By Sarah Conrad
Finding your first riding instructor, or a new riding instructor if you already ride, will take time and effort to find the right one for you and your situation. After all, you, or your child that wants to ride, should learn basic horsemanship skills before moving on to more advanced riding, competitions, or horse ownership. Everyone will have different factors that will direct the rider to their final choice. This article discusses what a new rider, or a parent, should look for in a riding instructor and lesson program. In addition, one of CHA’s Master Instructors offered up her advice through a previously written article on this topic.
The last blog post discussed 18 reasons why you would want a certified riding instructor and why that riding instructor should be certified by the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA). A CHA instructor will give any rider a great foundation from the beginning, and the rider, or parent of a child rider, can rest assured that the instructor will teach the new rider to ride correctly and in the safest way possible.
If there aren’t any CHA instructors in the area, then the only way to evaluate instructors in the area is to visit, observe, and ask a lot of questions. Riding instruction can be varied and is voluntary, since anyone can call themselves a riding instructor, points out Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg, CHA Master Instructor, in her article, “How to Choose a Riding Program,” [link to: http://crktrainingstable.com/lesson-program/how-to-choose-a-riding-program/] which was written for her website, HYPERLINK “http://www.crktrainingstable.com” www.crktrainingstable.com. “Some programs require rigorous on-site testing while others only require paying a fee and passing a take-home test,” continues Kronsberg.
“If the instructor you are researching is certified, find out what the requirements were and what level they attained. Some teachers will teach well beyond their certification level because no one bothered to ask. ASK! Most certification programs have web sites that explain their testing process and what instructors are qualified to teach for each level of certification. Do your research,” Kronsberg continues.
“Also, make sure the instructor is actually certified with the group they are claiming to be and that their certification is current. If the instructor is not certified, ask about their experience and education. Make sure they teach riding and are not just a horse trainer,” continues Kronsberg.
Once you have found the instructors in your area who you want to evaluate, there are a few things to consider so that you can choose the right riding instructor for you. It is recommended for you to visit any instructors you are considering at least once to determine the answers to some of the questions below. Meanwhile some questions below can be asked over the phone.
“Most should be willing to give you some advice over the phone, if you know what questions to ask,” says Kronsberg. “Never be the person who calls the stable, asks the cost of a lesson, and hangs up. That’s like calling a car dealer and asking how much a car costs. There are so many variables; you need details to make a good decision. Think of these first phone calls as the beginning of your equine education,” she continues. “Pick the instructor’s brain and get a feel for the type of person they are.”
Below are a few of the key things to consider when looking for that first riding instructor.
Riding Style and Level of Instruction: First, what type of riding do you want to do? If you, or your child, is not sure about the style of riding to pursue, then perhaps the new rider should try introductory lessons with several styles, such as stock seat (Western), hunt seat (English), dressage, and saddle seat. If you would like to try reining or jumping, keep in mind that they are more advanced and will come after you learn the basics. Is there a riding instructor in your area that teaches the type of riding that you would like to try? And how far will that riding instructor be able to take you with your riding skills? To answer that last question, you will need to understand the levels of instruction that are covered by their certification. If the instructor is certified by CHA, you can read more about the levels on the CHA website [Add a link] No CHA instructor should teach beyond the level that CHA has deemed within their abilities. If they are, CHA has not been able to evaluate their skills and their abilities to teach safely and effectively at that level.
Lesson Types: What types of lessons are offered? How long do they last, and how much of that time is spent on horseback? Are there group lessons and/or private lessons, and what does that instructor suggest for you? How many people are in group lessons?
Is everyone in a group lesson of the same age or of the same experience level? It is usually best if all riders in the group are of the same ability, and not grouped by age, so the most advanced riders do not end being held back by beginners. What level of riders are being accepted now, and how do riders advance to the next level?
Cost and Inclusions: How much are the lessons? Are there packages available? What is included? What types of payment are accepted and when do you pay? What does the rider need to wear or bring, and what does the stable provide?
Insurance: Insurance is a must. Kronsberg recommends, “Find out the name of their insurance company and call to be sure their insurance is current.”
Stable Rules: What rules does the stable have? Will you need to sign any liability waivers or contracts?
Horses: What types of horses are used in lessons? Is there a horse (and tack) that will suit your height and weight? If the rider has any limitations or challenges, can the instructor accommodate, and does the instructor have the appropriate horse for that situation? Are there horses that will suit riders of every level? Are those horses well-trained and experienced with beginning riding students? Very young horses or horses without a lot of training or experience as a school horse are usually not advisable for beginning riders or small children.
The Stable: When you visit the stable, is it clean and neat? Are most things in their proper place unless they are being used? Is the stable free of safety hazards? Are stalls big enough for the horses and for a person to enter to handle a horse? Are fences in good repair? Do the horses look healthy, well-fed, and relaxed? Do most of the horses seem to like people instead of shying away from them? The stable does not have to be an Olympic-quality stable. In fact, some of the best instructors may only have a few horses for lessons, and it could still be a great place to begin riding. However, the facilities and tack should be in good condition and safe, and horses should look healthy and happy. And most importantly, the horses should be calm and suitable for beginners to handle and ride.
