How to Get Riding Lessons for FREE!
I get asked for a lot of freebies. Free lessons, free training rides, free riding opportunities, you name it. I know it’s the same for every trainer out there. I get it, this is an expensive sport! Heck, “expensive” is an understatement. And I understand that parents are trying to get their kids as far as they can in this sport without taking out a second mortgage. So here are a couple of ways you as a rider can get free riding lessons!
I was given a lot of “freebies” as a kid by some wonderful people who saw my drive and my passion and decided to give me a shot. The fact of the matter is, though, what I received wasn’t really free. I worked. My trainer would often pick me up from school - in her bright red dually, like the badass she was - and take me straight to the barn, where I’d find a list of chores on the whiteboard. The chores were usually to decobweb the barns, clean the automatic waterers (scooping moths out with a coffee mug), scrub water troughs, or clean lesson tack. If I started slacking off or chatting with friends and didn’t get my chores done before my mom showed up, then I didn’t ride. That only happened once or twice before I learned my lesson! On weekends or days off from school, I’d spend the entire day at the barn. On those days, I'd get to ride an extra horse or two, but only if I completed extra chores like throwing hay, feeding, or cleaning stalls. I oftentimes opted to help with those chores even when I wasn’t asked - not because I wanted an extra ride, but because I wanted to be a part of caring for my horse and all of the others. I was responsible and dedicated; even at just 14 or 15 years old, my trainer trusted that I would do everything she asked and do it correctly, even if she wasn’t around.
Notice what I never refer to above as a chore: riding. So often these days, I hear kids say things like “I have to ride so-and-so” as if it’s a chore. Riding isn’t the chore. Riding is the reward. Whether it’s on your list as one of your tasks for the day or it’s the reward for completing your chores, riding is always an opportunity. While in high school, I got a couple of really sweet catch-riding gigs. One was a permanent position for a pony breeder, which led to the chance to catch-ride on the circuit for a top trainer. Both positions were exhausting, and both were nothing short of life-changing opportunities. For the pony breeder, I spent full days at the barn whether it was the middle of a scorching South Carolina summer or a windy, wet winter day. I rode young ponies until my legs were numb and I loved every single moment of it. I rode more bucks, leaps, bolts, porpoises, and Hail Mary long spots than I can fathom and every single one of them was an opportunity to learn and get better - if at nothing than just staying on.
From there, I had the opportunity to catch-ride for a huge operation at some A rated shows. At one of the shows, there were 30 horses and ponies to split between three riders. I rode more than I ever had in my life, I was sick as a dog (one morning I literally passed out from an allergic reaction to medication and sobbed because I missed the large pony division), and I spent that whole two weeks with a smile plastered to my face. Because what an opportunity!
So here’s my first hint at how to earn “FREE" riding lessons: WORK. Don’t complain about doing cobwebs, or whine about scrubbing buckets. Don’t expect to get to spend the whole time riding. Every ride a trainer gives you for free is a training ride fee lost. Every lesson a trainer gives you for free is a lesson fee lost. I know there’s this misconception among children that horse trainers make bank but I assure you, we do not. If you say you want to work off your lessons, you better be willing to do so.
Does sitting on your bum sound better than working? Well lucky for you, I have a second way to get a FREE riding lesson and this one really is FREE: all you have to do is WATCH.
Put your phone away, stop talking to your friends, zip it and watch. Watch your trainer ride. It doesn’t have to be your horse that they’re on. Watch them ride their own horse, watch them ride a training horse, watch them school a lesson horse. Pay attention to how they structure the session. Take note of what they do and how the horse responds. Take note, too, of what the horse does and how the trainer responds. Ask questions. I can almost guarantee your trainer would be delighted to discuss their theory and philosophy with you, to share with you what’s so important to them that they’ve chosen to make it a very non-lucrative career.
You know who you can also learn from? Everyone. Watch a lesson of kids better than you. Watch a lesson of kids less experienced than you. Watch a lesson of kids who do a different ring than you. I assure you that you can learn something from every single thing that you watch. Listen to what your trainer tells them. Pay attention to the exercises she sets for them. Notice the way the horses react when the riders listen to your trainer. Consider how you can use this information yourself or, if you can’t use it right now, catalog it in your brain for later use.
Finally, watch the horse show. Watch your own division, the whole thing, before you start complaining about the placings. Watch the divisions above yours to see what you need to learn or perfect to get there. Watch the jumper ring to see how to think quickly and be bold. Watch the hunter ring to see how to make things rhythmical and smooth. Watch the equitation ring to see how to be seamless and poised. There is something to learn everywhere you look and, best of all, it’s FREE.