Finding the right riding instructor is probably one of the most important things you can do when learning to ride a horse but it’s something that is all too often overlooked with many people not giving it a second thought. Like everything in life, finding an instructor that’s right for you takes time and effort but where do you even start?
There’s no one-stop shop for riding instructors and what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to be right for you. This is why you need to take time and do your research to make sure you find an instructor that you like, get on with, and can help you get the most out of your riding. If you’ve never been riding before (or if you’ve outgrown your current instructor) it can be difficult to know what to look for.
How do you find the right riding instructor? When looking for a riding instructor you should be confident in their ability to teach you as well as in their attitude towards safety. A good riding instructor will encourage you when you’re doing things right but will also correct your mistakes, they should also be approachable.
As a riding instructor myself I know how important it is to get the right instructor for your personality, riding ability, goals, and even for your budget. With this in mind, I decided to create this helpful guide to finding the right riding instructor for YOU.
Why is it important to find the right instructor?
A lot of people call up a local stables, book a few riding lessons and then stay there but, while that might work for some people, chances are it won’t be the best option for you. Every riding instructor is different as is every student which means that sometimes you just won’t gel with each other. In some cases, this will just be a case of you not learning as quickly but in extreme cases the wrong instructor can affect your confidence and even put you off of horseback riding altogether. Conversely, the right instructor will help you achieve your goals and get more out of horses than you ever thought possible.
Then of course there’s the financial cost of not finding the right instructor which again is something that’s overlooked. While you won’t be paying more for the wrong instructor it will mean that you’ll probably need more lessons, even if only because you won’t have progressed as far as you could have done with the right instructor.
Is a qualified or non-qualified riding instructor better?
Whether or not it’s best to go with a qualified instructor is, to some extent, down to personal preference and budget. A qualified instructor will undoubtedly cost more but that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be better (or at least better for you).
The advantage of going with a certified instructor is that you know they’re qualified to teach up to a particular level and that they adhere to certain standards. With a non-qualified instructor, you don’t automatically know this so have to do a lot of research yourself. That said though you should still check the credentials of a qualified instructor, don’t just take their word for it. Sadly some unscrupulous instructors will say they’re qualified when they’re not, or after their certificate has expired.
What you need to consider before looking for a riding instructor
Before you can even start to look for a riding instructor you need to know what you want from them. Do you want to be able to compete at some point in the future, does the thought of riding through open country appeal to you? While these may seem like very distant thoughts at the moment, knowing where you ultimately want to be will help you find an instructor that can set you on the right path.
Once you’ve decided on your goals you need to be honest with yourself (and future instructors) about what your level of experience really is. Be truthful though, many riders overestimate their ability but when trying t find an instructor it’s important you’re honest. Don’t say you’re an experienced rider if you’ve only ridden once before on vacation when the horse simply followed the one in front. Regardless of whether you’re a complete beginner, are able to ride independently, or are an advanced rider, a good instructor will need to know.
In summary, before you look for a riding instructor you need to consider what your ultimate goal is as well as how experienced you are. It’s also helpful to know what sort of teaching style suits you best, do you prefer a hands-on approach or do you like to be gently encouraged?
What to look for in a riding instructor
While it’s helpful to know what you want from your riding instructor it’s also a good idea to know what you’re looking for in them too. If you have your own horse but aren’t able to transport them you might want an instructor that can travel to you.
Do you want an instructor you can call up on a whim when you’re unsure about something, or would you prefer to talk to them before a lesson? Do you want your instructor to teach you about horse care as well? All of these things need to be considered and should be thought of as bonuses when contacting potential instructors.
The only thing that is essential though to look for in a riding instructor is passion and enthusiasm for what they do. Are they teaching because they love horses and enjoy helping people to learn about them or are they doing it to pay the bills? If your instructor is passionate about what they’re doing everything else is a bonus.
Make a list of possible riding instructors
Now that you know what you want from a riding instructor it’s time to start looking for one in your area. While it’s easy to just contact the first one you find and go with them you should make a list of potential instructors first.
Where do you find riding instructors though? When trying to make a list it can be difficult to know where to start, but personally, I’d start with other riders and owners as well as local tack shops. They won’t be able to give you a definitive list but what they will give you will be a recommendation which could prove to be invaluable. You can also look online for instructors but don’t rely solely on the reviews, sadly they’re not always accurate.
Call (and visit) potential riding instructors
Once you’ve got a list of riding instructors it’s time to call them and possibly arrange to see them in action.
Calling riding instructors
You might be nervous calling somebody you’ve never spoken to before out of the blue but believe me they’ll be used to it (I still get at least one call a week) and if they’re any good will be happy to talk to you. If they don’t want to talk to you or give brief answers to your questions it’s time to walk away and cross them off of your list.
When you do speak to instructors be relaxed, don’t treat it as a job interview. Simply speak to them about their ability, what they can offer you, and what your goals are.
If you’re not sure what to ask them don’t worry, here are a few things you might want to ask potential instructors:
- What type of lessons do they offer – How long do they last, and how much time will be spent in the saddle? Are the lessons private or in a group, if they’re group lessons how many people are in a group, and are they of the same age or experience?
- How experienced are they – How long have they been teaching for, how did they get started, do they focus on any particular discipline or have specialist credentials (such as equine-assisted therapy)? If you’re after a qualified instructor ask them about their credentials too.
- Are they insured – They should be insured but you should ask who provides their insurance (so you can double check they are). Do you need your own insurance too, do you have to sign any waivers?
- What sort of horse would you be riding – Will they be able to match your abilities with a suitable horse, would you always ride the same horse or have a different one each lesson?
- Are they able to give you references – A good riding instructor will be more than happy to put you in touch with people they’ve taught in the past.
- Can you visit – If you like the sound of an instructor you should arrange to visit them and watch them teach.
Not sure if private or group lessons are best for you? The pros and cons of private and group lessons.
Visiting riding instructors
When visiting a riding instructor you should pay attention to the surroundings as well as to how they teach and whether the students seem happy and relaxed or anxious and tense. Things you should be looking out for include:
- Stables – What do the stables look like, are they clean, tidy, and neat? Are the stalls suitable for the horses, are they big enough and clean, is the bedding fresh or does it smell? Are the fences in good condition?
- Horses – Do the horses look happy and healthy, do they have enough water and hay, are their hooves in good condition?
- Equipment – Is the tack in good condition or does it look like it’s falling apart, does every horse have its own tack or do they share it with other horses? Do the stables have spare riding helmets, boots, etc for riders that don’t have their own?
- Safety – There should be fire extinguishers and sand buckets as well as fire safety signs. A first aid kit should be easily available too.
- Students – Are the students happy and enjoying their lesson or are they quiet and do they look nervous? If you can talk to some of the students (or their parents if they’re children) after the lesson and ask them what they think of the instructor, what do they think about their style of teaching, would they recommend them.
Book a few riding lessons
Once you’ve found an instructor or have narrowed your list down to a few you should book a few taster lessons with them. This will give you an idea of whether the two of you really are a good match, it’ll also give you something to compare other instructors to.
After you’ve had a couple of lessons you’ll know whether that particular instructor is for you or not. If they’re not then it’s better to be honest with them, we instructors have thick skins and won’t be upset if you say you’ve decided to go somewhere else. If, however, you decide they are a good match then the two of you can talk about your future goals and how you’re going to get there together.
Thinking about learning to ride?
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