It is possible to advance as a rider even if your in-the-saddle time is limited to lessons on borrowed horses. Chelsea Alexander explains how to make the most of your situation.
Lesson Rider? Don’t Look Like One
Being able to only be at the barn once (or maybe twice) a week with no horse of your own can be tough. It makes a whole host of simple things more difficult than they ought to be, but there are ways to stay an athlete in this sport despite limited saddle time. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my nine or so years of being a lesson rider.
1. Stay fit out of the saddle.
If you have the opportunity to ride every day, and if you’re doing barn chores on a constant basis, you’re going to be athletic. But if you’re coming in for one or maybe two lessons a week, that athleticism might be hard to come by. I’ve found it’s important to try and stay fit the other six days of the week. I run, but you could also play a sport. Whether or not it keeps the correct muscles conditioned for riding, keeping your heart healthy is the key. If you’re huffing and puffing at the posting trot or while lugging a saddle around the barn you won’t be able to make the best use of your lesson.
2. Know your stuff.
Just because you can’t be at the barn on a constant basis doesn’t mean you can’t be horse smart. Read up on as much as you can—both about basics, and, if you’re interested, the sport itself. Subscribe to equestrian magazines, or at least check out sites online. Hey, if you’re reading this article, you’re already doing a great job. Improving your knowledge of horses is just as important as improving your riding. You’ll be able to feel more confident in the stables, and people will be more likely to take you seriously.
3. If possible, increase your barn time.
If you’re only lacking funds, not time, see if you can volunteer around the barn. Usually, an extra hand is more than welcome around the stables, and often enough a trainer will be willing to trade hard work for extra saddle time. This will both improve your knowledge and your skills. If you have a little less time, try and accompany your friends or your trainer to competitions on the weekends if you don’t already compete. If you have any interest in being competitive, you’ll start to get the feel of a show, and you’ll learn essential things for competing that you can really only learn by being there.
4. Make “barn friends”.
It can be difficult as a lesson rider to make friends at the barn. Since all lesson riders are usually only at the barn for a couple of hours a week, they don’t cross. If you’re not in a group lesson, it can be almost impossible to meet anyone. If you don’t have friends, join a group lesson every now and again, or suggest to your trainer that there be maybe a once-a-month barn meet up, where all the riders—lesson or not—catch up over pizza. Barn friends are invaluable—not only will you feel better about the place that you’re riding at, but you have another person who can answer your questions and give you advice and support. You have someone who understands your obsession and is equally enthusiastic to talk about it.
5. Know your lesson horses.
You might be taking lessons at a barn where you stick to one lesson horse for every lesson, and you might be on that horse for years. Or you might be at a barn where there are several lesson horses and you change which horse you ride every week, or every few weeks. If it’s the latter, try to get to know your lesson horses. If there are a lot of horses, write down what a particular horse is like. Record their quirks and habits after a lesson. Ask around at the barn to see what the other horses that you haven’t ridden are like. This way, when your next lesson comes around you’ll know what to expect with a lesson horse. Well, as much as you’ll ever know what to expect with a horse, anyway!
I’m hardly an expert, but I hope that these tips can help out any other lesson riders out there who are wondering how to keep up their game with the rest of their peers. Good luck, and happy riding!
About Chelsea: I love horses and have been riding on and off since I was eleven years old. My experience and knowledge, as a lesson rider only (as opposed to being a horse owner) is limited, but I am working on gaining more and have recently taken up a position this summer as a sort of working student (in the sense that I will exchange work for knowledge and riding) with my long time riding instructor. As a lesson-only rider, I think I bring a unique perspective to the sport, and bring up problems or difficulties not experience by riders fortunate enough to spend several days a week at the barn.