Finding a new instructor is a big deal, and it’s not a commitment to take lightly. As with horses themselves, a riding instructor will be an investment that can create a great experience — or pure disaster and frustration. This is the same whether you’ve ridden before, you’re an experienced rider, or a total novice — of course, it’s even more important for the latter. Bad habits and bad experiences can be hard to overcome.
So how to find a good riding instructor? There’s no clear-cut formula, and it’ll vary according to where you are, your goals, and what you hope to gain from the instruction you’ll have. Whether it’s clinics, an intensive course or something else, it’ll depend on the very first point on your checklist: does the instructor match what I need?
They match your basic requirements
This is very important. The instructor and the student need to match in their goals — whether it’s to learn a new discipline, or learn riding altogether. An experienced rider will need a higher-level instruction — in both skill and complexity. A new rider might need more frequent lessons. A very expensive and famous instructor might be too much for a complete novice, but a basic instructor will be too little for someone needing something extra.
Moreover, depending on where you live, there’s a possibility you’ll need to travel or commute — if you want to learn a particular discipline, for example, it might not be available in your region. Affordability may also be an issue, depending on what you need, and you’ll need to measure cost vs. quality — which doesn’t necessarily mean settling for less, but rather setting realistic goals.
Do not attempt classes well beyond your level. Improving is fine, but don’t run before you can walk. If you’re a complete novice, learn the basics first and then the discipline you wish later. You don’t want to jump into an advanced, expensive course you can’t follow and won’t enjoy.
The teaching style agrees with you
Everyone learns in their own way. Some prefer a more hands-on approach, some need more coaching, some only need pointers. It’s up to you to check whether the teaching style of the instructor matches your own personality and taste, otherwise, even if the instructor is good, you may end up frustrated.
Many instructors may agree to an experimental class, or have videos of their classes online, so you can check them out beforehand and not waste your time (and money!) on someone you can’t learn from. Again, this doesn’t mean they’re bad instructors — only that they’re not for you! Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the style of Mr Super-Popular-Rider.
Ask them questions and see how you feel with their answers. Do they appear confident? Do they answer graciously or are curt? Are they direct? You can tell a lot by the answers they give.
The barn is neat and clean
Nobody should learn in a dirty, uncomfortable environment. How the instructor treats the barn matters. A clean and tidy barn (as much as possible, anyway) is a good environment for learning and shows the instructor cares about the place and the cleanliness of their apparel and work environment as well as for their own skill.
The horses are well-cared
For all the money and glory we can find in horses and riding, they’re still living animals. They feel pain and discomfort. Do not fall into the trap of believing someone who has beautiful horses and rides well but doesn’t seem to care for them outside of the class. Not only it’s a bad idea to support such people from an ethical standpoint, but you might also pick up bad habits and traits from the people you’re supposedly learning from. Make sure the instructor does care for the horses (as much as possible) and treats them well. Watch before you commit.
Background check them
A great way to know a riding stable or instructor is to follow them online. You learn a lot from what they post and don’t post in their business’s social media. Do they claim to teach one thing but appear to be doing the opposite on social media? Do they claim to have won prizes they don’t appear anywhere as winning? Do they claim to be accredited by people who never heard of them?
Unfortunately, there are lots of ill-intentioned people out there who may pretend to be something they are not to win customers. It’s important to check their claims (especially if they seem outlandish) and verify if they really are what they say they are. This is a good way to avoid disappointment and regrets. You can visit websites such as the British horse Society which lists approved instructors. Bear in mind, not all instructors will be listed here, so make sure to ask your instructor for their accreditations.
Check their local reputation
Even if they’re great riders who’ve accomplished everything they say and are everything they claim to be, that doesn’t mean they’re a good teacher. Some people simply can’t teach what they know — and some are just bad teachers. Verify if the instructor has a good reputation with their students; if they are well-liked; and if they have a good reputation in the are they work in. Sometimes people can have a glowing reputation… away from those who know them personally.
Ask for references
With all that in mind, it’s always good to ask for references. If you have friends or family who ride, you can ask them if they know someone, if they suggest someone. Local clubs, organizations and farms may also provide a good tip in the right direction. Of course, you don’t have to follow the suggestions and references, but they’re a good starting point.
Finding a good riding instructor is just as important as finding a good horse for yourself, and not something to be taken lightly. Make sure to follow these tips and happy riding!
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