Why Lesson Programs?

Lately I’ve noticed a shift in local equestrian programs where the “lesson program” is becoming less and less prominent.  Obviously clients are still taking lessons, trainers are still training, but the days of operations having a whole string of lesson horses, and days full of lessons are waning.  When our facility hosts local shows, it’s obviously what programs in the area still host the full lesson program experience, with their half dozen lesson ponies and bombproof geldings, versus the smaller groups of client/owners.

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Bombproof hony – not a schoolie

My own trainer has been scaling back her lesson program in favor of really spending time with the clients she already maintains, many of which are showing or traveling on a regular basis.  She isn’t concerned at all about the change in process for her riders.  Most of her clients have owned before (like me) or already own a horse in her facility.  And while I understand time is money, and she needs more time, seeing the lesson program get smaller provokes a lot of feels from me.

As I’ve mentioned, I was a lesson kid and barn rat for years before I took on a “real horse” lease.  And now, I’m right back in that world of being a catch rider and lesson kid.  This is close to my heart, in my mind a vital step in the journey of horseback riding as a whole.  I just wonder how trainers are recruiting and gathering new riders without watching those people coming up through the lesson horse program.  Perhaps just my area fits into this need due to the variety of options, or the influence of our culture?  I’m not sure.

I feel like there is so much learned from riding many different horses, and having lessons on a consistent basis.  Not to mention the risk for a parent, or an adult re-rider based on whether they decide to continue in the sport and the sample size of time they’ve really spent with horses.  It was mentioned that if you want to run a successful lesson programs now, you have to teach all the time, every day – all day, to make the economics work.

Maybe I’m just witnessing a very small niche of the area doing this, but I had to ask.  What are you seeing in your area?  Are the big lesson programs still thriving?

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My favorite grey schoolmaster

 

Child Friendly Horses

The mare I bought in late 2012, O, had a lot to live up to under saddle and on the ground. One of her selling points was that literally anyone could handle her. Camp kids to grandparents, she was a peach to be around. Then I snagged the amazing lease on Dee, who again, was a complete saint. She allowed my crying infant to “lunge” her (she cried in baby carrier while I lunged), groom her, share food, whatever. Even the big grey draft I rode in between available horses loved kids, and handled my daughter’s “affection” with grace.

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Essentially my daughter has had full rein of the horses I spent substantial amount of time with, with very few consequences. They’ve put up with the eye pokes, the yells, the constant noises and God knows what else that should’ve terrified them.

All of them, except for Cooper.

img_0563My current ride, who is a fantastic guy, is teaching me a lot about the holes in my training, so this is not a black mark on his record. I’m asking a lot honestly.  But…Cooper hates my daughter. Maybe hate isn’t the right term…he is not her biggest fan.  He doesn’t understand her noises, he hates the invasive little fingers when she pets him and generally he would rather her stay about 10 miles away from him at any given time. He’s not mean about it, but when you’re over 17 hands and not naturally graceful…it’s a recipe for disaster.

It doesn’t change much for me, except for the fact that I won’t take my daughter to the barn alone while I’m riding him.  He’s plenty enough horse to keep track of, without wondering if my daughter is annoying him.  Again, not his fault, it just won’t be fun for anyone.  It does create a bit of a hiccup in my usual riding schedule, but we are working on it.  Lately my Dad has been coming out to watch and wrangle said child while I hack or lesson.  I’m very lucky to have that as an option.

So I guess what I’m saying is: Cooper, I’m really sorry buddy, she’ll still be around…but I’ll make sure that she keeps her distance if you keep yours.  *If not, there’s me or my 6’2” Dad to act as buffer between the two of them.*  This hasn’t changed my views on having my daughter at the barn, I do believe that children have to learn how to behave in many different circumstances.  I work very hard to create situations where both horse and child can have mutual success.

While there is not judgement on Cooper’s part, there is a major learning curve that continues to form any future horse in my mind.  I never would expect any horse to babysit a toddler, because that’s never going to work, but it’s my hope that my next lease or purchase will be more keen on having kids around.

So what do you think?   Do you consider your horse child friendly?

I Had Forgotten

Since having my daughter, I've been in a consistent riding program. That all ended about a month ago when work priorities took over (for better or worse). After a week or two, I feel like my obsessive "must ride something now" kind of waned.

