Top 3 Reasons Why America’s Producing so Many Mediocre Instructors

Vince Lombardi, the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said, “Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price. “ Vince Lombardi knew a lot about human nature and success. He drilled his team in the basics daily and ignored the fads, and his teams succeeded.  Vince Lombardi didn’t waste his  or his player’s time with short cuts.

In the 60s and 70s US horsemen were formidable, admired and envied throughout the world.  The U.S. system developed from the U.S. Cavalry and was combined with the influence of several good horsemen from the 30s, 40s and 50s. U.S. horsemen were formidable because they were grounded in the basics.

Then changes occurred in U.S. Horsemanship. Around the early ‘80s we became a big “Industry” and U.S. Horsemanship began a downward spiral. Where have our good horsemen gone? Why are horses and riders dying in competition? And why can’t our riders take care of their own animals?  What happened to the attitude that said that the horse’s welfare and needs were taken care of before those of his owner or rider?

I believe the fault lies in the education of the upcoming generation of horse lovers. There  are 3 major reasons why the current education of horse lovers is inadequate.

1.  Too many Instructors are not learning and teaching foundations and basics

Instructors can only teach what they have learned, whether it be from their instructors, clinics, books or experience. If a system of basics isn’t taught to the first generation , the second generation will be weaker and so on down the line. This is a reason that so many of our current instructors lack depth.  They may have miles and miles of show ring experience, but they lack the fundamental foundation and do not understand how one principal depends on another to form a strong base of knowledge.

Students are not usually encouraged to read the classics and when they are, the classics are out of print and unavailable. A horseman can’t go into a tack or book store and purchase books by authors such as, Harry Chamberlin, Gordon Wright, Vladimir Littauer, Piero Santini, or Margaret Cabell Self.  In the January 11, 2002 Chronicle of the Horse article “Observations I’ve Made While Teaching”  George Morris wrote “Unless teachers review the classics of riding and jumping literature on a regular basis, they will become stale and fall prey to fashions and fads.”

Instructors can only teach what they know or what they see. We have a generation of copy cat instructors who see something but have no idea about the principles behind what they see.  They teach it to students, some who become instructors themselves, and their knowledge is more shallow than their predecessors. This has created a spiraling down cycle and a dilution of the quality of instruction in the U.S.

2.  Too many riding instructors in America are in the wrong profession.

A person is not automatically a teacher because he knows how to do something himself. There are many extremely talented, even Olympic level, riders who are naturally gifted. They ride like they really know riding, but as spectacular as they and their horses are, they can’t explain why they do what they do. The most important quality of a good instructor is that he or she is able to get you, the student, to understand the principle of what he or she is teaching.

A trainer of horses does not automatically have the tools to be a good teacher, either. A trainer communicates without words.  Many who are patient with their horses have no patience for human students and they lack good communication skills. She or he may be the best trainer, able to get their horses to do amazing things, but it is no indication that they will be a good teacher.

A coach is a motivator who is also a teacher in many ways, but a coach is concerned with competition. Frequently, equestrian coaches deal more with the psychology of winning than they do the art of horsemanship.  In a the July 7, 2006 Chronicle of the Horse article “Where Did We Come from? Where are We Going?” George Morris quotes former USET  3 day Coach, Jack LeGoff. Morris says, “When talking to Jack the other day about his new book, I asked him what was wrong. He hit the nail on the head, as usual: The young trainers are teaching their students to compete. They are not, necessarily, teaching them to ride.”

The ability to teach is a gift and a talent. Instructors who lack the gift of teaching also lack the passion and ability to understand their subject and are unable to give their students a thorough riding foundation. They are usurpers masquerading as instructors.

3. Too Many Riding Instructors Teach for the Wrong Reasons

In an October 10, 1997 Chronicle of the Horse article “Values- And Boys- Are Hard To Find On Our Horse Show Scene” George Morris wrote “Money and greed are the worst problems that have crept in to what I used to think of as my sport.  I’m afraid unless our society has a big shock, that money will be the eventual ruination of this sport as we once knew it.”

It takes lots of money to run a good barn and keep up the right appearance. Money is a driving force in today’s horse industry, even more than it was in 1997. A trainer’s lifestyle depends on clients and commissions. Many instructors and trainers strive to keep their students dependent on them so they can keep clients, and they teach “over their heads” in order not to lose their client to another barn.

The goal is wrong. Horse Shows used to be a “progress test” for riders, a way to see how you compared to other riders in order to improve yourself as a horseman. More often than not, today horse shows ARE the goal for riding.  The horse professional, be it trainer, instructor or coach, makes much of his money at and because of, horse shows. This causes trainers to find the fast track, the easy way, the short cut for their students, in order to get their student on the show circuit faster.  Students don’t learn how to work through problems.  They learn how to replace problems with a better horse. They don’t develop an eye for distances.  They count strides.  They don’t develop a base of support. They lay on their horses over fences.

