Understanding Your Riding Lessons

Many people want to get the most out of every riding lesson and improve every lesson. While these are grand ambitions, to accomplish them, you will need to understand the many different ways to achieve them.

We first have to understand what improvement means with our horses. Simply doing better with the movements they are working on every day is not possible. A horse’s body takes time to adjust, build strength, and be in balance. This can sometimes take months for seemingly simple things. So, let’s look at some things we can improve regularly with our horses.

Things to improve on:

All the movements            Relationship                            Balance

Strength                           Conditioning                             Problem Solving

Your understanding          The horse’s understanding      Lightness

Confidence                       Technique                                Learning about your horse

Patience                           Knowledge                               Feel

Timing                              Communication                        Trust

Many more things can be added to this list, and as long as one is attempted to be improved, you have improved.

An improvement can be that you were able to keep your horse in the same place as yesterday, allowing your horse to condition their body as needed and develop muscle memory for you and your horse. Waiting for the right time is difficult for many riders.

You can still have improvement with a “bad ride.” You may have learned something about your horse; you may have learned something about yourself. Perhaps you learned how to solve a particular problem. When problems arise and we have a bad day, we need to look at it like a puzzle and try to figure it out. Try not to stress about it; take your time, break it down, and enjoy the process of helping your horse. Some problems take more than just a single ride to solve.

One of the most important things to remember about your riding lessons is that you will figure out most of what you learn in a lesson after the lesson when riding on your own. Just because something may not have made sense during the lesson does not mean it was a waste. Some concepts are more complex to grasp than others. Sometimes, we need the quietness of riding alone to get a feel for them – a time when you do not have to listen to anyone but your horse. A time that you can truly focus. Other times, you may have nailed it in the lesson, and when you tried it on your own without the assistance of your instructor, it did not work. Now is the time when you really learn how to do it! When practicing on your own, in a quiet arena, making mistake after mistake. You know you fully understand it when you get it on your own.

How you view success is critical and can drastically affect your quality of life. I like to remind myself of Thomas Edison, who, when asked by a reporter about his invention of the lightbulb, replied, “What was it like to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I did not fail 1,000 times; it was an invention of 1,000 steps.”

Remember, there are always steps to take to reach your goals. To achieve your goal of piaffe or a flying change, you do not simply start trying to do them. Years of work are required to develop the horse so it can physically do the maneuvers easily and with mental and physical relaxation. You are, in fact, working on piaffe and flying changes by doing shoulder-in, perfecting circles, and doing tempo changes. Understanding how what you do today connects to future training is important.

No matter how your ride goes, please do your best to leave your horse in a place where they can be successful tomorrow.


Student Jo B. with her horse Levi

Unlimited Education

In today’s world of technology, we have access to a vast amount of information online. This includes social media platforms and online courses that cover nearly every topic. However, with so much information available, a person can have difficulty deciding what they want, or it can be too easy to change to another way of doing things. One of the biggest challenges people face when learning online is the lack of guidance. This often leads to riders attempting things that are beyond their abilities or their horse’s comfort levels, causing them to plateau or even regress in their development.

You will eventually find something you cannot relate to with your horse online. Your horse may respond differently than the horse online; even though the trainer might talk about how another horse may respond, covering every scenario is impossible. There are times as a trainer when what we think needs to happen based on what we see might change once we come in contact with the horse.

Even in virtual training sessions, we can still miss subtle things since we are not there to be able to feel the horse and its environment. Very few people will ever achieve more than mediocre success with online training. Online training should only be used as a means of support to in-person training.

Online training has become popular because it is convenient and cheaper. However, it is rare to find anyone who has achieved great success in their industry by taking the easy and convenient route. Most successful people have put in countless hours of hard work and made significant sacrifices. 

There is nothing that can replace in-person training. Coaching in person with an instructor allows for every sense to be used and, therefore, offers many more options for learning and correction. In personal coaching, the instructor can see, feel, hear, and touch. It is impossible, or at least nearly impossible, to turn riding into an art with online training as your primary way of education.

To truly learn equestrian art, more than weekly lessons are needed. In-person coaching with an instructor is essential. You have to spend significant time with another equestrian artist farther along than you. You will soon realize that to be an artist in the equestrian world, practice alone is not enough. It is a lifestyle that must be adapted. A person must accept the time that it takes to master a craft and actively pursue the work that is required to achieve it.


