How often should you have a riding lesson?
It’s such a tricky conundrum and varies so much on your current ability, your horse, your horse’s current level of training, your goals, how much time you can devote to your training, finances, as well as a multitude of other factors.
Regardless of how frequently you have lessons, I think it’s important to discuss this subject with your coach as invariably their lesson structure and plans will vary.
For example, I teach a young beginner rider who is lucky enough to have access to a Shetland belonging to a family member. This means that her parents have introduced her to being around ponies and she’s ridden along the lane. However, her parents cannot teach her so they want professional input. But finances and time dictates that she can only have a lesson once a month. It’s not ideal because bad habits can form quickly in beginner riders, but it’s a fact of life and I have to work with it. Of course, I’m still at the end of the phone if they have a question, and we can do extra lessons in the school holidays, but that forty-five minutes that I’m with them is vitally important.
This rider can ride a couple of times a week with her parents, so I spend the time I have with her laying the foundations of exercises, which can then be developed under the guide of her parents. For example, when she was learning her rising trot I focused on establishing the rhythm, and told her parents to ensure she holds the front of the saddle until she looked really competent, and then she could try trotting only holding on with one hand. The bending exercise I laid out for her we practiced in walk, with me focusing on teaching her the steering aids, whilst also explaining to her parents what they need to look for and remind her to do. Her homework was to move the cones closer together and then try trotting it. Her progress isn’t going to be as quick as someone who has weekly lessons, but by me giving her homework and including her parents in the teaching she should be able to improve between her lessons.
I have some clients who have weekly, biweekly, or fortnightly lessons. For some, they want all their time in the school to be structured, supportive, and improving them and their horse. Between lessons, they’d rather hack or lunge their horse. Others want regular lessons to help them step up a level, in which case lessons need to balance reviewing their past few rides, ironing out any glitches they’ve encountered, teaching a new exercise or two, and then leaving them with something to work on until their next lesson, and hopefully with a sense of achievement too.
It can be tricky to find the right balance for each individual horse and rider in terms of the amount of homework I give them, and how much improvement I should expect to see between lessons. I don’t really give specific pieces of homework, but rather encourage my riders to focus! on a particular aspect of their riding when I’m not around. It may be that I suggest more sitting trot work, or that they practice a certain exercise, or I remind them to be aware of a particular flaw so that they don’t regress between lessons and I can develop that area over a series of lessons. I like to think that I “hook” my riders into their lessons so that they look forwards to the next one, practice what they have learnt, and finish each lesson feeling motivated and on a riding high.