Judges reward bad training techniques and short cuts because they are obligated to place classes.  And competitors do what it takes to win. If a slow canter placed this week, next week the horses will be cantering even slower.  If the winner’s horse had its face on the vertical this week, next week the horses will be slightly behind the vertical.  Trainers copy to win without knowing what they copied and they teach these short cuts to their students. Instead of giving students the tools that are required to train a horse and to ride well, our riders are becoming gimmick professionals. The crutches become the way to ride and copy cat riders and trainers turn them into fads. Fads, crutches, gimmicks, and short cuts lead to cruel training practices, over use of artificial training aids, quick fixes and disposable horses.

The Results

The result of not educating our future riders in classical principals,  of turning our sport into an industry that is motivated by money, and providing quick fixes and fast tracks, is that we have diluted U.S. HorsemanshipU.S. Horsemanship is no longer the envy of other countries.  And our equestrian venues have become increasingly dangerous to the point that we are killing horses and their riders. Teachers and instructors are the people who have the most powerful influence over the upcoming generation of horsemen and women.  Unless instructors choose to develop depth in their own education and unless instructors are willing to slow down and teach the foundation to their students, U.S. Horsemanship will continue on it’s downward spiral.

“Life is cause and effect. In other words, sooner or later, you do sit down to a banquet of consequences.” Quoted from What it Takes to be Number One” by Vince Lombardi and Vince Lombardi, Jr, Simple Truths, Illinois 2006, Pg 114

Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor!
Barbara Ellin Fox
Copyright 2009 -reprint

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151 Responses to “Top 3 Reasons Why America’s Producing so Many Mediocre Instructors”

  1. This article is so very beyond true! I love it.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 20, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Thank you!

    • This is beyond true. It is very sad and to those of us that learned to ride from those US Cavalry officers it saddens me to see the abuse that the horses under go.

      I don’t teach riding but there are times that I think that I should get off my duff and start teaching because so much of what is being taught is totally and completely incorrect.

      • Maybe you should. The US Cavalry officers knew how to teach and they knew the price required to become real horsemen. It sounds like you have something to pass along. If you have time, please take a look at http://www.ushorsemanship.com . It’s another blog that I write and the purpose is to preserve the knowledge about the history of riding in America. I’d love to know what you think of it. Thnaks for your comments

    • I think this article is very true however, I think we need to start coming up with ideas on how to save this sport rather than just saying what’s wrong with it….

      • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm

        Good idea. Will you post a suggestion?

        • I think that natural horsemanship has definitely helped – at least marginally – with this trend toward instructors who train to win. Having a good relationship with a horse is so important to the strength of the horse and rider partnership, and natural horsemanship provides a generally well-structured approach for the foundation of that partnership. It’s given those who are looking for a better relationship with their horse an outlet. However, I know poor horsemen and women who profess that natural horsemanship is “common sense”. We definitely need more instructors who are concerned more with the wellfare of the horse and who don’t cost an arm and a leg to get involved in the U.S. horse industry. We also need more students who are taught how valuable the horse and rider relationship really is and how important it is to maintain that relationship.

          • TheRidingInstructor October 20, 2013 at 9:33 am

            Well said, Clara

          • I couldn’t agree more I started Natural horsemanship a year ago and what a world of difference it has made for me and my horses. I have been riding for 38 yrs and this is the only way I go about it now. I wish everyone would give it a chance and try it, its amazing the results you get under saddle and the relationship you have with your horse!

          • TheRidingInstructor September 11, 2014 at 9:05 am

            Hi Lisa
            Natural horsemanship/round pen has some tremendous benefits. Anytime we put the relationship with our horse first we are bound to have more satisfying results. Keep up the good work and thank you for commenting.
            Barbara Fox

  2. Excellent article! There is so much truth in that. In Germany (I am a native German and apprenticed there), things are not perfect, either. However, there is a governing body and the education of riding instructors is structured and laid out, regulated, and overseen. At least there is some form of regulation, which is completely missing in the US.
    Therefore it is impossible for all instructors to have the same goals. As you mentioned, people are in it for all sorts of reasons. It starts with the student: Look for an instructor who can show you where he/she learned what they learned and have them explain their philosophy. “I’ll get you in the winner’s circle” is not good enough. Thanks for this article!

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 20, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Thank you so much for your comment. We have such a miss mash of certifications in the U.S. at this point. Certification from college equine programs (which have created a lot of ‘jack of all trades’ stables in my area), USDF, USHJA, USEA, the individual groups such as CHA, Aria, and then the programs from places such as Meredith Manor etc. You are truly correct when you say it starts with the students. It’s too bad that so many beginning riders come from families that don’t know which questions to ask, or that they should ask much of anything. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks

      • I’m living in Canada now even though I got my early training in the US and we have a certification program here that is consistent. Unfortunately what it mostly seems to be is consistently expensive. Frankly I’ve seen a lot of bad certified instructors.

        • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm

          There is some truth to saying that teachers are not made, they’re born. Training should make the natural teacher excel, unfortunately that isn’t always the case. I’m neither for nor against certification in the U.S. because it seems like there’s a different one for each interest. I do rather like the way they certify in the UK because of the way they have broken the levels and options out. I’d like to learn more about Canadian certification

        • That’s because they can buy, instead of EARN, the certification.

  3. All to often this happens. I see it constantly around local shows. To me, local shows are where you go to see other local people and horses. I’ve never really have viewed them as competition. A place of good fun and fellowship amidst fellow horse lovers.
    I believe, you should train to ride at your very best no matter where you ride.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Yes! Fun and fellowship amidst horse lovers is such an important part of the whole riding experience and often lasts much longer than the thrill of a ribbon.

  4. This is an excellent article, and should be required reading for all equestrians–students, instructors, trainers, competitors, and coaches.

  5. I agree 100%.
    And I will ad, it is almost impossible to preserve the mental and physical health of the animal and becoming number one in many equestrian discipline.

    However I think the best training that a rider can achieve is to travel and discover other continents horseback riding so each individual can understand the impact of each society and difference of culture in the industry.

    To my experience, riders should be tough first to leave with horses before getting on the saddle, and a full immersion in a ranch or farm is sometime the only solution to a better understanding and respect to there one horse and understanding of a proper training.

    Horsemanship is not being yet well promoted by the industry and I hope that in near future people like Buck (USA) or Jean Francois Pignon (EU) will emerge and speak out.

    Horseback riding should be a part of every school program as it is the most complete sport and life style I can think of that teach discipline, respect and psychology without force feeding kids to do swimming laps back and forth in a pool or ruining after a plastic ball and show of big muscle.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 20, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Thank you for your excellent comment. My daughter spent some years training in England. She talks about how with the English family riding is a normal part of growing up as opposed to something only for the privileged. It would most definitely be wonderful training to experience the riding culture in other countries.

      If more people would recognize how hard horses try, how forgiving they are and how much they sacrifice to do the things we ask, maybe we’d see sounder, saner top horses. Sadly we live in a country where individuals are willing to risk their own health and soundness for a few minutes in the spotlight and a big salary (football, rugby etc) only to pay dearly as they age.

      There was a time in the US when most horsemen did grow up taking care of their own horses, living with them and learning from them but as the demographics have changed and we have fewer open spaces, fewer family horse farms, etc we see more children coming from families that have never had a connection with horses. I think it’s one of the reasons we have so many horsemen with so little depth. Horsemanship has become more of a part time activity and organizations such as Pony Club that try to teach through immersion, find themselves competing against all the suburban sports, such as soccer. . . It would be wonderful to see horsemanship as part of school programs. I know of a public school in Phoenix AZ that is based on horses. The only other programs I know of are with private schools. A good start might be to develop horse lover clubs with public schools. I’m aware of a few dressage clubs at the public High School level.

      People who only ride miss so much when they don’t have the opportunity to live and breathe horses. Men like Buck or Jean Francois Pignon are rare and like Ray Hunt they are jewels that have done a great deal for horsemanship. . . we need to spread the word

      Thanks so much for reading and replying

  6. I’ve been riding most of my life, and have had the privilege of being trained by some of the best. I was taught to be a horseman first, then a rider and instructor. I was firmly grounded in the basics before I was allowed to move on to more difficult things. I don’t believe in the quick fix, artificial training aids, and disposable horses. My horses were never expensive, but with the proper training, instruction, and riding I was able to compete at the higher levels. And most of all, my horses remained sound physically and mentally well into their late 20’s. I also taught for many years, and had parents take their child to another instructor because I didn’t use the quick fix and artificial training aids so their child could win before they could ride properly. At the moment, I don’t see the current state of affairs changing and it’s a pity.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Kudos! You’re living proof that grounding in basics and developing a horseman has a direct influence over the usefulness and quality of life for our horses. I’ll wager the hours you have spent are innumerable and well worth it. I agree with you that it doesn’t seem like the current state will be changing but with more people like yourself and several of the other readers who have made comment, we are closer to not losing what we have. If some of us continue to teach that, the whole “quick fix, must win attitude” is not horsemanship, we can be responsible for adding good horsemen to our horse culture. Losing a few to barns that will do anything to win may hurt the proverbial pocket book but is a sign that you have good values and integrity. My favorite quote comes from Independence Day (Movie) 1996. The President is speaking about the alien attack that seeks to annihilate the human race “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” Cheesy but I love it!
      Thanks for your comments!

  7. I loved your article!! I finally left a barn after 10 years of being a “passenger”, buying inappropriate horses, lame horses, buying new horses, a continuous cycle with a “backyard” trainer who could ride but could not teach.
    Three years after moving to a wonderful barn, I have bought the best horse I have ever had and learned how to ride him! I have learned the basics from different trainers who have taught me good flat work and then to jump. I have also learned about horsemanship and good care of my horse and I love it!!! It is now fun and not frustrating, I am finally progressing in the right direction and being successful. I am proud to say that I have been told I am no longer a passenger but a rider!!!
    .