Student Kate L. with her horse Nena

Buying A Horse

Buying a horse

Buying a new horse can be an exciting time, as it should be! This is not something most people do more than once or twice in their time owning horses. This adventure should be well thought out so there are no regrets shortly after.

Organization before the shopping begins.

As a buyer, there are several things that you must take care of before you start inquiring about horses.

  • Make your partner, family, and friends aware of your plans so that you have support.
  • Have your money in the proper place so you can promptly exchange money when the time comes.
  • If you will be boarding your horse, be sure to select a facility and pay the deposit so that space is available for your new horse.
  • Be sure to make arrangements with your trainer to help you.
  • Know what type of horse you want and what amount of training you want them to have.
  • Know what your budget is. Do not forget about Pre Purchase Exams, Horse Transport, Trainers’ Percentage, and Travel Expenses.

It is crucial to have all of these things organized so that you can be respectful of the seller’s time. You do not want to waste anyone’s time by not being organized.

Have Professional Help

Having a knowledgeable and trustworthy trainer help you is well worth the fee. They will keep you safe and ensure you and your prospective horse are a good fit. Most trainers charge between 10-12% of the final sale price of the horse plus travel expenses, if there are any.

Some buyers do not understand why paying the trainer’s percentage is worth it. Let me explain how things work when I help a client find a new mount. It should be similar to any other trainer who is doing their job well. I start with phone calls to people I know and have dealt with before whom I already trust and have a professional relationship with. I run ads online for In Search Of (ISO). I often filter through 20+ horses before sending a prospective horse to a client to review so I do not waste their time with horses I know will not work for them. I will talk to multiple sellers and get additional videos and information about the horse. This saves you many HOURS so that you can continue with your daily life.

A trainer is able to leave out the emotions a buyer may go through. It is vital to have an outside person see things as they really are while you “ooh” and “awe” over a horse that you think is your unicorn. In your heightened emotional state, you may not see the horse’s shortcomings or play them off as not being as bad as they are because he is so pretty, and it will be worth putting up with or dealing with. Remember, unicorns have four straight legs and good feet and do not weave like a junky on withdrawals.

Finding “The One”

It is of utmost importance that you and the person helping you are both on the same page and truly understand what you need. Be honest with what your level is, how much time you have, and what time and money you have for the continued training you want or will need with your new horse.

Once you and your trainer have found a horse that seems suitable for you, you have two options.

  • Go test-ride the horse.
  • Get more videos and buy sight unseen.

I always recommend going to ride the horse if time and money allow. This is the best way to see how safe you feel, how comfortable the horse is to ride, see how your personalities match, and you can make sure nothing is hidden from you.

I have successfully bought many horses sight unseen through videos with success. If you have the right professional helping you, they can see a lot in the videos that the amateur eye may miss, and they know what additional videos and pictures to ask for.

Pre Purchase Exams (PPE)

Protect your investment. Do NOT skip a PPE! A PPE is what helps you make sure your horse will last the time you need. A PPE can tell the hidden past of a horse, and if something is found, it can be used to negotiate the price of the horse down.

There are different levels of PPE’s. Depending on your budget, you can start with a general health exam where the vet will look at the horse’s overall health. They evaluate eyes, lungs, heart, coat, look for abnormalities on the body, and soundness issues. Depending on this evaluation, you may decide what you want to look into further. Perhaps, only doing a few X-rays on a joint that the vet felt some fluid in or the horse appeared to be sore on.

If you are buying a more expensive horse that has a bright future or has already had an extensive career, X-ray everything; legs, neck, and back!

It is also a good idea if your vet is not the vet doing the PPE, to have the PPE results sent to your personal vet to go over to get a second option that you know you can trust. Let your vet go over the X-rays and read the report.

Price Negotiation

Be Polite!

Remember that you are attached to a profession in this process, and you need to conduct yourself as one as well. Even if an agreement cannot be met, you can still be cordial about it.

By the time you get to this point in the process, you might already have a feel for the seller if they are going to be negotiable or not.

There can be some price negotiation before the PPE is done if needed, but final negotiations are always done after the PPE has been completed. I always tell my clients that if they are not willing to pay what the seller is asking, then we do not even bother moving forward. Some sellers are not willing to negotiate on price, and that is their choice. A buyer has to be ok with that if they really like the horse. Do not look at horses outside of your price range in hopes that they will negotiate down.

