We’ve been in the horse world for several years now and have had our fair share of riding instructors both leading up to, and after we bought our first horse.. I can tell you from firsthand experience that not all trainers are cut from the same cloth. My daughter has had a couple of good riding instructors, and even more bad ones.
This post is meant to help you weed out the bad ones, to find someone who will help you or your child grow in skill, confidence, and knowledge the right way.
The truth is that anyone can be a horse riding instructor, but not everyone should be. The industry seems to be ribbon driven, with a just get over it attitude. There is more to it than just getting over the jump, like getting over it properly so the animal doesn’t get hurt.
And of course, there is more to horsemanship than just winning ribbons at the local shows. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great — but the goal should be proper horsemanship first, ribbons second.
The following are characteristics, traits, or just straight up facts of what I’d say make a good instructor, and all of this comes from personal experience with bad instructors who clearly didn’t know what they were doing, as well as one who does know what she’s doing.
1) Does NOT toss insults
One of our most recent riding instructors was incredibly rude to our daughter. While being firm is one thing, calling names because she was unable to do what you’re asking her to is something else entirely.
Then to make matters worse, she said she’d sell the horse which totally made my daughter melt down. Of course, the horse is ours and not hers to sell. Why would she say such an erroneous thing unless it was just to hurt her?
If your riding instructor is rude, it could be an indication of something else going on at home, but that is not an excuse for mistreating people. Nobody likes being put down. Find someone who doesn’t make you feel like a turd and you’ll grow exponentially.
2) Is knowledgeable on the craft
This should hopefully go without saying. You would not go to a doctor who wasn’t knowledgeable in the field he or she is practicing in. While horse riding may not be as serious as a medical condition, you still want to have someone who knows what they’re doing.
Reason being, if your kid learns the wrong way to, let’s say, hold her reins (true story) for several years, she then needs to unlearn the wrong way, and re-learn the right way.
That happened to us, by the way. We started going to one of our Pony Club trainers who informed us that she was taught the wrong way to hold horse reins for English riding. What else was she taught wrong?
Well, a bunch actually. Several skills were taught the wrong way.
She was taught wrong by someone who was supposed to be knowledgeable on riding. This leads directly into the next one —
3) Experience can be confirmed
You should be able to confirm your riding instructor’s experience. If you cannot verify it, I would proceed with caution. Anything can be found on the internet these days with a simple search. Type in your instructor’s name with the word “horse” after it and see what pops up.
If there is nothing there, it may be a good indicator that you’ve got a dud. This is compounded if you’ve got someone who talks a big game. If they’ve done so much stuff then Google should be able to tell you something about that person.
This may not always be confirmed, because not all information can or will be indexed on the World Wide Web. However, you should be able to find something about that person.
I’d like to point out that not all people with verifiable experience will be good instructors. The reason why, is because some people should not be teaching others, period. Some folks may be excellent at doing things themselves, but are incapable of teaching others how to do it.
The bottom line here, is if you can’t find something horse-related about that person, I would seriously not chance it. I’m sure there are people in your area who have verifiable experience and it’s better to know than not.
4) Can demonstrate riding ability
The truth of the matter is that anyone can jump on a horse with minimal instruction and seem like they know what they’re doing to someone else who knows less.
But can that person really ride a horse? Can that person show you that he or she knows what she’s doing?
A few instructors ago we had someone who never got on a horse. She said she could ride, but we never actually saw it. And, of course, she started us down the journey of doing things the wrong way.
5) Has a set instruction curriculum
There is something to be said about having a curriculum that a teacher works off of. Any decent instructor in any field will have a preset method of teaching and what needs to be taught, when, and the exact steps needed in order to learn said material.
That way, nothing gets forgotten about.
When an instructor flies by the seat of their pants in instruction, things do get forgotten about.
Also, I have the suspicion that, at least some of the time, an instructor who flies by the seat of their pants does so because they don’t know all they should. They don’t know the proper order in which skills should be taught, and they don’t know what is next in line after a skill is mastered.
That is a problem, because my daughter was never taught certain things that she should have known after taking lessons for five or so years.
This translates directly into the next one, because they follow their own, proven curriculum, as do all of their affiliated instructors —
6) Pony Club
The United States Pony Club has been around since the 50s. They have a tried and true track record of bringing about high-level competitors with a proven curriculum. They don’t just teach your discipline, but also horse management which is something that is nearly non-existent for other instructors today.
I’ve noticed a strong trend among instructors who don’t know much about riding and/or instruction and the disdain they have for Pony Club. Worded differently, the instructors who didn’t know what they were doing didn’t want to be found out
I feel like I can venture out on a limb and say that if your potential instructor has any sort of Pony Club affiliation he or she will more than likely be good to go.
Then again, if your instructor tries to continually get you to quit Pony Club for one reason or another, it’s a clue to look elsewhere.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to choose one of their instructors, though that is certainly what we ended up doing. What I am saying, however, is that they see the benefit of Pony Club and is open to you joining because it supplements and even compliments what they’re teaching you.
7) Can work through problems correctly
Instead of calling names or telling the student that “teaching her is exhausting” a good instructor will figure out where the disconnect in communication is and try to fix it by figuring out another way to teach or by jumping on the animal and showing.
If the person cannot adapt to a student’s way of learning, it’s not necessarily the mark of a bad instructor. But, you may be wasting your time and money on them nonetheless if you’re not learning properly.
8) Doesn’t have an inflated view of self
This one can be tricky, because anyone who is good at something should have an idea that they’re actually good at it.
What I mean here is: does the person brag about their accomplishments and/or abilities? Do they say things like, “well I’m a world champion.” or, “well, it would have worked if I was riding him.”
When an instructor thinks highly of him or herself and makes sure everyone else knows it, it’s a red flag. In our experience, those abilities rarely ever translate into a good instructor, or the abilities are made up.
The above, compared with our current, extremely modest instructor is a night and day difference. She doesn’t have an inflated view of herself, has never called my kid any names, and has competed/teaches upper level eventing and dressage.
She’s not in our face about it because she doesn’t have to be. Her qualifications speak for themselves.
9) English or Western riding
I was originally going to say that your potential riding instructor should only have one discipline. But, after thinking about that a bit more, I decided that’s not the right way to word it. Because dressage can be a discipline, and so can show jumping. There is some crossover there.
Where there is minimal crossover, however, is English VS Western riding. At least, they are in my limited view. They use different techniques and equipment. They’re different enough that it matters.
They’re two totally different methods of horsemanship. Neither are right or wrong. But, they are different.
If you find someone in your area who is a well-known Western riding instructor who fits all of the other qualifications I set forth above, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can teach you about English. They’re totally different.
And, chances are good that they’ll tell you to do something that is completely acceptable in the discipline they’re in, but not good in the one you’re trying to learn. And that will just set you back.
In our experience, there are far more horse riding instructors out there teaching than there should be. Many of them have no right teaching people, because they’re instructing the wrong way.
It is my hope that you can take the lessons we’ve learned after wasting so much time and money over the past five or so years taking lessons from the wrong people, to choose the right instructor for your needs.