The plight of the adult amateur rider is a long and sometimes difficult one, but it is the vast majority of riders out there. Many adult amateurs are women who are getting into riding after raising children or establishing their careers. They are either late to begin or are getting back into it after many years away. They want to improve their skills by taking lessons, but how do you even begin to find the right instructor for you? I’ve seen so many people negatively impacted by instructors. In some cases the instructor is not of good quality, but in other cases it is simply a bad match. Doing legwork ahead of time will help avoid these circumstances so I’ve put together a list of questions to ask yourself (or your potential instructor). These are my opinions, by no means a comprehensive list, and it won’t necessarily guarantee success, but it will certainly help get you started.
1. Make sure the person is qualified to teach in your discipline. This may seem obvious, but since there are no licensing requirements for instructors, anyone that can ride can hang out a shingle stating that they give lessons. It is best to do some research on the background of that person to see if they know and understand your discipline.
2. The horse world is a small world. Ask your horsey friends about people you are considering. If you are new to the area, ask potential instructors for references that you can contact. Good news travels fast. Bad news travels faster and people will tell you what they think.
3. Watch the instructor ride because he/she should definitely be able to ride. However, some excellent riders are not good instructors. The key to teaching is really communication. The person might be the best rider around, but if he/she can’t communicate methods to someone else, it’s a moot point. At the other end of the spectrum, an individual may not be the caliber rider to compete at the highest levels, but they have an excellent knowledge of the basics that they can easily impart onto beginning riders.
4. Go to a show to watch the instructor and his/her students compete. Whether or not you are interested in showing, this will give you another place to view the instructor in action.
5. Does the instructor have a professional appearance and facility? This doesn’t mean expensive. It means safe and functional. The person should present herself in a professional manner, although they she or may not be clean. It’s tough to stay clean when you’re a horse person!
6. Is the instructor a good all-around horse person? Do they have knowledge of nutrition, physiology, first aid and basic handling? You’d be surprised how many talented riders leave the rest to staff. There is a big difference between being a rider and being a true horseperson. You want a horseperson as an instructor.
7. Does the instructor continue to work with someone, go to clinics and seminars? I don’t care who you are or how good you are. You can never stop learning. If you find people who think they know it all, they don’t and you don’t want to work with them.
8. Ask if you can watch that person teach. If they don’t let you, walk away. Try to watch a variety of different lessons. Does he/she tailor the lesson to the individual horse and rider combo? Does he/she have a wide variety of exercises to bring out the best in the horse? Does he/she focus on the lesson and not on what is going on elsewhere? Does he/she keep the lesson positive and end on a good note?
9. Take a trial lesson. Ask if you can do just one lesson to see how you work together. Again, if this is an issue with the person, this isn’t the right person. After watching the individual teach, he/she may look like a good match for you, but you won’t know until you try a lesson yourself.
10. Trust your instincts. If you come away from a trial lesson with a good feeling about the person and how you get along, it’s probably a good match. If you have any doubts at all, you may need to try a second lesson or it may not be the right person for you. That’s okay. There are many people out there and the right one will come your way. Patience will pay tremendous dividends in the end.