It is important to know where the market is so that you and your trainer can evaluate a fair price for the horse so that you do not get taken advantage of. There need to be some legitimate reasons for you to request a reduced price for the horse.

Closing Remarks

Have everything in place before starting your search.

Take your time but do not waste the time of others. Some people are lucky enough to have the first horse they look at be the one. Others may have to search for six months. In the long run, over the next 15-20+ years with that horse, it is not that long to wait for the right horse.

Be honest with yourself and the people you are dealing with.

Be prepared for your new horse to have an adjustment period when he arrives at his new home. Some horses settle quicker than others but do not be worried if it takes up to a month. Consistency is a big help in settling a new horse.

Questions? Reach out to Cody Harrison at [email protected]


Patience is a word that is frequently used in the horse industry. It is a word that is easy to understand but difficult to interpret. Being patient is easier for some people than for others. Some people have too much patience, and others do not have a drop of patience. Patience is vital to developing your horse and yourself as an equestrian.

There are several aspects of having patience that works in your favor. The first and most important is genuinely being patient. To do this, you need to be able to wait in a state of calmness that does not have any future intentions. Patience will allow you to stay in the present moment and allow your horse to focus on what he needs to do now, not in the future. It is crucial to understand how what we do now connects to future movements, but it’s also important not to get ahead of ourselves and put too much of our current work on future movements. It is also essential to hold the space for you and your horse so that the two of you can be ok with what needs to happen while being patient.

As you work with your horse, there comes a time when you “feel” you need to be more patient, and you need to know why. It might be that your horse does not mentally understand, it may be that something is making your horse uncomfortable, or perhaps your horse does not yet have the strength or balance required. Whatever the reason, you must know what you are waiting for. This understanding will also allow you to “feel” when they are ready to move on. If you know that you need to be patient but do not know why you will be guessing what you need to work on with your horse. Guessing will only hold your training back when you could be moving on to the next step.

It’s vital to understand whether or not you need to be patient with yourself or your horse. Perhaps you do not entirely know what to do or what things should feel like. Maybe you have some fear that you need to overcome before you can take the next step. You must be honest with yourself about why you need to be patient. Is it for yourself or your horse?

Knowing how long to be patient is determined by why you need patience in the first place. When you feel that the horse is starting to be more confident and willing with the reason why you need to be patient, you can move on. As your horse progresses through training, some things take longer than others.

Patience plays a vital role in how your horse will learn. How soft or solid is the imaginary line between a boundary or limitation, and how much of a buffer is there before that line? This line will forever be changing as your horse’s training continues. Do not force your horse to do more. Be patient, request that your horse try something new, and then encourage them to figure it out. A horse’s temperament or history will also determine how patient you need to be.

There may eventually come a time when you should no longer be patient with your horse or yourself, whichever the case may be. At a certain point in training, patience can become wasteful. This often happens with riders with fear issues and horses who have more whoa than go. If a fearful rider is not in the right environment with the proper support and guidance, they most often delay taking that step for fear of failure or perhaps getting hurt. They usually do not know when to take the next step and, out of fear, choose to be patient to be better safe than sorry.

Some horses will learn to take advantage of a person’s good nature and use their patience against them to get out of doing work that will expel additional energy. A horse with more spirit often begins to act out or suddenly become spooky. Actions like this can often mean that your horse is getting bored, and you missed the signs that they gave you that they were ready for the next step. A horse and rider need to continue to make progress so that they both enjoy their work and feel encouraged.

Remember, just because you need to be patient with one area of your training does not mean the other areas should stop progressing.


Cody praising CH Equine Quarter Horse Louie


How did last week go for you?
Do you feel like progress was made, or are you feeling stuck?
I have been working hard on making a mental shift with my riding. Rather than focusing on things that went wrong, I am doing my best to give lots of praise 🙏 to my horse (and myself) for what was correct. Do your best to ignore those not-so-great moments. 😬 Acknowledge that they happened and realize you and your horse have things to improve, but don’t focus your energy on the mistakes.
Take the good moments and hold on to them. Think about them in the shower, on your drive to work, or while getting your horse tacked. Think about how those good moments made you feel. Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel that way with all or most of your rides? Heck, yes, it would!!! 😍
You and your horse are not perfect. You are both on this journey together – learning
and growing. Don’t be so hard on yourself or your horse. 🏇 Focus your energy and intentions on what you want. Don’t waste your energy on mistakes. As Tony Robbins says, energy flows where attention goes.