Stuck in a rut or plateau and not getting results working with your trainer?

Are you  “stuck” in your riding; lodged in a rut or unable to break past a plateau?   Are you frustrated and trying to figure out how to get “unstuck”.  And whose fault is this?  You?  Your horse?  Most importantly are you feeling “stuck” working with your present riding instructor?    After all he/she is supposed to be the “professional” and at least, at the moment, you can’t seem to make heads or tails out of the instruction you’re getting and none of it makes a difference anyway.   

You’re just about ready to scream.

Well, first off … good for you!!!  Students SHOULD be outspoken, forthright, and honest; ESPECIALLY with yourself and your teacher/trainer.  You are, after all, paying for a lesson, aren’t you?  You’re the one who is IN the saddle and ON the horse, aren’t you?  So … you certainly have the right to comment on whether or not the lesson is working.  

As an aside, I would comment that I have taught and coached for decades in a variety of athletic endeavors; riding, team and individual sports; baseball, football, track; strength and conditioning, fitness, psychology, etc. and it is interesting to me that in certain subjects and industries an instructor is REQUIRED to have certification or licensing and in others it is not necessary in order to do business … and even get paid.  

Riding and performance horse training are two of those industries and I have obviously participated in both WITHOUT licensing or certification and yet I believe that the situation is … bad.

Bad. Bad. Bad.  REALLY  bad.

Instructors MUST be technically proficient beyond reproach.  An instructor’s level of knowledge and competence affects not only performance but safety, health, and injury prevention.   Some European countries; England I believe for example …  require certifications that list “guidelines” for performance and specifically for “levels” of performance.  

Youth baseball is an example of an instructional industry which is being driven into the ditch by placing monetary interests over the best interests of the customer and specifically the athlete and, of course, with horseback riding events we are dealing with TWO athletes; rider AND horse.

Baseball and youth sports overall is a huge multi billion dollar industry ($16.5 billion … yes, that is a “b”) that also does not have certification or licensing processes in place  and the ills which have befallen the CUSTOMERS has reached epidemic proportions.  Arm injuries for example that have resulted from poor instruction and improper player “game” management and subsequent surgeries for players under fifteen have risen by over 300% in the last two years.

This is a very very serious “health” and “safety” situation which MINIMALLY could be REDUCED if there were appropriate guidelines were in place which were enforced by a licensing and certification process.

Second to technical knowledge but certainly EQUALLY as important is the ability to COMMUNICATE appropriately with students.  Yes, I do specifically mean … a good working knowledge of human PSYCHOLOGY; as applied to  APPROPRIATE AGE AND SKILL LEVELS.  After all beginners are different that advanced classifications of athletes and should be approached and taught according to their level of expertise.

Finally … in the case of youth riders; a good working knowledge of appropriate interaction with and management of relationships with the PARENTS is certainly worthwhile as well.

 It was always my practice not only to learn the skill but the “psychology” of correct instruction; i.e. “how to COMMUNICATE the skill.”

You cannot get a certificate to teach in high school for example without taking some educational psychology courses. You cannot coach fitness without a certification. Heck, even in a delicatessen, you need a business license before you can put tuna salad and a tomato on rye bread.

But with horses and team sports it’s okay to teach without documentation.  


Oftentimes young athletes and their parents PERCEIVE that an instructor is qualified to TEACH simply if he/she PLAYED the sport at an advanced level. This is, of course, completely false; untrue. Performing is NOT teaching. They are two completely different skill sets. Don’t get me wrong. It certainly HELPS teachers if they have “experience” in performance but it does not INSURE success.

In fact, unfortunately more often than not the rule is that the athlete who CAN perform CANNOT teach.

Teaching is an art form based on COMMUNICATION. Simple rule: It is not what YOU know as an instructor or performer  … it is what you can COMMUNICATE and GIVE to your student for it his/her success that should be the goal. Not yours.

When I have taught I have used every trick imaginable to make a point work for an individual student. I have spoken, drawn pictures, acted out, even gone so far as to physically place a students’ body parts in correct position.

