How To Get The Most Out Of Your Lessons + Stay Motivated

Here's the scene:

Your instructor arrives for your lesson. You haven't caught your horse yet and your tack isn't ready. Lesson time is spent catching and readying your horse while talking about everything you did since you saw your instructor last. Maybe you didn't do anything with your horse or you've been having the "ala carte experience", dabbling in a little of everything, not making focused improvement on any one thing. Or maybe you tried a little homework but were confused because you couldn’t remember all the information so you didn’t get anywhere.

You may feel frustrated that you're not making progress and therefore unmotivated. You want to do something new but alas since you didn't work on the skills from the previous lesson, you're doing the same thing… again. Your horse is bored and so are you.

If any of this sounds familiar, or if you’re interested in getting even more out of your lesson and horsemanship time, then read on!

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  1. Have a goal! What are you excited to achieve with your horse? What are you willing to do to get that? Verbalize your goal, write it down, and set measurable objectives along the way. Having a destination helps add purpose to your journey. Not sure how to get started mapping out your goals? Ask your instructor for help. They should be using your goals as a blueprint for your lesson plan. I’ve included some of my favorite ways to track goals at the end of this post.

  2. Be ready! Have your horse caught, groomed, tacked, and warmed up (unless you require assistance for any of those things) before your instructor arrives. Your horse should be in a learning frame of mind at the top of the hour because you've spent the time in your warm up getting her calm, connected, and responsive. Now when your instructor arrives you are ready to jump right in to the good stuff and maximize your lesson time!

  3. Come with questions! You will have good questions if you've done your homework between lessons. Show your instructor that you've been practicing by demonstrating what tasks are better and what still feels a little sticky for you and your horse. Share what strategies you've tried to resolve the problem and ask for help on with the remaining challenges.


    Be sure to keep asking questions as needed throughout your lesson. There is no such thing as a stupid question. If your instructor answers and you’re still not sure what they mean, keep asking. It is the instructor’s job to rephrase the answer as many times as necessary, finding creative ways to share the information until it clicks for you. This is your time and your learning is your responsibility. Make the most out of it by taking advantage of your instructor’s wealth of knowledge and experience while they are there.

  4. Take notes and ask more questions! When your lesson is wrapping up ask for a recap and for specific things to work on for homework. Ask any lingering questions so you have all the information you need to take the reins on your learning between sessions. Bring a pad and paper or send yourself a text or voice memo with the notes so you don’t forget.

  5. Practice, practice, practice! This is the BIGGEST piece to your progress. 10 quality minutes with your horse is better than no time spent at all or an hour of unfocused time.

    This might not sit well with everyone but I challenge you to pause when you find yourself saying "I didn't have time" and instead ask yourself if it's really that you didn't make the time. We make time for things that are important to us, when it’s our priority.

    Try this, schedule yourself at least one homework session with your horse between lessons, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Put it on your calendar and act as if it’s an important doctor appointment, showing up to your job or a meeting with your child's teacher. Treat it like it’s something you wouldn't ignore, not show up for, or put off indefinitely. Of course, the more you practice the more progress you’ll make. I see the most progress in students playing with their horse 3 - 4 times a week, even if it’s only for short sessions. Your goal in each session is just to be 1% better than you were last time. That's progress and that's achievable! You can do this!

The success of the student isn't about how talented they are or how well trained their horse is. It's not about access to beautiful indoor facilities or owning all the best gear. It's about goal setting + tracking, preparation, practice, and commitment to their horse and to their role as student. It’s about getting comfortable with the idea of hard work and not being afraid to fail. Only then will you see your dreams become a reality.

Here are a few things that have worked really well for me in staying on track with my goals and progressive in my horsemanship.

Linda Parelli’s Goal Board

This goal board can be found in the Savvy Club. If you’re not a member you can still create your own. Pick one or two big dreams for your long term goals and a date you want to achieve them by. Then break those goals down into measurable objectives for your short term goals. For each short term goal break it down into what 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% progress looks like. Each time you meet a quarterly milestone, check a box.

This goal board can be found in the Savvy Club. If you’re not a member you can still create your own. Pick one or two big dreams for your long term goals and a date you want to achieve them by. Then break those goals down into measurable objectives for your short term goals. For each short term goal break it down into what 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% progress looks like. Each time you meet a quarterly milestone, check a box.

Parelli Self Assessment Tasks

Use the self assessment tasks to inspire you to achieve excellence with your horse. Play with a small handful of tasks for 7 sessions in a row before picking new ones.  I made tiny check marks or dots next to the task each time I did it with my horse to keep track. After 7 times I marked off the big box. It’s not about perfection, just get it a little better and move on. You can always circle back to it. All the skills compliment each other so don’t drill your horse and turn these into jobs. Your horse will thank you for staying interesting and progressive.

