trainer to tell you to circle. Do it yourself, think for your self… I teach with my riders to be a little ore open. when lesson begins they are ready to work. They dont wait till I ask them to do leg yields, circles or up/down transitions… Now if I ask for them to come into a circle then they stay on tat circle until I say other. If I say lets work this at a trot, then they work that particular thing until I say other. When I do say “continue on” ten they have their freedom back to work…

  7. Show not only self respect but respect for your instructor and your horse. Be impecably gromed and well turned out with all clean tack , your hair in place under your helmet, leg wraps/boots on, fly spray/sunscrean, hooves picked and polished, mane pulled, tail brushed without knots, face, ears, muzzle jaw and fetlocks trimmed, all prefferably after a bath weather permitting. You know the drill so do it. Get in the habbit of this every time you ride even if it is just for a hack. Of course after care, cool out, maybe another bath or hose off, clean sheath or vulva carefully, let dry maybe in front of a fan, pick hooves, put wraps and pads in washer, fly spray/mask, offer water and hay, check the feeding schedule before turning out or put them in their stall once they are totally cooled out. Make sure to clean your tack. You should be a role model and the other boarders will follow your lead. (no pun intended).

  8. Number 9! I can’t tell you how much time is wasted waiting for students to get their horse out, scratch his itchies, groom him, then finally tack him up. Warming up is optional, but you should be ready to be given instruction, not wasting my time. Also, when I tell someone to do something and I can’t see a change and don’t get a response. Can they not hear me, do they just not want to do it, or is their horse just not responding. What is the absolute worst is when I give someone something that works, I come out next time and they say I watched this, and am going to do it this way. I didn’t pay all this money learning and getting certified for you to tell me you don’t like my idea. Why are you paying me then?

    1. Whitney, I agree. #9 is an important on. I think it’s a respect thing- both for the coach and other students riding afterwards. It’s disrespectful to the coach and to me tells the coach “I don’t respect your time and schedule” You should arrange to leave enough time for catching a horse, grooming and depending on the coach’s preference warming up. It’s also disrespectful to other students riding afterwards. As the person with the last lessons of the day in the schedule at the barn it irks me when my lessons run behind because the riders before me weren’t organized enough to get into the ring on time for the start of their lesson and therefore cause the start times of other lessons to be pushed back.