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 21, 2013 at 6:03 am

      Congratulations! I am so glad that you have reached that special place in riding. Pat yourself on the back for sticking with it. I’m so glad that your struggle has paid off with success and am very happy to know that you view success as having learned the basics, horsemanship and care, and that you are enjoying your life with horses. Thanks so much for sharing your success story. It is very encouraging. Keep up the GOOD work!

  8. Too many “trainers” get on the horses to prepare them for the rider, lunge them for hours on end, medicate them with exactly the “right” cocktail and do EVERYTHING for the rider. Riders are not taught how to ride through a frisky/spooky/bucking episode, but hand the horse over to the trainer who hands it off to a groom…. this is the DO NOTHING society

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment and of course you are right in so many cases. It’s our fast food, instant gratification, money buys everything society. There are so many benefits to a person learning to handle situations with their horse themselves that I won’t even try to list them. I remember when we were taught not to blame the horse – but to blame ourselves. I see too many young people that believe the lameness of their horse prior to a show is a tragedy for them rather than for the horse. It is sad and they miss out on so much. The relationship doesn’t exist.

  9. Thank you so much for giving voice to these thoughts that I have held for quite some time. I, myself was an instructor/trainer from the late 60’s to early 90’s. I watched our sport decline all around me in favor of quickly-achieved glory at the expense of horses, riders, and the beauty of our sport. My own thoughts are reflected in George Morris’ quote, “Money and greed are the worst problems that have crept in to what I used to think of as my sport…” (emphasis mine) WOW! How many more of us are likewise alienated from what used to be “our sport”!

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply August 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      Tony, you have watched what I have and it breaks my heart. As a kid I hung on the rail at the Garden watching the greats like Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, Pierro D’Inzeo etc. Gosh it seemed like things would always go on that way. I remember when the American Horse Shows Association Rule Book had a horseman’s sportsmanship creed in the front of it. Wishing to preserve some of our riding heritage is one of the reasons I started another blog called U.S. Horsemanship. It’s at http://ushorsemanship.com if you’d like to look at it.
      Thanks for reading the Riding Instructor and thanks for posting your comment.

  10. Good article but why can’t you spell “principle”?!

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Good Catch! It’s been corrected. Thank you for reading The Riding Instructor and for your helpful comment.

    • That was an obnoxious comment, and TheRidingInstructor’s reply to you shows grace and dignity that you’ll clearly never have.

    • I am sorry that what you got out of the article was a misspelling. You are, in my humble opinion, exactly what is wrong in this business. I hope you learned more than that. Good riding is a lifestyle and it appears your is lacking. I have been teaching and training for over 41 years and I too, am shocked at where this sport is going. G Morris was right greed is the American value. This country as a whole is in deep trouble. I could go on and on. However it wont change a thing. I just try to make the students I teach aware as best I can that the horse is the most perfect they will ever meet..

  11. i found the classics through Alibris – small booksellers that specialize in out of print books. they are out there…i’m a novice, and i have a great library! there are also very helpful videos on Equestriancoach.com even though i take lesson, the videos are really helpful and easy to put into practice. https://www.alibris.com
    http://equestriancoach.com

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Thank you for sharing two great ways to learn. I’m glad you were able to find the classics. It would be terrific to have them back in print and on book store shelves. Thanks for your suggestions and also for taking the time to comment.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Dear Syb Miller
      I wanted to mention that if you have not found a copy of the French Cavalry Manual I will send you a free pdf of the 1912 French Cavalry Manual used by Fort Riley, if you go to http://www.ushorsemanship.com and sign up for my newsletter about horsemanship history in the United States. I hope to see you there!

  12. There is a difference in training philosophy between Europe and the USA. When I came to the States in 1998, I was surprised to find that owners sent their equines to trainers, and the trainers did all the schooling, often creating a horse that was skilled beyond the ability of the owner. In Europe, there is far more emphasis on working horse and rider/driver as a ‘team.’ Thus, both elements develop in tandem, and have the tools to rise through the levels. So often, in the USA, I have seen novice riders, and now drivers, buying expensive animals that have competed at levels way beyond the new owners’ abilities. A recipe for a wreck, if ever I saw one, even if the driver then competes way below the level the equine is used to.

    At my facility in Oakdale, CA, I develop my equine and human clients together, and both seem to like the results.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 20, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Thank you so much for your post. You are wise in your approach to training and teaching. It’s refreshing when you consider my post Drugs, Ponies & Birthdays where two girls received rides for the pony division at Devon Horse as gifts for becoming 12 year olds. I can’t imagine a parent paying thousands of dollars so their child can ride a pony that they don’t even know, in a major horse show, just so they can say they competed at Devon. The post is at http://theridinginstructor.net/194/drugs-ponies-birthdays/ if you don’t mind having your blood pressure raise!
      I so prefer your way of training the horse and rider together. Best of luck to you. And thank you for reading.

