Choosing a riding instructor is perhaps the most impactful decision you will make when taking up horseback riding.
Whether you are new or returning to the sport, finding the right fit can be the difference between fulfillment and growth and losing interest altogether.
Having ridden under some stellar and some not-so-stellar instructors, I’m here to help you narrow down your options to the best riding instructor for your goals and personality.
After you have searched your region (either via Google, riding instructor directories, or word of mouth), the next step is to set up meetings with each of the instructors that seem the most promising.
In each meeting with the new instructor, make sure you arrange to see the facility and meet some of the instructor’s horses. Find out if you can also observe one of their lessons or if you can watch him or her ride as well.
Upon every new meeting with a potential instructor, here are some criteria to consider that will help you determine the best fit for your horseback riding journey.
Read on to learn how to choose a horse riding instructor.
What You'll Learn Today
7 Things To Look For In A Riding Instructor
1. Good Character
Character is difficult to evaluate upon the first meeting. Remember, most people will put their best foot forward when they want your business. The key is to find out how the riding instructor treats their students and their horses.
As you meet their lesson horses and watch them ride or teach, watch the horse’s body language. Are they generally relaxed, responsive, and obedient? How does the instructor respond when the horse misbehaves?
An excellent trainer will have relaxed horses who might be opinionated, but not constantly tense or reactive.
Excessive flinching, head-tossing, head raising, or listlessness in the horses are all indicators of a trainer who ignores pain, confusion, and fear in their horses.
Another great indicator of character is how their students approach them. Take note of how the student receives the instructor’s criticism and direction.
Most instructors will be “nice” the day you meet them, but their students will either be fearful or receptive towards their criticism.
Finding a riding instructor who values professionalism will pay you back for years to come. You will want to look for respectful communication and transparent financial and business practices.
Some trainers may even carry their own liability insurance, which is a great sign of a serious trainer.
A professional instructor will also be extremely concerned about safety, educating their pupils up front about the risks of horseback riding, and always monitoring situations to ensure that you are riding safely and that their horse is fit for riding.
3. Barn Environment
Not all trainers own the barn where they teach, but the management of the barn where you ride will certainly impact your riding experience.
Whether or not the instructor is the owner, observe whether the facility is clean, the employees well-mannered, and that the other barn tenants are happy.
An unhealthy barn environment will only hinder your instruction time, because you won’t want to be there.
4. Money, Time, And Attention
Every horseback riding instructor will have their own training structure, as the majority are self-employed.
You will commonly find, though, that instructors will offer both private and group lessons, and both have their pros and cons.
Private lessons allow for attention to detail in your riding, and often spur the most growth.
However, group lessons are cheaper and well-worth their value if you are new to riding, because they function as an introductory classroom for other pupils at the same learning level.
Be sure to ask whether the instructor considers tack-up time as part of the lesson time. Anything less than 45 minutes of focused riding instruction is typically not worth the financial investment.
Riding instructor rates will also range in your region, depending on your level of competition and their level of experience.
Be sure to research the going rates in your area to see if the instructor’s rate is reasonable.
While not all instructors will have testimonials on hand, many of them can provide you with some references from current or former riding pupils.
Testimonials are great social proof that the instructor is effective and honest in their business practices.
Even if an instructor showed up as a top match in Google for your region, the real proof is the impression they left on their former students.
6. Personality Match
During this selection process, it is important to acknowledge that your personal communication and learning style may not be compatible with every instructor out there.
You may find an amazing instructor, but if you constantly misunderstand each other, it makes the learning so much more work.
Be honest with yourself about how you learn best and how you receive criticism. Some people learn best with gentle instruction, while others need blunt honesty.
It is worth the time to find someone you work well with before spending months of your time and thousands of dollars on training.
7. Congruent With Your Goals
Up to this point, your potential instructors may have met all the above criteria of a quality instructor. They may be professional, excellent teachers, and great with their horses.
Now it is time to consider whether they are congruent with your goals as a rider.
This final consideration is a big one, because the instructor you spend the most time with will be responsible for shaping you as a rider, perhaps for your lifetime.
Do their experience, education, and accomplishment meet the standards of your desired competition level?
If not competitive, does the focus of their lessons get you closer to where you want to be as a rider?
As you observe them, ask yourself: “Do I want to be them?” as a rider. Why or why not?
TIP: Have a look at these equestrian apps that can help you with monitoring your riding.
Take The Time
Like most important decisions, the process of finding the right riding instructor requires time, patience, and discernment.
Give each one a fair shot, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a learner, move on if necessary, and stay with the one who challenges you to be the very best rider you can be.
The right riding instructor is well-worth the time, money, and patience to find.
Horseback Riding Instructor Interview Questions
Licensing and certification are not legal requirements, but they will give you a good idea of what your potential instructor is qualified to teach. It’s important to understand that an instructor who has learned by doing over a long period of time can also be very fine, so don’t let lack of certification/license be a deal-breaker. Just take some time to find out more about the person’s actual experience.
Again, while lack of awards and recognition is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but the earning of awards and recognition can give you a very good idea of the knowledge, skills and abilities of the person you are considering hiring.
Find out in advance whether the instructor you are considering offers only private lessons, only group lessons or a combination of these types of lessons. Find out how many people are included in group lessons and whether they are all of a similar age and experience or a mixed bag. Settle on prices and length of time for each type of lesson offered.
A good instructor often starts out working from the ground. As you become more skilled, he or she may transition to riding along with you to observe and demonstrate use of cues, posture and seat.
Don’t ride on a property where possible injury may not be covered by insurance. Your riding instructor should have a robust liability policy in place. It should be posted and information about it included in the contract you sign.