Find the right Instructor and Ask Questions. A list of Tips and Questions to get started in Horseback Riding Lessons.
Not all States require legal certification for Riding Instructors teaching Riding Lessons. Most professions are regulated by States and require certifications for professions such as dog groomers, estheticians, and fitness/aerobic instructors. A certification does not mean experience. Particularly when instructing Children and Adults on how to interact with a huge animal like a horse, experience of the instructor is most important. Anyone can get certified and claim to be an expert.
Don’t assume someone knows what they are doing because of a piece of paper. Trainers and Instructors who pride themselves with being better because of certifications may not always be the most experienced. Choose your instructor wisely, especially for your child. Look for someone who can make it fun while instructing. Instructors who are too intense or have too many rules kill the fun. Bottom line, experience in this business is more important than a piece of paper.
What is your/your child’s goal
Ask yourself some basic questions first. It will make a big difference in the facility and instructor you need to be looking for.
- What is my goal – recreational or competitive?
- What is my budget?
- What level experience do I have?
- Do I want to own or lease my horse or do I need a good lesson horse to learn and advance?
- If you have your own horse – will the facility let you trailer in for lessons? What are the cost?
- What do I expect from my my lessons/instructor/horse?
Choosing The Right Facility For Horseback Riding Lessons
- Visit your local Riding Clubs, Horse Farms, Equestrian Centers. Lesson Barns
- Observe lessons with different instructors to get a feel for the facility, it’s trainers, instructors, and horses, communication skills on part of instructor
- How does the instructor handle situations that may occur (stubborn horse/rider, anxious horse/rider, fearful horse/rider, mishaps)?
- Observe the facility – is it run professionally or do things look unorganized and/or chaotic?
- Are horses well behaved, well feed, looking healthy and clean?
- Does the facility look safe, clean, neat (a save environment means happy horses and happy people)?
- Does the facility provide as inside arena and/or covered outside arena in case of cold/hot/wet weather?
- Are the inside/outdoor arenas enclosed – important for children lessons?
- What is the footing of the arena like – is it sand or dirt, is it leveled, is it properly maintained (dragged, watered to avoid excess dust, drained to not develop mud filled holes, clean of horse droppings)?
Choosing your Instructor
Instructors differ in their experience levels, the type of riding lessons they offer or their specialty, lesson rates, rules, and personalities. Some are great in instructing children, some only instruct adults. Some instructors are great with Beginners and/or Intermediates, some only teach Advanced. Some teach Western, some English, some Jumping/Hunting. Trust your Gut Feeling – you want to make sure you are comfortable with your instructor.
Hint: Instructors who tell you they know everything don’t know half of what they claim.
Questions to Ask Your Instructor
- Do you instruct English, Western, Jumping, or Therapeutic?
- What is your specialty, background, and knowledge?
- What type of, if any, insurance do you carry?
- What is your safety record?
- How long have you been teaching at this facility?
- Are you a Full Time Instructor or Part Time?
- Do you teach at other facilities?
- Do you typically teach your lessons in an inside and/or outside arena? If outside, ask what happens to the lesson in case of freezing, very hot, or rainy weather
- What is your experience level and or/teaching level?
- Will you be teaching the lessons or an assistant?
- Do you teach children and/or adults?
- Do you teach in group lessons and/or private lessons and how long are your lessons?
- What is your instructor/student ratio?
- What are your rates?
- Do you offer package deals, individual payment plans, etc.?
- What are your policies (cancellation period, weather, dress code, approved helmet, safety stirrups for children, time frame packages have to be used up by, etc.)?
- Do you teach horsemanship (safety, proper grooming, saddling, bridling, haltering, hoof care, etc)?
- What is your first lesson like?
- Do you perform a skill assessment to be able to place me in the right level?
- Do you offer a free Trial Lesson?
- Approximately how many lessons per week/month do you recommend at my skill level to reach my specific goal?
Not the most important Questions to ask but still included here:
Is Your Instructor Certified to Teach Riding Lessons
If you feel the need to find someone certified you can check with Organizations such as the ARIA, ARICP, and CHA . These organizations focus in depth on safety, professionalism and horsemanship, however, this will not guarantee experience of the Instructor. Certifications do not represent the full scope of the knowledge.
Pay attention if your potential instructor is taking the time to answer your questions, ask you questions, is focused on you and engaged, and gives you the impression he/she is very confident in the answers they give you. A trainer who tries to brush you off, or avoids answering your questions is not someone who will take the time to teach you properly. Someone who talks down to you, appears to be superior to everything, and makes you feel uncomfortable is not a professional.
Tip: The above questions go well beyond what most people need to ask. Most important, do you like what you see and hear.
Questions the instructor should ask you
- What is your skill level – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced?
- How knowledgeable are you in horsemanship (grooming, saddling, bridling, hoof care, safety issues around horses, etc.)
- Do you own your own horse?
- What is/are your goal(s) and expectation(s)?
- What are you looking for in an instructor?
If a barn does not require proper attire, particularly for children, such as safety helmets and proper shoes, it is not a place focused on safety first. You may want to look for a different facility.
Update: My own experience with trainers have proven that I much rather work with someone who has lived the lifestyle, grown up with horses, has a ton of experience and is fun to be around. Unfortunately I had experiences with trainers for myself as well as my children, who pride themselves with all kind of certifications and accomplishments, who at the end did not know nearly as much and lacked a common sense approach to horsemanship. I have spent much money on trainers in the past years only to find out that they talked a good game but did not deliver what I expected. Don’t waste your money. When you feel something is not right, trust your gut feeling and look elsewhere. Booksmarts does not equal experience.
Don’t be fooled by thinking when you pay more for your lessons, you get a better instructor. Often the most passionate, carrying and knowledgeable trainers are in the business because they love it, not because they want to become rich.