Safety: Is everything done with safety in mind? Does he or she explain how safety is involved when explaining how to care for, handle, and ride the horse? Does he or she teach the safest way to do something when giving lessons or corrections to a student? Are any students asked to do something despite feeling unsafe or uncomfortable? If so, this might be a red flag. Is the instructor certified in CPR? Is there a first aid kit available, as well as fire extinguishers and smoke and fire alarms?
Passion: Does the instructor have a love of the job? Instructors should love horses and people, especially children, and should love to teach. If an instructor has a passion for horses and teaching, then he or she will then pass along that passion to students.
Learning the Basics: Does the instructor start with the basics of horse care and handling with ground lessons? An instructor should first evaluate a rider’s safety equipment, such as their helmet and boots, etc., to ensure proper fit and appropriateness for riding. The first few lessons should teach students how to halter a horse, lead, tie, groom, pick hooves, etc., before that first ride. Proper ground lessons help ensure that the beginning rider can care for and handle the horse while not mounted.
Adaptability: How adaptable is an instructor in his/her teaching methods? Does he or she make adjustments when necessary to match the student’s ability to learn? Is that riding instructor ready for any situation?
Patience and Attention: Does that instructor show patience at all times? If an instructor “loses it” with another student or an animal, then that may call into question how patient they will be with you. Does that instructor keep his or her attention on students the entire time? Or are there distractions, like phone calls or texts? Are other people not in the lesson able to speak with the instructor during the lesson?
Confidence and Self-Esteem: Does the instructor teach in a way to increase a student’s confidence in himself/herself and his/her progressing riding skills? Is the instructor teaching in a positive manner or with negative phrases more than positive ones? The best instructors have a way of building the self-esteem of riders just setting out in this new activity. Good instructors know when to give praise and when to give criticism.
An Instructor’s Assistants: Are there assistants who help during a riding lesson, and what specifically do they do? What is their qualifications and are they always under the lead of the main riding instructor, or will they be in charge of a lesson or of students at any time? If so, you may want to evaluate assistants against some of the criteria above.
“Many barns hire school or college students to teach camps or lessons. (These are often the ones I see seeking certification because their programs require it.),” writes Kronsberg. “They have no previous experience teaching riding at all. Who will be assisting? Some programs use young riding students or parents as ‘leaders’ or ‘helpers’. This is simply not a safe practice. Everyone involved with the program should be experienced horse handlers. They should all be capable of handling an emergency. What will the 11-year-old child leading your child’s 1,000-pound horse do if that horse spooks or runs away?” questions Kronsberg.
Reviews from Others: Are the students having fun? You may want to talk to students and any parents afterward to hear about their experiences with that instructor and that stable. You can also ask the instructor for references. You can also check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if the business is on the BBB site and if it has a BBB rating. However, if the stable is not on the BBB website, this is not a strike against it. It may mean that they have not joined the BBB or the instructor may not have been in business long enough for the BBB or he or she may only teach lessons on the side in addition to another job or being enrolled in school. Regardless of BBB status, if the stable’s current customers give glowing reviews, and it meets some of your requirements above, perhaps it is “the one.”
In summary, your first riding instructor should act professional, be safety-conscious, be an experienced horseperson, be experienced in teaching others to ride, and be trained in first aid and have the proper safety equipment. In addition, the facility should be clean, neat, and in good condition, with happy and healthy horses. Tack should be in good condition, and above all else, helmets should be required. Other students should be able to give recommendations and glowing reviews. And if possible, the instructor should have a certification with CHA. Trust your instincts and do your homework, and you are sure to find the right riding instructor for you.
For additional advice on the topic, visit HYPERLINK “http://crktrainingstable.com/lesson-program/how-to-choose-a-riding-program/” http://crktrainingstable.com/lesson-program/how-to-choose-a-riding-program/ to read all of Cheryl Kronsberg’s article.
And stay tuned here to next learn about horseback riding camps.
Sarah Evers Conrad is currently the Digital Content Editor at Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines. She also owns All In Stride Marketing. She is an award-winning equestrian journalist with a background in magazine publishing, feature writing, news and event coverage, editing, digital marketing, social media, and website management. Conrad has been published in equine publications such as The Horse, Blood-Horse, Equestrian, Arabian Horse Life, USDF Connection, the American Quarter Horse Journal, Paint Horse Journal, Off-Track Thoroughbred, Stable Management, Camp Business magazine, Lexington Family magazine, and HorsesDaily.com and DressageDaily.com. She is also the current editor for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s official publication, The Instructor magazine. Conrad has also edited several books, including CHA’s “The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding.” Learn more at HYPERLINK “http://www.equestrianjournalist.com” www.equestrianjournalist.com.