Finding the right instructor is essential if a rider wants positive,
satisfying, and safe equestrian experiences. The ďbestĒ riding instructor
may be a very different person for different riders. It is an adult
studentís responsibility to choose an instructor that suits her
current level of ability and her goals.
Choosing a riding instructor is as personal a decision as choosing
your doctor. The first step is clearly defining your objective:
- Are you just beginning to ride and want to learn solid, basic
skills you can use for any riding discipline?
- Are you returning to riding after a period of years and want
an assessment of your current riding skills?
- Are you riding already but want to change riding disciplines?
- Are you riding already but want to improve your skills or work
on specific problems?
Being clear about your riding goals right from the start will not
only help you evaluate the suitability of different riding instructors
but will also help any instructor understand your expectations.
If your goal is to excel in a particular equestrian sport, you will
want an instructor with a successful background in that sport, one
who knows how to develop and challenge her students so that they
can be competitive in the show ring. If your goal is to ride confidently
and safely while enjoying nature from the back of a horse as you
head out on trails, you would probably seek out a very different
type of instructor.
The second step is making a short list of the instructors available
to you. For most people, geography and economics are important considerations
in choosing an instructor. They want an instructor who is reasonably
close by and also within their budget. Beyond these basic, however,
you need ways to judge an instructorís competence or suitability.
Unfortunately, there are no foolproof benchmarks. For example, someone
who is a successful competitor may not necessarily have good teaching
and communication skills. Similarly, a university degree or recognition
by an accrediting organization may offer assurance that the instructor
has solid teacher training but does not necessarily tell potential
clients anything about their actual riding ability. Ideally, you
want to find someone who has both sets of skills.
So the third step involves visiting each of the facilities on your
short list and watching a lesson so you can make an informed choice.
Take a notebook along so you can jot down information about the
programís nuts and bolts such as available lesson packages, lesson
times, the number of students in a class, cancellation policies,
whether riders are expected to tack up their own horses, etc. Observe
the barn routine and riding classes thoughtfully and right down
your observations for later review. As you watch, ask these questions:
- Is the barn safety conscious? All equipment should be clean
and in good repair. Hard hats should be required, even in Western
barns. Ask if anyone at the barn is trained in first aid and if
the barn has an established plan for handling medical emergencies.
- Are there lesson horses suitable for all levels of ridersbeginners
through advanced? Riding a variety of horses helps students develop
their skills. As studentsí skills increase, horses with more advanced
training should be available to help them progress.
- Are there classes available for all levels and ages of riders?
If you are an adult beginner will you ride with other adults?
If available adult classes include riders of varying abilities,
will you be satisfied if others in the class are more or less
advanced than you are?
- Are things running on schedule? Are horses ready, equipment
set up, and the instructor prepared? Both instructors and students
should respect one anotherís time commitments for a smooth relationship.
- Is the instructor professionally dressed? A sloppy appearance
may indicate a poor attitude or lack of care in preparing for
- Does the instructor act in a friendly yet businesslike manner
toward students? How do the other students act towards the instructor
and one another? A professional instructor should consciously
work to develop a sociable and welcoming atmosphere at their facility.
- Does the instructor adequately assess studentsí ability levels
in assigning horses and selecting exercises for the class to work
on? Students who are over mounted can quickly become fearful.
Those who are under mounted may become bored.
- Does the instructor work from a lesson plan? Does she have an
objective for each lesson and each student in the class? Or does
the class mill around for 15 or 20 minutes before everyone decides
what they are going to work on that day. A good lesson plan includes
short-term as well as long-term goals and the instructor should
make the progression of goals clear to students.
- Does the instructorís overall teaching style suit your personality
and learning style? Some students feel they progress better under
an assertive, even intimidating instructor who continually challenges
them. Others are more comfortable with an instructor who has a
more laid back approach to teaching progressive skills.
- Is the instructor flexible? Does the instructor integrate riding
theory and practical, how-to suggestions? Can she change her teaching
style to suit timid riders, bold students, and those in between?
Does the instructor explain the same thing several ways to accommodate
students with different learning styles? Does the instructor check
periodically to make sure students understand what she is asking
or telling them?
- Does the instructor have sufficient riding ability to correctly
demonstrate anything she is teaching on a school horse or, if
necessary, on the studentís own horse?
The fourth important step is to create a simple evaluation system
that is relevant to you then use it to compare the places youíve
visited. This could be is simple as using your observations to give
the barn and its lesson program an overall ďgradeĒ like A, B, C,
or D. You might give an automatic F to any instructor who fails
to meet a minimum standard you feel is essential. Or you could rate
individual observations that are important to you on a scale of
1 to 10 and add up the barnís total score.
Doing your homework increases the likelihood that your riding lessons
will be positive and rewarding experiences. If your riding goals
change over time or you reach a skill level that the particular
instructor cannot take you past, you may need to change instructors.
If you have chosen an open-minded, professional instructor to start
with, the parting of the ways should be amicable. The best of all
possible situations occurs when both instructor and students can
enthusiastically recommend one another.
About the Author
© 2001-2004 Meredith Manor
International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
As a horse industry professional for 30 years,
Faith Meredith has successfully trained and competed horses through
FEI levels of dressage. She currently coaches riders in dressage,
reining, and eventing at Meredith
Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited equestrian