Use the self assessment tasks to inspire you to achieve excellence with your horse. Play with a small handful of tasks for 7 sessions in a row before picking new ones.

I made tiny check marks or dots next to the task each time I did it with my horse to keep track. After 7 times I marked off the big box. It’s not about perfection, just get it a little better and move on. You can always circle back to it. All the skills compliment each other so don’t drill your horse and turn these into jobs. Your horse will thank you for staying interesting and progressive.

Regular Infusion of Inspiration - Podcast, Instagram, YouTube, Savvy Club

I thrive on a daily injection of something that makes me go “WOW!” and reinforces why I started this journey in the first place. I love listening to Kristi Smith’s podcast, I love Amy Bowers’ Instagram account, I love Ryan Rose’s YouTube channel, and, of course, I love the Savvy Club for it’s wealth of education and inspiration from Pat and Linda. Find someone who embodies your dreams with horses and connect with their accounts regularly to stay excited about your own horse and journey.

And that's it! I'll leave you with Pat's "45 P's" here. I bolded the parts that stand out to me in relation to being progressive for your horse by being prepared for your lesson and practicing with quality in mind.

Pat Parelli proudly presents his provocative and progressive programs and the proclamation that prior and proper preparation prevents p-poor performance, particularly if polite and passive persistence is practiced in the proper position. This perspective takes patience from process to product, from principle to purpose. The promise that Pat plans to prove is that practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect and, isn’t it peculiar how these poor prey animals perceive people as predators prior to practicing the Parelli Program.

Preparing for Riding, On Line

I want to piggy back off my last blog post, Why Are You Playing On Line? by expanding on the third reason, to prepare for something.  For this blog, that is to prepare your horse to be soft and responsive to the reins when riding.  

First, let me ask you a question.  Which of the Seven Games are you using when you pick up your reins or put your leg on your horse to ask him to do something?  Hint: It's the game that is all about yielding to a feel, steady pressure...  The Porcupine Game!  Without it you have no brakes, no steering, and no control or communication.  Even if you took the bridle off, you would still expect your horse to respond to your seat and legs to go and whoa, turn left and right.  Therefore, you need to have a solid Porcupine Game.  

The last couple weeks I've noticed a lot of disconnect in students when it comes to preparing their horses On Line to be more responsive to the reins in the saddle.  So, for this blog I want to focus specifically on improving your Porcupine Game in Zone 1 using the Circling Game.  There are lots of different exercises you can do to get your horse light to the reins, this is just one idea.

We know that there are 3 parts to the Circling Game; the Send, the Allow, and the Bring Back.  When done with the Porcupine Game the Send is a Direct Rein, the Allow is neutral, and the Bring Back is an Indirect Rein.  You might be thinking, "I want to be able to play the Circling Game with slack in the rope and/or at Liberty!" I would say, you can and you should!  However, the way to improve your horse's yield to the reins is by doing the Send and the Bring Back as a Porcupine Game.  Your horse needs to be able to respond appropriately to pressure and this will help him translate what you're doing on the ground to the saddle.  Ultimately, your horse should be able to yield both ways—with slack in the line/at Liberty using the Driving Game and with a steady feel using the Porcupine Game.    

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The Send talks to the front end of the horse by asking the nose and neck (Zones 1 and 2) to go onto the circle and the front feet to follow.  A Direct Rein also speaks to the front of the horse by directly asking the front leg on the same side as the active rein to step over, following his Zone 1 and 2.  Your hand position in the Send is the same during the Direct Rein when you're in the saddle.

In the Bring Back you're talking to the hind end of the horse, asking the hindquarters (Zone 4) to step over and yield.  You bring the line across your body, fingernails up, just as you would from the saddle with an Indirect Rein, talking to the outside hind leg.  This is why it's called an Indirect Rein because you're indirectly talking to the outside hind with the inside rein. 

If your horse can't make sense of pressure from the ground it usually doesn't get any easier from the saddle.  As you can see, by practicing these rein positions from the ground you can help your horse understand how to appropriately respond to pressure from the halter, preparing you both for a more successful ride under saddle.  

Rather than walk you through a "how-to", I simply want to give you a little food for thought on one way you can incorporate exercises On Line that purposefully prepare you for riding.  

If you're interested in learning more about using your rein positions in the Circling Game to prepare for riding, you can watch a video with Pat Parelli, read a detailed lesson with Directions, Tips, Troubleshooting, Pitfalls, and get a list of Objectives to complete to show your understanding of the task in the Savvy Club! 

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If you're already a member, log in to the Savvy Club and go to the Level 2 On Line Circling Game: Rein Positions in the Circling Game lesson.

If you're not a Savvy Club member and would like to be, sign up with my link

What other games, patterns, or exercises can you think of that would allow you to practice your Direct and Indirect Reins On Line in preparation for riding?  Comment below!