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]


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.

Riding with Purpose

Riding is an enjoyable pastime. Spending time with a horse does more for an equestrian’s soul than most other things on earth. Non-equestrians will never understand the obsession, the amount of time we spend in the muck, or why we let our vehicle smell that way. We do it to repay the horse for what they do for us. For some people, horses give them a sense of purpose. For others, an escape from the rush of daily life. Some it allows them to have a better social life. But, for all, it has to do with that unique feeling that the horse gives us. A sense of safety, a feeling of love, a feeling of freedom, a feeling of friendship. These are only a few of the things that fulfill the purpose of why we have our horses but, what about our purpose for the horse.

Horses help heal and prepare us for more than most of us even understand. It is important that the things we do with our horses are beneficial to them as well. There are lots of activities we can do with them. It is more about how we do the activity that will either help or hurt our horsey friends in the long run. It is sometimes a specific moment that you can remember that may have caused your horse to be sore or even lame. Most of the time, it creeps up on them from doing things incorrectly over a period of time, and the owner has no idea what happened. The reason for most lameness is a result of the horse not quite moving the right way for a long enough period of time that they eventually start to wear themselves down.

Biomechanically the horse is one of the best, if not the best, designed animals on land, which is why they are so athletic and are able to maintain that athleticism while being ridden. The kicker is that in order to have a long healthy career, they need to move in a specific way so that they do not cause unnecessary stress on their bodies. It is important to work them in a way that also does not cause anxiety or any other mental stress as well. A horse has the structural integrity to carry a rider, but it does not naturally know how to carry the added weight of the rider. This is something that needs to be taught. It is one of the most important things a horse needs to learn, or they will not be able to move with grace and balance.

Every move we make while riding needs to have meaning and a purpose for your horse. Each time you ask your horse to do something, you also have to think about how they need to do it and what balance they need to accomplish what you are asking. Helping your horse find a balanced position for whatever movement you are asking for and doing it in a way that lets your horse be supple are the two best things you can ever do for your horse. Focusing on those two things while working will ensure that your horse is happy and will continue to be a willing partner for you.

It takes time to develop the feel for what, when, and how things need to happen with your horse. Do not be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Your horse knows the difference between an honest mistake and you doing things in malice. Once your horse figures out that the reason you are doing these things is for them, they will begin to be more patient and willing. Know exactly what you want before you ask. Be clear when you ask. Give your horse time to think through it and help them where they need help. If you think about these four things when riding, you will find more success in your rides. We all love our horses, the stubborn ones, the lazy ones, and even the crazy ones. Because one way or another, they are fulfilling their purpose for us. It is your purpose to help them become better as they help you become better, in whatever way that is. Long ago, horsemen coined the phrase “the rider’s aids.” They are called aids because they are to help the horse. Not to dominate or punish or even control. Work with your horse, for your horse, so that your horse can continue to help you as the two of you enjoy your own unique experiences together for many years to come.