Why are you paying for riding lessons? I thought you could already ride?
I am sure many of you have heard this comment from non horsey family & friends! In the UK it is the culture for many that if you can rise to the trot & stay on most of the time in canter you can call yourself a ‘rider’! Conversely, riders in many European countries would never dream of sitting on a horse without a ‘pair of eyes on the ground’.
In real terms good lessons on a regular basis whether weekly, monthly or every 3 months or so help to inspire, motivate & enthuse us into becoming better more knowledgeable & skilled riders. Remember: the better we ride the less we mentally & physically harm our horses, so it is a win win situation.
If you own or loan / borrow a horse you will be looking for a trainer or riding instructor to help you as opposed to a riding school (though the instructor / trainer may well be based at or even own a riding school).
Instructor or Trainer?
The old fashioned definition of a horse riding teacher is ‘Instructor’ because in the olden days 🙂 you really were INSTRUCTED to do something, no questions asked! Ask any person of a certain age what their first riding instructors were like & you will hear some pretty scary stories!
In all fairness, it was a different era & this didactic method of ‘do as I say not as I do’ (or can’t do…!) did produce some very good riders that were extremely well disciplined.
It also resulted in many people giving up riding all together!
A trainer usually works in a more interactive way with their pupils asking for feedback, discussing ideas & will be capable of demonstrating what they are asking of their pupils. This more practical & interactive way of teaching has been proven to produce better learning & understanding from the recipients so I would personally be striving to become a better trainer than instructor (though I can still shout quite loud enough when circumstances dictate!).
You probably won’t find riding trainers in the local phone book & even an internet search may produce very little. As most trainers are freelance they rely on word of mouth as the best and cheapest way of advertising their services. Online horse directories may come up with some ideas in your area but the best place to start is closer to home.
Do any trainers visit your yard or riding club? Do you admire the way someone rides or handles their horse? If so, do they actually train riders themselves & if not, who do they have lessons with? Your local riding centre with good indoor & /or outdoor arena facilities will invariably have regular visiting trainers to help generate income.
Be clear on what you are looking for & need. There is little point spending money on wonderful lessons from a top show jump trainer if your love & competitive discipline is to be dressage. If you are less experienced or recently returned to riding spending top dollar on an Olympic gold medal winning rider will be more likely to depress you than inspire you (& them…..) !
Also, some trainers are better with some specific types of horse….. some get great results from TB’s fresh out of a racing yard & others from a lazier warm blood type.
Some trainers are superb at helping nervous riders regardless of their level & some better at getting that dressage score of a 6 or 7 into a 9 or 10.
Until you have had a lesson you won’t know whether they are right for you & your horse but if at all possible do watch them teach before you commit. If you like their manner & the way the horses & riders respond that is a good starting point. Also, you will get to watch their personal approach & the common exercises they use so it doesn’t come as a surprise to you in your first lesson. It will also allow you to gain more from your first session as you will understand what they are asking of you more quickly. You can also have a practice before your first lesson with them!
Don’t get too bogged down regarding qualifications. I am NOT underestimating the various qualification systems that are about & anyone who has gained these has committed a lot of time & money & effort which is admirable. Equally though, not everyone has the time & money to go through rigorous training & examination systems & it has to be said that very few if any Olympic riders have any formal equine qualifications as they are too busy DOING it!
The other side of the coin though is that naturally gifted riders often make lousy trainers (phew, life is not so unfair after all!). This is because they find every aspect so easy they can’t grasp why the rest of us find it so hard! As teaching can be very lucrative to a top rider this inability to actually implant knowledge won’t stop them taking your money! There can be a certain kudos in saying ‘so & so teaches me’ but it is a waste of time & money if you are not actually improving.
Do’s & Don’t’s
Once you have found someone make sure you are well prepared, on time & your horse is sound, clean & wearing clean & well fitting tack. You too should be neat & tidy with clean (not to be confused with new!) clothes & footwear. This helps to project the good impression that you appreciate & respect the trainers time & knowledge.
Your chosen trainer should also present themselves in a neat & tidy way & even if not dressed to ride should be dressed in such a way they can run after your horse should you be decanted at any point!
My real pet hate is a trainer that natters on their mobile during a lesson. You are paying some serious money more likely than not & for your trainer to be selling a horse, booking in other lessons etc in your time at your cost is NOT professional or acceptable.
Make a joke of it at booking in e.g. ‘Your’e not one of those trainers that sit on the phone all lesson are you?!’. You will get your point across BEFORE it becomes an issue.
If it happens during a lesson a) halt your horse until they finish the call. This will get your point across in a subtle non confrontational way, b) don’t book them again – vote with your feet & money!
You can adopt the same tactics if the trainer starts to natter to someone on the sidelines.
I can’t believe I am having to mention this but it comes from bitter (& expensive) experience!
How do I know my lesson was money well spent?
If at the end of your lesson you feel inspired, motivated, can’t wait to ride again, have plenty of homework & a happy horse it is probably a good sign to rebook!
Different riders / horses / circumstances respond to different approaches so ‘one size’ does not fit all. If YOU & YOUR HORSE are happy that is all that matters!
Why do some riders have lots of trainers?
You can grow out of a trainer (or them from you) so it is unlikely it will become a lifetime relationship! As you & your horse progress or if you change disciplines you may well change trainers.
It is not uncommon for experienced riders to have more than one trainer as there are many, many different roads to Rome where training horses is concerned. Initially, these differing explanations & methods can be confusing though, so best to find someone you get on with & stick with them to start with. As you become more experienced and hungry for more knowledge you can then look to other trainers & methods to help fill up your ‘ tool box’ of training exercises.
Regular lessons with someone you get on with will produce much better results than one off lessons with a top level rider. Even Carl Hester (multi time Olympic dressage rider & team gold medal winner) says he is not going to tell you anything your regular trainer isn’t already!
There is no magic wand, just hard work & consistency!
I have learned more from watching top trainers train others than from having lessons from them myself as I am able to ingest their methods better in a more relaxed ‘arm chair’ environment.
I do check out the guinea pig riders though as any I really like could well become my next, local regular trainer!
Are Private or Shared lessons best?
Assuming finances allow, private lessons do obviously provide a total ‘one on one’ training situation. They usually last for 45 minutes & lessons can be very intense. This might not suit all riders & horses though but you will find most top level trainers will ONLY do private lessons so you have no choice. If your horse & yourself are fit enough physically & mentally, private lessons will be money well spent.
Shared or group lessons (when possible) will usually last an hour (or 1.5 hours if a group jump lesson). There will be more opportunity to have a breather whilst watching another combination being put through their paces. If all horses & riders are at a similar level, shared & group lessons are not only more cost effective but can add an element of fun which private lessons tend not to have. The opportunity to watch others doing similar exercises & with similar problems to yourself can be a wonderful learning tool as well.
Whoever you choose as your trainer they should be adding training ‘tools’ to your knowledge ‘tool box’. This way, when your trainer is not about you have plenty of ideas & training tips to fall back on to hopefully prevent the wheels totally falling off before your next lesson! They should also be consistent in what they ask of you but with an open enough mind and enough experience to tweak things to suit you and your horses needs at that moment in time. The best trainers work WITH you and your horse to coax the best out of you both. They should not just shout louder whilst repeating the same exercise over and over again! A good trainer will still be hungry for knowledge as they will be wanting to increase their own ‘ tool box’ of training ideas.
Enjoy your lessons & appreciate a good trainer….. they can be quite hard to find. 🙂
Finally, REMEMBER: You should look forward to your lesson, not be relieved you have survived!