Learning to Self Teach

How often do you get a riding lesson? Weekly? Maybe twice a week?  Since moving back to Wyoming, I have tried to get at least a lesson per month. I know… it’s a little overkill, but when you live in the sticks like I do, weekly lessons become a thing of the past. It’s probably safe to say Christian won’t be retiring off of my lesson money any time soon…

So to get said lesson (or weekend of lessons) I have to pack all the things, stuff the ponies in the trailer, and drive to Christian’s house… which would be fine, if she didn’t live 4 hours away. She lived literally over the river and through the woods, with I-80 in between. (For those of you unfamiliar with I-80, just picture 40 car pile-ups, winter speed limits of 45 mph, and a black-ice mountain pass with lots of truckers.) But, beggars can’t be choosers, and I would drive there anyways, trying my best to plan around any blizzards. Luckily, she has since moved 2 1/2 hours closer, but still! A weekend of lessons can easily turn into a full-fledged adventure when the weather turns south. The bonus though, is that all of my horses are now really, really, good at trailering. 🙂

Anyways, the point is this. It’s not always feasible to have eyes on the ground, so you have to learn to self-teach. How the heck do you do that!? How do you learn with nothing being taught?!

Well buckle up, kids, because I’m about to tell you how it goes down.

When I first started the process, I quickly realized that the easiest thing to work on is myself, because I could feel any crookedness in my body much easier than I could in my horse. So I did that for the first year or so, and still do to this day. I could tell that my left stirrup always felt a mile long, and my right leg was clamped against my horse like a vice. My hands were (cough *are still often*) too high, I stared at the ground, etc…whatever the case may be. I could in no way, shape or form, put my horse on the bit and get him going forward in a reasonable fashion while I was flailing around on top of him. And let’s not even talk about the jumping. So with all this in mind, I knew I needed to work on my position, and I didn’t need an instructor to tell me that. I knew I couldn’t fix everything at once, so I didn’t even try. I just picked one thing per day (or week, or month) and worked at that specific problem until I felt better about it.

Even weight in both seat bones. Check. ✔
Torso looking the direction of travel. Check. ✔
Legs in proper alignment. Check. ✔
Both legs participating. Check. ✔

Then when I was feeling pretty good, we started over and did it all at the trot, and finally at the canter. Thrilling, right?

Eventually, I started working on my position and the horse at the same time. (WHOA, I was getting reallly good here, guys.)😅 Ricco is super wiggly, so I worked on keeping him bent the correct direction, then keeping a rhythm… again, all at the walk. (I wondered why trotting was so daggum hard!) It was a very slow progression.

Through all this, I would make it to Christian’s for a weekend of lessons, and we would work on actual stuff like finding a real contact, going forward to jumps, and the technical skills I would need to successfully event. (Note: We had yet to finish an event without the dreaded next to our name in 3 years of eventing from Montucky, so we had a lot of work to do.) We would make good progress during our lessons, and Christian would give me a month’s worth of homework, which usually consisted of one or two things. (I’m slow, what can I say!?)

I went home and tried to re-create the things we did during lessons, (calling Christian in a panic when it didn’t work, getting further instruction i.e. “stop hanging on the right rein” or “try putting your leg on”) and when I felt that it was going well, we would try the next step on our own for a couple weeks. Once I felt I had a decent grasp on the concept, it would be time for another lesson. Eventually I got faster at the homework, which was a relief, I’m sure, for everyone involved.

Then big things started happening. I started feeling what my horse needed to fix, without Christian always being there to coach me through it. Trial and error… sometimes I could fix it, sometimes I couldn’t. I would (and still do) call Christian and tell her our issue. She suggests a solution. Already tried that yesterday. Didn’t work. She suggests another solution. Tried that too. She suggests a third solution. Ohhhhh. 💡 I’ll try that tomorrow. (I try it… it works.)Then continue problem solving on my own.

Mission accomplished. I was beginning to ride independently and problem-solving on my own, and sometimes it actually worked! *Gasp!* I was beginning to feel when the horse needed a certain kind of ride, or a specific exercise, even if it wasn’t my “plan” for that day. At long last, I am able to progress through a longer check list each time I ride. It goes something like this: Check my position. Fix anything out of alignment. Check the horse. Fix anything out of alignment. Do this all at the walk. Do it again at the trot and canter. Do this during transitions. Repeat for lengthenings. Repeat for collections. Repeat in shoulder fore.  Check and double check. Tempo. Rhythm. Bend. On the aids. You get the point. That’s a lot of stuff!

If this kid can learn to ride with only sporadic lessons, on a dorky Appaloosa, you can too.

Now during our lessons, we can work on fine tuning instead of just battling the basics. It’s taken 5 long years to get here, but looking back, I feel pretty good about where we’ve come. We have a never-ending list of goals to reach, and the progression may be slow, BUT! You can live in the boondocks and still progress as a rider. You can self teach. You can read books. You can watch videos. You can call your coach for a quick phone intervention when all hell breaks loose, and when you are having a nervous breakdown, and you can’t see the jumps because you may or may not be crying, and she will remind you that you can just make the jumps smaller and panic is not required.

It may not be conventional, but it’s working. This is how I get to live in a place that fuels my soul, while having an extremely small budget in a very expensive sport, and still chase the dream. <3

I wouldn’t trade views like this for anything 🙂
Mountains, solitude, eventing, and breathtaking views. Life is good.