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What you need to know about choosing a riding instructor.

 

The first thing you should know about riding instructors in Florida, is that there is no regulation of riding instructors. Anyone can wake up one day and decide to become a riding instructor; buy a horse, and start teaching the next day. It has happened here in the past and fortunately responsible horse people stood up in the name of safety and put a stop to it. Unfortunately, that person moved out of the area and could be “teaching” elsewhere. Most of the time it’s kids who have grown up in horses, turn 16, and have to get a job to pay for the horse so they start teaching. Sometimes, depending on the experience, this can go OK, but most of the time they don’t have the experience to keep another person safe on top of a horse.

What about the school horse? It takes a special horse to assist the instructor. The school horse should be quiet, steady and relatively easy to control. The horse should have a pleasant attitude. The horse is going to do the most teaching; usually by not moving until you cue him correctly. The best school horses test you constantly, those, coupled with a seasoned instructor, will teach you more than the “push button” horse. So, it’s up to you to make sure you or your child is safe on top of the horse.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor. If I was looking for an instructor for my child, I would ask the following questions.

1. How long have you been teaching?
2. How long have you been riding?
3. What made you decide to become a riding instructor?
4. Are you insured? Can I see a copy?
5. May I watch a few beginner lessons?

You are looking for someone who rode, shown, studied horsemanship in school or under a known instructor. You are looking for someone who can teach and not just ride. Some of the best riders I know can’t teach worth a darn. You are looking for someone who has a passion for teaching and for the horses. They must be insured (anyone can get insurance by the way) and they must be qualified. Ask to watch a lesson of your level. If you are intermediate, watch an intermediate lesson but if you are beginner, watch a couple beginner lessons.

Here is what you are looking for: Are the horse calm but obedient? (some school horses will test the rider and that’s ok) You don’t want to learn on a spirited horse that doesn’t listen especially if you are a beginner. I am consistently amazed at the number of instructors who put beginners on horses that are too hot for them and then watch them fall off. Horses outweigh you, they are herd animals that are prey animals, they can move quick! They can step on you, run out from under you, bite you, kick you and depending on the horse, can cause bodily damage or even DEATH! On the other hand, if your child falls off at a walk because the horse stepped over or around a puddle, that’s not the instructors fault. If the horse steps on you and you have been warned not to lead like that, it’s not the instructors fault. Lots of people want to blame the horse for their failures.

Is the instructor communicating safety issues to the students? Are they learning how to safely lead, groom and tack up or are the horses already saddled and waiting for you? Some people like having the horses saddled and that’s ok. I always feel that those people miss out on a beautiful relationship. Horses are not bikes or machines. They desire a relationship with you and sometimes they desire to not be bothered that day. The horses drive the lesson and it’s up to the instructor to read their horse and determine if they need to push the rider or just call it a day and start fresh next lesson.

Is the instructor active or passive in the lesson? Beginner riders need the instructor to be active and inside the arena with them. Advanced beginners and intermediate riders sometimes need the instructor to be passive and allow the rider to practice the previous learned lesson for a bit. How are the children treated? How are they spoken to? If the instructor is talking down to the kids and yelling, go somewhere else. The only time an instructor should yell at anyone is if they see a safety issue that could get the student hurt or killed.

How are the horses treated and spoken to? If the horse is disciplined does the instructor take the time to explain why and how they disciplined the horse? If smacking and jerking the horse is the norm, I’d leave immediately. Most instructors or in business for themselves which means they set up their schedule. Please understand that instructors work in the weather that our wonderful state gives us. When it’s 95 degrees out they are still out there, doing camps, giving lessons in the shade and when it’s all over, they clean stalls and care for the horses. When you lesson is cancelled due to rain, don’t blame the instructor. Sometimes it rained the night before and the arena is muddy which makes for dangerous footing. Sometimes it’s storming in Tampa and they cancel due to lightening. Guess who still have to go out and care for the horses? Guess who doesn’t get a day off unless they pay for it? Please try to be understanding and flexible with your instructor. Lastly, try the instructor out. It’s okay to change your mind after a few lessons. Most instructors want the best for their students.

 

Alisha McGinnis I started riding in 1977 at the tender age of 6. I got my first horse at 8. I showed mostly in hunter but did a lot of trail riding around Seminole as well. I love teaching equitation. I have learned from some of the best instructors in Florida and Tennessee. I was CHA certified in 2001 and began my teaching career. I taught professionally for 14 years and loved every minute of it. Today I am a real estate professional, working as a property manager and in sales. (I still teach part time but am focusing more on enjoying my horses)

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