I was incredibly busy, and horses suddenly seemed like the one thing totally not worth it. Usually I have those moments while waiting on a vet bill, or after I couldn't catch my horse for an hour–the usual equestrian doubts. Having these doubts while just sitting at my house was a bit scary.

As I mentioned before, I'm attempting to revamp my priorities and get some time back for my goals outside of the workplace. Horses are the core of those. So back to lessons I went-no excuses.

Tacking up Cooper today, I actually felt anxious. Cooper had been inside for a few days because of all the rain, so naturally he would be a wild stallion right? (Spoiler alert-nope) Stupid thoughts. Sending my toddler with her grandpa, I swung up and warmed up the giraffe as usual.

The lesson was incredibly hard, a technical ride. Cooper was feeling spicy, but I don't mind a little play as long as it's not stupid. By the end I openly admitted that I was exhausted.

But then as soon as I loaded up the car, gave the kid some snacks, and headed home I could actually feel the buzz. Better than champagne, I kept thinking over my ride; how I could do better, what I can do in the gym to get my fitness back and so on. I realized that in the weeks away I had forgotten how much I love the smell of the barn, the satisfaction of patting your horse after your ride, or the sheer joy of sharing the place you love the most. Essentially I forgot that I do belong with horses, and on horses. It is a part of who I am, and while life is an insane roller coaster I am so lucky to continue to have horses in my world. So next time I forget, and am having all these insane-o thoughts about horses not being worth it, I should reread this post. Because they are.

Realistic Expectations

This post is inspired by the thoughtful comment that EquiNovice left on my last post, while I was lamenting about how I have been crying my way through recent lessons.  She mentioned that managing your own expectations were some of the hardest part about not being in a consistent riding program.  That was a huge ah-ha moment for me.

From an outsiders perspective, if you had been watching my last lesson on Cooper you would’ve seen a woman who is struggling to not pull on a more forward horse.  You might have seen a few awkward frog hop jumps, and heard said woman shout some angry words (bad habits die hard).  But generally, there was nothing catastrophic happening.  No one fell off.  No refusals.  No galloping away wildly.  Just ugly jumps and some flowery words.

But.

That was not how I saw it.  I went from owning O, to riding some sale horses, a few schoolies, to leasing Dee.  99% of the time I felt very confident on these animals.  I knew I was capable of riding them and looking (within reason) okay doing it.  Obviously there were challenges, but nothing significant that stands out to me now.  They helped me, and I felt good about myself as a rider.

The cleanest horse alive finally got some dirt on him.

When I hopped on Cooper those first rides, and it went so badly, I was honestly confused.  I’d seen much less experienced riders take him around without a single issue.  Why was I struggling so much?  My expectation is that I should not only be able to ride this dude, but also do it well.  Yet everything I did seemed to set him on fire. Our flatwork has improved, buuuuttttt I still manage to turn him into Seabiscuit over fences.  I couldn’t even stop him in a straight line.  Even with my confidence at a high I can feel how hard these rides have been on me mentally.  All because my expectations for the ride were “ruined”.


It made me question buying another greenie – was I even capable of bringing it up correctly?  It made me wonder what I was even doing riding?  I mean, after 15 odd years of riding, I probably should be able to direct my horse over a cross rail.

Please note that I am not saying I’m God’s gift to horsekind – but I truly felt I should be able to ride better than I have been.  Maybe Cooper and I just don’t mesh.  Maybe it’s because I have not been riding consistently.  Maybe it’s just been an unlucky few weeks.  In my opinion, it’s probably a combination of all of those.  Regardless of all of that, I’m trying to spend some time before my lesson really resonating on the idea that I am only riding once a week right now, and I’m in this for the fun part.  I must alter my expectations.  

I don’t need to be expecting to be the exact same rider I was in the past, when I was doing more.  That is going to lead me down a dark path every ride!  I just need to be able to learn, and manage my personal standards for my riding.    Maybe then I can learn to enjoy my rides more.

 

Lessons with the Giraffe

Thank you for all the opinions and ideas for prizes on my last post!  I appreciate it.  

As it turns out the teenage leaser of the big red giraffe from my lesson a few weeks ago, is out of town a lot this month.  I got to take him for a spin this week in my lesson, and he was such a good boy.