There is an old saying, “ … whatever works.”

 Let me offer some simple suggestions and guidelines for this situation.


The “learning process” is built on REPETITION.  I ALWAYS forewarn my students that they WILL hear me REPEAT the same instructions OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

I am not senile or stupid.  I do it on purpose.  Your mind is no different from other body parts.  It needs to understand the “why” (provides INTELLIGENT motivation), and then the “how” (the WHAT to do) and then REPEAT and REPEAT and REPEAT.

So … if a part of the problem is that your instructor appears to be going over and over and over the same material, ask for a clarification of “why” he/she is doing that.  Maybe there is a “method to the madness.”


This is so simple, it is ridiculous.  Just ask. Talk to your instructor and tell him/her that you are “stuck”; that you are having a problem.  This gives the instructor that all-important element in the communication process: “FEEDBACK”.  In fairness, your instructor cannot make an adjustment on their end of the communication process unless they know there is a problem and they can’t KNOW that there is a problem … UNLESS YOU  TELL THEM.

I ALWAYS end each and every point I make as an instructor with the same question, “Do you understand?”  If the answer is “no”  I want to hear it.

That is my (your instructor’s) responsibility. 

It ‘s on you to reply.  If you don’t “get it” … say so. 

How easy is that?


Sometimes an instructor fails to get the point “through” just be means of his/her
“delivery”.  Again … speak up.  Tell your instructor what does or does not work.  “I can’t understand when all I can hear is you yelling
” for example.  Or, at the other end of the spectrum,  “I NEED you to get in my face a bit when I screw up.”  It helps fire me up.”  Again; find what works for you in a specific situation and let your instructor know. 


It is very natural to reach plateaus in your riding.  Every single athlete in EVERY sport on the planet goes through this part of the process.  In fact for some athletes in certain sports; such as marathon runners, competitive weightlifters, triathletes for example, breaking plateaus is a VERY big deal.  I am planning on writing about it within the next two weeks in fact.

 Being “stuck” at a performance level is neither your own or your instructor’s fault, it IS your responsibility TOGETHER to try to figure out a way to get “unstuck”.

This can actually be fun because you will have to be creative and being creative IS fun.  Although athletic excellence is literally DEPENDENT upon a sort of “sameness”; specifically learning and then EXECUTING the same CORRECT action over and over and over again; i.e. REPETTION … switching things up and changing can be challenging and can actually oftentimes get the job done and break your plateau.  Changing up a routine, taking a break, doing exercises that focus on “fun” rather than simple repetition, are often excellent ways to break through to the other side of a performance plateau.


 I am and was perhaps an oddity as a teacher/trainer.  I never feel that I “own” a client.  I work EXTREMELY HARD at being the best I can be.  If a client is stuck with me … for whatever reason, that’s okay.  They may need to look at something completely different for a bit … or even leave if that’s what it takes.

I have worked with a variety of breeds and events but of course primarily fcused on western events and actually ENCOURAGED my students to go to clinics or take lessons in other disciplines and from other instructors.    Variety helps us expand our minds AND our skill level.  Sometimes the exact same thing simply coming from a different VOICE can offer a new perspective and insight. 


If … and when … you reach the conclusion that you need to make a change, do not feel bad.  There are incredibly successful sports partnerships; i.e. teacher/student which simply go “flat” sometimes and you need a “fresh voice” and a “fresh look.” 

Do not be afraid to make a move.  Be intelligent and respectful and above all else, do not fantasize that there is a quick fix out there just waiting for you.

There is not.

Simply ALWAYS do what is best for you and your animal and your discipline.

The process works when we work the process.

Karl Avdek is a lifelong horseman.  He has worked as a teacher, trainer, been a collegiate equine science industry professor, and worked as a “problem solving” clinician both in the States and abroad. His work as a horseman has been written up in numerous industry periodicals.  He is also a practicing “mental toughness and peak performance” trainer.  If you are interested in working with him on any mental toughness/peak performance or life coaching issue you may contact him at …


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