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Getting the most out of Dressage lessons

Heather and Escorial riding in a clinic with International Dressage trainer Conrad Schumacher

1) Bring your “beginner’s mind”. In other words, have an open mind. Assume the teacher has something important to teach you! Assume the teacher has enough experience and a strong enough background to provide insight into your problems. If you think you have nothing more to learn, then please don’t bother taking lessons.

2) Listen and try to do what you are told. This is closely related to (1), but it involves action. It is not enough to be open-minded, as riders we then have to try to enact the teacher’s instruction and produce a result in the horse

3) Ask questions. If you don’t understand the instruction, ask! That said, ask in appropriate times, for instance during a walk break. If you’re really confused, it is generally ok to stop and ask rather than continuing to struggle and getting the instructor (and you and your horse) increasingly frustrated in the process

4) Keep your emotions in check. Any instructor worth their salt will push you outside of your comfort zone! As instructors, we know it is difficult, it is frustrating, it is confusing…if it was a piece of cake we probably wouldn’t be asking you to do it! Our job it to push your comfort zone and make you a better rider in the process. Keep that in mind during your lesson.

5) Write down what you learned after the lesson. Maybe you learned to keep the horse straighter in the neck during your flying changes. Maybe you learned that you have to remember to breathe. It could be just one very small thing, but the act of writing it down can help cement the idea in your head.

6) If you had the lesson videotaped, even better. Watching the ride can help cement the feeling in your head, or connect the feeling of the ride with how it looked. In addition, it helps to give you perspective, as in, gee, that canter depart wasn’t nearly as messy as I thought it was! Or, gee, I really AM leaning forward in the canter!

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