  13. Leslie Head-Nordquist Reply September 20, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I SO AGREE with EVERY part of this article! I grew up in a large family who’s mother rode under the local US Calvary rider/trainer/instructor. I was blessed with a SOLID foundation of ground up horsemanship/riding. Shoveling stalls at the age of 6 yrs where the shovel was bigger & weighed more I. I help a couple young ladies from church with all aspects of their horses.They do not own high dollar horses,1 is a rescue, the other a QH mare that didn’t make it on the WP QH circuit-Blessing for us! They have both brought their horses,from ‘nothing’ to winning, above the high dollar horses and riders that are in continuous lesson programs. They take when they can afford to and do all their own work between/during lessons/shows.I help where I can as I enjoy it too and having an auto accident that has made it difficult to ride much in the past 14 years,I am happy to pass on the skills/knowledge I learned as I know the TRUE horsemen are fading.It pays to know ground up as you can handle ANY situation faced.I was also blessed to be a working student for Hilda Gurney after graduating from high school,I was pleasantly surprised with my first lesson as it was just as if SHE were riding the horse I was on when she’s give instruction and it’s followed, it’s as though she herself was on the horse and it seemed effortless for both horse and rider. All in all, I have been very blessed to have been raised in the kind of atmosphere you speak of.I wouldn’t turn the sweat,tears, nor dirt,sore muscles, etc for having the opportunity I had growing up,Darn right I’m going to pass it on!! It’s a shame to let it go to waste! … sorry, many many thoughts,and jumbled because so much to say and not enough space to speak it! :D THANK YOU for printing this article for all to read!!

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 21, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      What a great horse background and attitude you have! I’m so glad you commented. The ladies you are working with are blessed by your blessings!
      I have a second web blog http://www.ushorsemanship.com with with I write/share as much of the history of horsemanship in America as I can with readers. I really enjoy it and have some articles that are quite opinionated also stuff from The Rasp- The Fort Riley yearbook, articles about Caprilli and Harry Chamberlin. . . You might enjoy taking a peak at it. And I’m always trying to find out more about the instructors that came from the cavalry and gave public lessons and only know of a few that are still living today. Would you be willing to share the name of the man your mother was so fortunate to ride with? You could email me at bfox@theridinginstructor.net

      Also if you sign up for the newsletter at U.S. Horsemanship I’ll send you a pdf of the 1912 French Cavalry Manual that Fort Riley used.

      Thanks so much for your very interesting comment and for reading The Riding Instructor.

  14. Great article! I agree with everything you wrote – but I’d like to offer another perspective. I am a 42 yr old riding instructor who started my riding career in horses as a young child taking dressage lessons from a wonderful instructor. While I eventually moved on to other, more sophisticated instructors and also showed my horses extensively, my goal as an instructor was to be as much like my first instructor – one who emphasized good, sound basics and taught us to be responsible for ourselves and our mounts while riding. One of my biggest frustrations has been with parents who want their kids to WIN, not ride well. These are the same parents that don’t hold the child responsible for their behavior and mistakes while riding, instead blaming the horse, putting pressure on me to ‘fix’ it. It is also frustrating to watch horses that have given their all in teaching kids to ride, putting up with years of them bouncing and jerking around up there, only to be dumped when the kid loses interest, or old age aches and pains finally catch up. My advice to retire and keep their old horse usually falls on deaf ears – because THAT would be taking responsibility, which seems like a foreign concept in many parents of today.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Shannon – Boy do I agree with you. The work ethic is gone. The pride of actually accomplishing something difficult went with it. So much is fast and disposable in our society. If you have a minute check out my blog post Drugs, Ponies & Birthdays http://theridinginstructor.net/194/drugs-ponies-birthdays/ . It will make your blood boil. We need to find a way to educate parents.

      I’m so glad to hear from instructors like yourself who share these concerns. I still believe we can make a difference even if it’s only one child at a time.

      Keep up your good work and keep trying to get kids to take on responsibility. If you can get the point to stick with even some of your students then you will be like your first instructor. Don’t give up trying – for the sake of the horses and the kids.

      Thank you for your good post and right on thoughts.

  15. I am a long time Western rider who is learning Dressage from a wonderful teacher. This article is so applicable to other disciplines, that I immediately translated it to Western shows. Same thing; different discipline with very little concern for the horse.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Horses are so giving. It’s just painful to see how little they are appreciated. Good luck with your dressage training. Has western dressage hit your area yet?

  16. It seems to me that both instructors and students think the engagement with the horse starts and ends in the stall. Pick up the horse, tack him up, into the arena, work, tack him down, back to the stall.

    I’ve been ridiculed for sitting in the pasture having a picnic with my horse.

    I watch my horse on cameras for hours and learn his “when I’m not around” behavior.

    I sit on his hay box in the shelter when it’s raining and listen to him eating.

    Today I caught an escaped horse, partly by acting like a horse. How could I do that if I didn’t know how they act?

