Trainer Tuesday: What are the benefits for students of riding in group lessons?

Welcome to Trainer Tuesday! Each week we ask trainers a question and gather their answers for you. These trainers have a range of experience, backgrounds, and focus points of their programs, so the answers have as much variation as you would expect and also probably much more similarity. 

This week’s question posed is: What are the benefits for students of riding in group lessons?

Here are their answers: 

“I teach kids of all ages, and for any of the beginner and intermediate levels, it’s just more fun! As kids improve, group lessons create more drive and interest in doing things correctly. It becomes competitive and automatically, the riders want to do well in front of their group. At the same time, they have the opportunity to watch and see what looks good and what looks not quite right. They hear their trainers’ comments and get more of an understanding of what looks correct and why. We don’t have an indoor so in the shortest months, there is only one hour of light after school. The older kids can work on track and stride length over the same low fences that the short stirrup rider can work on track and counting strides.” -Robin Greenwood
Read about Robin here.

“I love group lessons for a lot of reasons! Even though we compete as individuals, there is plenty to be learned in a group setting. You have to navigate around traffic in the arena which is just what you have to do in the warm-up area at a show. You have the advantage of watching others in your group do the exercises and the courses that are being asked of you. If you get to watch them go before you, you can see how the exercise is riding and take that information and relate it to your own horse. If you have to go first in a group, there is pressure to perform at your highest in front of your peers- which is great preparation for the show ring. Everyone learns more from emulating what their group mates do well and avoiding what they don’t do so well!

Some people are visual learners, so watching a course be ridden can be very valuable before having to try it yourself.

Also, camaraderie can be a powerful bonding tool with your barn mates & fellow riders. Sometimes having to struggle through the same lessons together can help everyone reach a stronger place of accomplishment and success.” -Michael Tokaruk
Listen to Michael on the Plaidcast here.

“1. They learn from watching

2. Gain confidence following direction

3. Contact … collecting the horse or lengthening to stay in line

4. Self esteem … succeeding as the leader or the good example of the exercise.

5. Group lessons are best for learning” -Diane Carney
Listen to Diane on the Plaidcast here.

“Groups are always better than private lessons! It gives everyone the opportunity to learn from each other.” -Sirena Liggett

“Students typically love riding with friends! The socialization with fellow barn mates is perhaps the most obvious benefit of group lessons. As a trainer, it’s a great way for students to learn from one another through observation. For so many, seeing someone else demonstrate a course or a position is the best way for them to learn. Additionally, taking a break and processing the skill being taught or practiced while another student has a turn is helpful for many too.” -Samantha Hogan

“I think group lessons are paramount. The level of the students do not necessarily need to be the same. Learning by watching and then doing the exercise is important. You learn to copy what you like and be aware of what you don’t like.” -Janet Sassmanshausen

“Group lessons give the opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and can help with stage fright during the jumping portion of the lesson. Novice riders can learn by watching from the advanced riders (obviously) but advanced riders will be surprised how much they can learn from the novice riders as well. Everyone will also learn patience and leadership. In a perfect situation a student could have a couple private lessons and a group lesson a week” -Katy Deer

“We like to do a mix group and individual lessons since there are benefits to both.

1. We’re all in the same boat: sometimes riders can think they aren’t improving or have difficulty with a concept. Putting them in a group shows them that everyone struggles so it gives more confidence to work through them

2. Observation: If a concept is difficult to understand, watching others do it can help. Many people are visual learners and have to see others doing the exercise to understand.

3. Competition: some riders need motivation to improve. Riding with others slightly more advanced than they are can help them step up. This can also go the other way so it’s important to understand the rider’s personality and what motivates them.

4. Showing: because we have to do flat classes, it’s VERY important to mix group lessons into a riders routine as they are going to start to show so they understand traffic. We set aside specific lessons on passing and other ring etiquette. Keeping the jumps in the ring also gives an added level of difficulty to navigate both riders and obstacles.

5. Horse training: horses also need to learn to go in a group if they are in divisions that require flatting. Or even if they’re not, navigating the warm up ring we know is maybe more intimidating. Giving horses lots of exposure to a group setting is important.” -Alison Koenig

“In group lessons, riders have the opportunity to learn by watching others and listening to what the trainer is telling them. This can be very beneficial with jumping exercises especially. In addition, in a group lesson, riders have the opportunity to think on their own when the trainer is focused on another rider. Group lessons can also be beneficial for young horses to learn how to be in a group. Lastly, when flatting in a group lesson, there is an opportunity to have a better sense of pace and speed regulation.” -Chrissy Rohan

“Riding in group lessons should be standard once a student has mastered the rudimentary basics of riding! Group lessons remind me of high school band practice – everyone has to pay close attention to everyone else in order to be successful. In the case of riding lessons, this means that riders have to learn to steer around other riders and make quick decisions to move out of the way or navigate traffic in ways that will help when they get to the warm up arena at their first show. What’s more, it’s a fantastic opportunity to observe other horses and riders to see what works and what doesn’t and also get to try things on your own while the instructor focuses on another student.

