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Dear Cowboy Bob,

I ran across your site and was happy to read that on your farthest point out on a trail ride you give your horse a treat sometimes. I'm glad to hear you say you do things you know you're not supposed to. I hate keeping my horse on the rail in the arena. It drives me crazy and I'm the one taking the ride. I don't know what she's going through. My trainer is always after me about this. I feel like jumping the rail and high tailing it out on a full-on gallop into the woods. I think my Thoroughbred would like that, too. Sometimes it seems like the things you're supposed to do just don't always make sense.



Thanks a lot for your nice note! I'm glad to know that someone "caught my drift" in the website pages!

Unfortunately, many teachers, whether in a classroom or an arena, seem to feel that they are required to make their subject matter as dull as possible. And, they seem to believe, rules must never, ever, be broken -- even when those "rules" are actually little more than guidelines. From the student's perspective, sometimes it's just more fun (and creative) to "color outside the lines."

Here are a few suggestions that may help make lesson time a little less boring -- and make you a better rider in the process:

1. Get a copy of Sally Swift's book, Centered Riding, for your instructor and suggest that you'd like to try some of her horseback exercises. As you improve, have your instructor longe your horse while you ride bareback and try some basic vaulting moves.

2. Rather than riding "on the rail" like some sort of one-horse merry-go-round, ask if you could try things like leg yields on the rail, circles in the corners, direction changes, figure eights across the arena, and even some dressage moves such as the shoulder-in, travers (esentially a leg-yield without a rail) or the more difficult counter-change. As your skill increases, you may even want to try riding blindfolded -- trying to execute each move as your instructor calls it out to you (talk about a trust and confidence builder!).

3. How about playing some games? Instead of egg-and-spoon, put a pebble in the spoon as you try riding at various gaits. Set a series of traffic cones or other markers down the centerline of the arena and do a sort of pole-bending at different gaits. Anything done at a 4-H Fun Day can be turned into a learning experience.

4. On a nice day, ask your instructor if he/she would like to saddle up and spend the session riding around in a field or on the trails. Sometimes instuctors get bored, too!

5. And sometimes, when your instructor isn't looking, slip you horse a treat! At the tack check following a dressage test, the officials will often hand the rider a bottle of cold water... and a nice carrot for the horse!

Remember, YOU are the one paying the instructor, so the instructor is the employee and you are the one in charge. If the instructor can't or won't do the job to your satisfaction, it may be time to hire someone else. After all, what is the value of the lessons if they result in your horse (and you) going sour?

I hope these suggestions will help you fend off boredom -- and perhaps help your instructor as well!

Balance exercise - arms extended to the side
Balance exercise - kneeling with arms extended to the side
Doing the Swan on horseback
Practicing guiding a horse around traffic cones
Taking a ride through the flowers

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