    I’ve been an athlete, and I listen to my horse as an athlete. So I can sense when he needs rest, can tell he just gave himself a cramp, can hear him telling me he knows he did a fine lead change and deserves a pet.

    And when I’m watching a student, because I’m a planner, I know how to tell them to organize their thoughts at the goal level, session level and manuever level. How to figure out what to do today, how to align it with the strategic goal, how to deal with it when the horse is telling us to change the plan. For instance – you think you are there to work on lead changes, but the horse shows you that he needs to work on straightness or obedience or relaxation today. How can a student be taught that if you haven’t felt it and don’t know it?

    You have to want to instruct because you love the horse first, and then, immediately after that, the student, and then, finally, much farther away, the goal, which may or may not ever be to show.

    That complexity is why we have so few good instructors. Many of them want to simply be smarter or better than the student. They don’t listen to the student any more than they listen to the horse. They tell the student that the horse is being rebellious rather than walking through what makes a horse worry. They use aggression when they need understanding or repetition when the horse or the rider needs to move on. They distract the rider by talking to the rider when the rider is working, rather than pacing the instruction to the quiet times between and letting the rider develop feel.

    I have so many things to learn, but at least I know these things. I wish more instructors and trainers knew them.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      Mark, Your comments show much wisdom and understanding of the horse, from the heart. You’re right. Instructors have to love the horse first. And they have to try to teach that love to the student. What we do is about so much more than learning to ride. And it truly is a way of existence .
      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comments. It’s encouraging to know that you’re out there doing what you’re doing

  17. Barbara, what a beautifully written article that analyzes the issue of the weaknesses in U.S. Horsemanship. I found what you pinpointed parallels to education in general. I am not a horseman, but a former high school English teacher who observed the first two reasons: not teaching basics or being in the right profession prevalent. Too many were taught to the test, forgetting basic grammar lessons, spelling (I’ve got spellcheck”), or vocabulary, because their students’ success was connected to their evaluation and bonuses. Some chose education because they liked the idea of weekends and summers off…but good instructors usually work through those weekends and summers grading and sharpening their own skills.
    Vince Lombardi was, and still is, correct: give someone the basics, knowledge, and instill a good work ethic, and success will follow. Too many people want to take short cuts. Great article!!

    • Thank you Margaret – It’s very interesting to me that our schools are on the same general path as horsemanship. In fact it’s a little bit frightening because it speaks about our whole society. Thank you so much for your insight and comments

  18. Did anyone mention the lack of judging? Or the leadership? I fully agree with the article but, results are like water in that these efforts flow through direction and seek the path of least resistance.
    In dressage we have lost our ability to be horseman and are trying to put all horses into a square on a spread sheet. We will reward a horse that is “On the Bit” but not anywhere engaged but lambaste a rider that has his horse less then on the bit but hind end engaged!
    At the end of the day, the goal is always Grand Prix. Most horses and most riders will not get there but that does and should not mean the path is wrong.

    • Lack of judging is a real bottom up problem, too and I could write a volume on it, but it stems from the same short comings of lack of knowledge of basics. And leadership? People don’t want to be leaders unless it means more money or more accolades – remember the point man’s life expectancy is significantly shorter than those following him! There was a time that Dressage was an art and not a competition. I love competition but it does have a way of spoiling certain things.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insightful comments

  19. This is so true! I am an ex-trainer and now I am the “mean” parent who requires that my kid be able to trot and canter without stirrups before jumping. And as a result, I am trainer-shopping yet again. I just don’t get the desire to push kids into jumping before they have the base of support necessary to do so without flopping on the neck or getting left behind. And do not even get me started about crest releases!

    • Wow I sense immediate rapport here! Yes Yes without stirrups before jumping. I’m with you the whole way. Stick to your guns with your principles and your good horsemanship. Base of support is a favorite topic of mine as it is one of the real foundation blocks of good riding. Crest release- OK now my blood pressure is raising! I’ve written a bit on both of these topics on USHorsemanship.com. If you’re interested take a look here http://ushorsemanship.com/category/issues/crestrelease/ for starters.

  20. Barbara — Bravo — Excellent.
    You know me, my background and my views.
    I once wrote that the secret of a good ride starts in the loose box. It was so good to read of others who sit in the straw with their horses. I forget who wrote The Horse as Companion and Friend but there is much in it.
    Why should winning be of importance; the real reward must be that one has learned and performed well and has treated the horse with kindness.
    I also once wrote that It helps to remember that if something is not right it is almost always the rider or handler’s fault – something you have done, or not done or have failed to notice. We must be prepared to take the blame, we usually deserve it. Now — I quote from above–
    “They learn how to replace problems with a better horse. They don’t develop an eye for distances. They count strides. They don’t develop a base of support. They lay on their horses over fences”. True.

    There is an often publicised line about dogs — A puppy is not just for Christmas, it is for life. And so be it for horses !