At the end of the day, the skills riders gain through group lessons are the fundamental building blocks of good riding!” -Randi C. Heathman
Listen to Randi’s book Horses for Courses: The Definitive Guidebook for the Prospective College Equestrian, Second Edition.

“Group lessons provide a ton of opportunities for students and horses. They allow riders to develop their skills of working around other horses, improve confidence riding in front of others, learn by watching others and listening to the feedback that other horses and students receive, and continue to learn while catching their breath between turns. Private lessons are great for working through specific issues, but I find group lessons provide the most education opportunities for horses and riders. Plus they have the added benefit of creating friendships!” -Maddy Brown

“Personally I think riders get so much more out of a group lesson. It’s an opportunity to learn both from watching and doing. I’ve always learned so much watching other riders and listening to the instructor critique the ride. When I’m teaching young riders I find I can inject a bit of friendly competition to encourage them to try a little harder. Often adults love the built in breather between exercises while each rider has a turn, and the horses enjoy the break too. Group lessons offer so much information both from watching and doing, which is why I’ve always preferred them.” -Sue Lightner

“The majority of lessons in my program once riders can safely walk, trot, and canter independently, are group lessons. I think they are a fantastic way for riders to learn from one another by watching and absorbing information. Riders also have the opportunity to form bonds and connections with each other, which strengthens our barn community. I especially prefer group lessons when we are jumping as it gives the horses built in time to catch their breath. However, there are two circumstances in which I prefer private lessons. All of our beginner lessons are private. I think it is safer for the riders and less stressful for the horses and instructors and I see beginners progress faster with more individualized attention. The other instance is when I have a rider who is really struggling to master a concept and who may need more time with me one-on-one to break things down and practice. This approach avoids the frustration that can come from repeated public failure and tends to boost riders’ confidence once they rejoin the group.” -Jessica Goldstein Holmes

“I think you see the benefits of riding in group lessons particularly if it is a mix of levels, the ones who are more novice can watch and emulate from the more advanced riders. It gives them a real time example to watch an exercise and get to try and copy it. For the more advanced it can give a confidence boost and have them rise to the occasion to want to do it well for the less advanced riders. There are so many exercises you can do in mixed groups to challenge each level of rider. Watching the more advanced will challenge the novice to do more and at the same time encourage the advanced rider to do it better.” -Kristen Carollo
Read about Kristen Carollo here.

“I am a huge believer in group lessons! I teach group lessons of all levels, and I often put groups of various levels together. It is good for everyone to watch each other, take a turn at the same exercise, and then talk about the pieces that pose challenges. I think there is always something riders can learn watching each other ride.” -Elzabeth Lampert
Read about Elzabeth here.

“Watching others, learn from the mistakes they make. Life’s not long enough to make them all.” -Jan Pearce

“I like group lessons because we can use visual effects of the people watching each other as examples of what they are doing right and can do better. Of course, this has to be constructed in a very positive way. I LOVE giving really challanging flat lessons, and find that teaching a group inspires me, and i tend to rise to that, teaching that lesson a couple or few times, better than repeating the flat lesson of the day many times that day. I tend to take a group and find a commonality that they all need to work on and make the lesson around that. Whether it’s a rhythm thing, a balance thing, an improvement on turning, flexibility, straightness, whatever. I also like the comradery of the people in the group, and love to create a positive but competitive atmosphere. Sometimes we time jumper rounds, or score hunter rounds and then give a chance at doing it again. And last, but not least, I like when the horses get a chance to rest under our shade tree in the Florida heat, while the others are taking their turns at the exercise.” -Amber Harte

“You get to learn from all the other people in the lesson. Especially at the beginner level.” -Bridget Strang

“When a group lesson, riders are riding together. When you take one out of the group, they are now watching one of their buddies ride together in a group. Taking a break from the group, while learning to do one thing at a time. When a rider walks, trot, or canters, and has to do it by themselves in front of the group they ride, this is a chance to explain to each other in a very positive way with small tips on what can be putting in a positive way towards the rider. One of the best ways in jumping lessons are based on horses who learn to be at a slow gate of the canter. Without speeding too fast, will not enable them to count, striding or be able to understand if the rider and horse are chipping, the jump or jumping from a long spot.

Therefore in the group, the children will learn how nicely the canter should be. As far as not too fast, or not too slow. Or a horse, will break the canter and move to the trot. The next option is that they are able to understand the space of a canter stride, or the distance from one jump to the next jump so they can count their strides. And understand the speed of the horse behind too many strides. if it’s too slow or not enough strides when the horse travels too fast. With all these in place we can see if the horse will swap leads because he was going too fast. Or if he swapping leads for getting mixed signals from the rider. To make sure each rider can understand the difference between correct and somewhat not so correct to take on the information and education to all of these riders to have the safest rise that they can.” -Deborah Lyons Greer