He’s a tall drink of water


Last lesson it was one of the first really hot days and he’d been ridden the day before.  Cue big tired giraffe.  This lesson was the polar opposite, he was fresh!  I got the opportunity to remember how to ride a much more forward mount and test out whether my roeckl gloves could hold up.  Big dude wants you to hold him and can get very heavy in your hands. The first few laps around our indoor my brain wouldn’t stop screaming that he was running away with me.  Ugh.  This is exactly why it’s good to ride new horses! 

I did manage chill out and had a killer time with the big guy.  (His name is actually Cooper) The fences were low, so essentially he just loped around the courses, but he did do his changes for me which made me smile.  He just recently came back from his former life as a equitation horse, so I was kind of giggling about how he jumps.  It was very flat and minimalistic; I felt like the whole front end of the horse never moves.  I still am waiting for Dee’s big, round jump; so the first time I about rammed my face into his mane.  Lesson learned. 

A different borrowed chestnut thoroughbred


I don’t know how much he’ll be available for lessons, but I really enjoyed riding something so different and once I figured him out, he was so good for me.  I couldn’t just drop him or float the reins, he needed someone actively supporting him.  And there’s a lot of horse there to support!

What Next?

Wellllllllllll, alright game plan time.  

Since the husband and I made the decision to not pursue buying this year, I’m living the quiet riding lifestyle.  I’m stealing rides on some lovely beasts who reside at the barn and reading everyone else’s blogs to fill in my horse quota.  I’m kind of in a holding pattern until I can either find a new lease, or stumble upon a similar situation for my lessons.  I have great faith that something will come wandering by, but in the meantime I have been soaking up the extra quality time with family and friends.


So it looks as if I am going to rock out as life as a lesson kid again.  I’m sad to not be riding as much as I was with Dee, but it still feels good to be riding period.  That’s what I need to focus on.

My first real lesson as a free agent was this past week, and I was so pleasantly surprised!  I always worry that since I had been riding the same horse for a long time, that I’d struggle with a new mount.  Well, my trainer must have a sense of humor because she put me on a 17hh+ red giraffe masquading as a thoroughbred.  He is long, bouncy and jumps quiet and flat.  So essentially the only thing he has in common with Dee is his species.  Ha!  But I had a blast.  And by the end I figured out how to steer again and we had some nice moments.  Not sure he’ll be a permentant fixture in my life (he has a lesser), but I was very glad for the ride.  


I’m the worst at photos. Here’s the giraffe feasting after our ride.  

This week everything will settle into my new normal, lessons midweek and hopefully a borrowed ride during the weekends when they are available.  It’s going to be good.  

BUTttttttttt if anyone knows of a magical unicorn who wants to be leased by yours truly-just let me know!  

 

1, 2, 1, 2, 1…

I don’t care how old I get / how advanced I might get…my go-to for courses, especially ones with plenty of long approaches, is to count.  I know some riders sing, others talk, but there is something ridiculously therapeutic about counting 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 and so on.  With a greenie like O was when I bought her it helped me regulate the pace, to be an active rider.  With Dee it operates in the exact opposite way, it distracts me from micro-managing the long approach or picking at the distances.  But regardless, it is my go – to maneuver.

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Purple thinking hat on!

This weeks lesson had a long approach small single to start off, where you really hard to get the pace early on.  Then a long 3 stride off a short approach.  To a nice moving two stride.  To another super long approach single oxer.  So lots of great questions!  My job was to get the pace early on, keep Dee bouncy and block that outside shoulder around the turns.  After running through each component individually, we strung it all together.

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Matching game is strong (for hunters)

 

And it was good.  Like it felt good, Dee felt good, pace was correct.  I even gave a tiny, slightly embarrassing “whoop” at Dee once we landed the last oxer.  We let her be done with that.  It couldn’t have gone any smoother in my mind.  It might have been due to my obsessive 1, 2, 1, 2 (you can totally hear me coming to the oxer) counting, but whatever it is, I’ll take it!

Please also note, that I had packed for my lesson the night before, grabbing a purple Kastel shirt.  Once at work, I realized I had both a purple saddle pad AND a purple trimmed bonnet in my car…cue fabulous idea to convince the two other adult ammies in my lesson to go matchy match.  One went all navy, one went all black/grey and I was in purple.  I don’t know if Dee has ever even wore a horse hat, but it was really fun dressing her up!