    In one respect I dare to disagree with that great horseman Horace Hayes. He says that there should be distinct clear words of command and nothing more, and that anyone who constantly talks to his horse does not know horses. What nonsense ! I always talk to my horses (when not riding)and the more I do so the more we we learn to talk to each other; the greater the companionship and the greater the pleasure for horse and rider alike.
    You might enjoy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfSYSu_5LYA&feature=player_embedded

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAMpheiTBog

    Forgive me — I am rambling as usual.. All strength to your arm.
    Regards, Roger

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Roger,

      As always – you are such an inspiration and encourager, writing the most thoughtful and discerning comments. I feel like we have ridden together or at least should have! As far as I’m concerned, you should ramble any time you please, as your advice and comments are from a true and thorough horseman.

      I am privileged to call you friend

      Barbara

  21. This is all true and correct but you must consider the other side of the coin too. Clients demand to progress to shows quickly and often impose their unrealistic expectations on the trainer/instructor. An instructor who attempts to take the time to build in the basics can very quickly find themselves unemployed. It’s not just the instructional culture that needs a sea change but the entire modern equestrian culture where cash and instant gratification are king. They are not riders, they are customers and the customer is always right.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I don’t agree with some of what you have written. If the instructor is perceived as an authority the clientele will take their advice. The customer is not always right, particularly when they come to you for instruction. Also not every customer is right for your business. The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ was coined by Harry Gordan Selfridge, founder of Selfridge Department Store in London in 1909. It is typically used by businesses to convince customers they will get good service and to convince employees to give good service. More and more businesses are abandoning this maxim because ironically it leads to bad customer service. It also gives a platform to abusive customers. Some customers are just bad for business. Riding instructors who live by the mantra “the customer is always right” and are fearful that if they don’t compromise their standards to satisfy the customer, add to the problem of mediocre instructors. When you are unable or too fearful to stand on conviction and you live in compromise, instruction and service become mediocre.

  22. This is a fantastic article. As a ‘young’ instructor who tries very hard to instill the basics and create a solid foundation before allowing students to jump, show, buy ponies etc…( no stirrups before jumping is a must!)this was a refreshing read to help re-instill my own confidence in what I try to do.
    The frustrating aspect of our sport- and I suppose many sports- is the need for instant gratification. As a child, I dreaded my instructors phrase of “looks like its time to go back to the drawing board”. This meant taking a big step back in what we were working on because I was clearly missing a piece of the puzzle. Though it caused tears of frustration at that age, today I couldn’t be more thankful that the time and care was taken with my instruction. Today, it is becoming more and more difficult to please parents. The kids are happy, but parents crave the win- the ‘coach’ that can put them on the packer and bring home red ribbons (I am in Canada!) is far better in their eyes then one who will take the time to teach the foundations of riding and of horsemanship. Telling them or their child that “its time to go back to the drawing board” now results in them looking for the easy way out with a different coach or horse. To these scenarios, Barbara your comment of ” not every customer is right for your business”, could not be more accurate.
    With a small barn of clients that allow me to share with them my passion for teaching and horses, I am not going to change the state of this industry and sport. However, I do hope that with each student/parent seeking instant gratification that I stand up to, I am at least making a small dent in the ever growing wall between those who want to win and those who want to be riders.

    • Liz – The interesting thing about the response to this article is that there are more instructors who feel this way, than I ever thought. That in itself is so encouraging. I can honestly tell you “You are not alone!”

      When I was a young instructor I’d be wounded and stressed if I lost a student because of differing ideals, but any more, at the end of the day, I like to feel good about what I did, taught, and stood for. I like knowing I passed something of value on to another person, whether its a student or a fellow instructor.

      Flexibility is an important quality in a riding instructor but compromise is the enemy of good instruction. We have to stand on what we believe is right or else we just become a facilitator of bad instruction and values.

      Riding instructors are educators. If you can educate a handful of students to the good attitude and work ethic, those same students will influence others. I so admire your convictions, keep up the good work.

  23. This hits the nail on the head. I would also like to add that consumers need to understand that riding correctly, training correctly, and understanding both is a physiological SCIENCE. This isn’t guess work. While creativity may need to come into play when problem-solving for horse and rider, the conclusions met to obtain right response from both horse and rider never change. If it sounds like you are being sold a bill of goods, you probably are.

    Consumers, listen up…if you feel like there is no logic to your training from day to day; if you observe constantly changing philosophies; if you are receiving more drama than cohesiveness; shop around. There are hundreds of trainers available with REAL, SOLID methods and experience. Then there are those who have either ridden or bought their way into the business (or neither, but were handed the family farm) who have no idea how to help you reach YOUR own goals.

    Make sure your training and horse ownership experience is about 2 things first – the welfare of you and your horse, and reaching striving YOUR goals for each of you. It should never be about your trainer.

  24. Barbara — I have taken the liberty of forwarding your article to many in the UK and also to the British Horse Society. I did this without consulting you. My error and my apologies to you but the article was too good not to be circulated. (Perhaps my principals are at risk !)

