How to get back into seriously riding

Hi all!

I’m looking into how to get back into riding seriously. I grew up in a barn and competed as a junior. As an adult I’ve spent much 20s exploring other activities and traveling.

Due to the pandemic and work from home I’ve been able to work remotely from my parents home for the past year. This gave me the opportunity to ride my mom’s elderly warmbloods and her new baby ottb. It’s reminded me how much I have missed them!

In September were required to go back to the office 2x/week (Chicago) so I’ll have to go back to the windy city :sob:. When I’m back I’d like to start taking lessons, preferably not too far from the city and at a barn where a trainer is skilled but isnt obsessed with showing. My idea is to call a few people and ask to audit lessons to see if I like their style and if it can be a good fit.

Is this a good idea? Would trainers be open to this?

Apart from this I’m not sure how to look. Many of the barns with good marketing seem focused on showing. As someone who wants to improve their skillset and enjoy the sport I feel like I wouldnt get adequate attention at a show barn.

I’d love to hear advice from anyone who has relocated!

Welcome @MistyMorning! I was in the same spot, 20 years ago. You have the right idea, but let me add this one.
Go to tack shops in your area and tell the person there what you want. They may have ideas of trainers who fit your profile.
Read the local horse magazine, or FB group, or … That’s another source of information.
Go to local schooling shows. You’ll see all the trainers, big and small, in action. You will learn a lot about their programs and barns just from watching them in the schooling rings.
I too did not want to get into the horseshow-focused programs. I found an alternative with a trainer in another discipline. Consider looking at eventing barns for some options that aren’t so show-focused.
Good luck!


That’s what I did the last time I was looking for a new place to take lessons after a move. I only had one person out of 4 places I called who refused to allow me to come and watch a lesson. That one said she had privacy concerns with me observing but I was welcome to come and take a private lesson with her.

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Excellent suggestion on tack stores! Thanks so much!

You might just try posting here on the forum for the discipline you’re interested in. I’m sure for a large area like Chicago there will be several members who can give you some recommendations.

I’ve always found word of mouth to be the best method. The best instructors I ever had either weren’t actively showing or weren’t showing in my discipline of choice, so I never would have found them without a personal recommendation from someone. Yet they were exactly what I needed.

So my suggestion would be to find a way to talk to the local horse community: ask at the tack & feed stores, post in local FB groups, heck, even ask here. Put it out there that you’re looking for lessons and see who is recommended.

Also, keep an open mind. As I said above, the best instructors I’ve ever had were not who I would have considered on paper. One was a western pleasure competitor (who is now a USEF licensed H/J “r” judge, so clearly she knew what she was looking at despite her show record at the time). The other was recommended to me by a coworker whose daughter was taking “up down” beginner lessons. I initially balked at both instructors yet I can’t imagine what I would have done without them. I have ridden with dozens of instructors in my life yet those two provided me invaluable help.


Where about a in the Chicago area are you? Send me a PM and I can make some recommendations

I agree with the suggestion of potentially branching out into other disciplines if you’re looking in hunter land. I ride with an eventer. The atmosphere is a lot different than that of a typical hunter barn. Fellow borders are friendly & doing their own thing but happy to invite you along. Long hacks/trail rides, x country schooling, field hunting, etc. You name it, someone is doing it. We’ve got the gamut from nature walkers all the way up to GP dressage stallions.


Are you planning on moving back to Chicago rather than commute for those two days?

Let me just second the idea of looking at other disciplines. I’ve ridden H/J all my life, but learned more from a trainer who specialized in WP than any other trainer I ever rode with. Excellent trainer.

First of all, don’t feel you have to fully commit to anyone immediately. It might be smart to just lesson somewhere convenient & safe while you continue to look for your perfect fit.

I just went through a very stressful phase of barn-hunting and my best advice is to go to lots of barns in person, keep an open mind, and then trust your gut. I met and rode with a bunch of people recommended to me by friends who I didn’t feel were a good fit, then ended up clicking with a trainer I found on Instagram. The barns I was looking at all had solid horse care and training chops so I was really looking for a place where I had good chemistry with the trainer and the clients - I need the barn to feel like home!

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