    As you know I have been riding now for sixty eight years and the more I ride and the more I experiment the more respect I have for Mister Caprilli and his system. I have as you know a respect for the writings of Colonel McTaggart and for his attitude towards the horse. But I shall always be indebted in the first instance to Mister Santini and even more so to the writings of Colonel Harry Chamberlin. I am so grateful to you for drawing my attention to the latter, his wrtings are my daily mentor.

    Some of your respondents write of jumping without stirrups. I have been there — and without reins, arms folded so no hanging on to the neck. One should remember that such an exercise can scare the socks off a grown man.

    As an aside I was once performing that exercise in an Army jumping lane when I came off and rolled under the horse. The next fence loomed and the horse had no room to manouevre. I felt the horses foot come down onto my chest. There was no weight on it. But the horse cleared the next fence without me. That horse was my friend.

    Of course however well one rides, however well the horse is schooled, there is more to Horsemanship than riding. It is called friendship, or companionship. It is called loyalty, it is called compassion. Perhaps it should also be called honesty. Honesty to oneself and honesty to ones horse.

    (I am rambling again; but then you did ask for it !)

    I have evolved a way of handling reins which differs from those experts whom I respect. I hold the reins between the ball of the thumb and the end joint of the first finger (as a lady might hold a delicate teacup) the end joints of the remaining fingers resting lightly on the reins without gripping them. The signals to the horse’s mouth are given by flexing those finger tips, not by the wrists. This provides a very delicate pressure on the horse’s mouth; it provides a rapid shortening or lengthening of the rein if required; and if practised constantly leads to the horse developing a very soft mouth. In a crisis one has only to close the fingers and the tradtional grip is restored and the wrists can be brought into play. The objection has been put to me more than once that one might lose the reins this way. I do not accept this criticism; it is in my experience unlikely and in any case one can always just pick them up again. I do commend this method to your readers. Go on, be brave, try it; if only for the sake of the horse’s mouth; but do not expect instant results from an exprienced horse. (Of course it is quite useless if riding single handed).

    One last thing and I will shut up; there is a way of holding reins single handed which is called something like the Nelson Hold or the Nelson Grip. I forget the name.
    Can anyone remind me please.

    Yours,
    Roger Hanington

    One more

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Roger,

      Thank you for forwarding my article. I appreciate it.

      I have jumped through chutes such as the one you mentioned, with no reins or stirrups. I think I may have told you that one horse I rode ran forever at the end which opened into a huge, unfenced field. It was awhile before I could gather up the reins and convince it to cooperate! By the time we hacked back to the chute the lesson was finished for that day. The experience was what I imagine being shot out of a cannon might feel like! Reins can be completely over rated!

      Destiny is such a lucky mare to have you as an owner.

      I always love to hear from you.

      Yours,
      Barbara

  25. This article was just what i need to read. I have been training green horses and have just started teaching lessons but find that half the things I do I have a hard time explaining because I do them automatically.

  26. Dear Lady!

    Thank you so much for this very informative essay. Really in a country such modern Greece we do oppose same as well as much serious problems concerning equestrian training. No manuals at all, no schools, no trainers…

    Our small horseback archery group (today we have 400 members) firstly, we reach the point to organize our equestrian library http://horsebackarcherygr.com/LIBRARY.htm and, working in parallel hardly with horses, we have “absorb” thoroughly its precious material.

    From Gueriniere to Vladimir S. Littauer, after eight years of hard work, and without any single help by the local authorities (Federation) we publish our complete training program in order to guide our trainers and trainees http://issuu.com/horsebackarchers/docs/manual_complete (see: PART C – ΜΕΡΟΣ Γ)
    and today, eight years after, we can declare that without any single accident not even a single “heavy fall” our horseback archers can gallop and shoot their bows riding saddles and bitless obedient horses trained by us.

    What we do like to point out is that despite any difficulty love and passion for the object brings a positive result. The only we do need is hard, daily and over all sincere work.

    Warmest greetings from a country which opposes many serious problems, in where nothing works perfect except a small …horseback archery group promoting respect and well-being to the horses according the instructions of our ancient ancestor Xenophon.

    “Greek Centaurs”

    • “Greek Centaurs” – I commend you for your hard work and your success. You are working so hard for what we take for granted. Keep up the good work

  27. LadyAmericanAutisticDressageRider Reply September 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    You stated natural ability. My ENGLAND trained instructor sees that in me. I have a natural perfect seat. Changing rein is about to become the next thing I naturalize or make look natural here. I can almost feel when I am not on the right diagonal too. I ride without the use of side walkers and a lead person. I have competed against people who are NOT autistic and win ribbons even when I mess up and take the wrong turn at C or my mare spooks at the plastic plant denoting the entry A area. I just cant find a Special Olympics barn in my area with a team that competes. So I have to compete the best way I can. I am only at Intro level A and B. I will have to work on my courage for the canter.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      You sound like a very serious rider. I know that with your good instructor and your natural ability you will be able to do what you want. You have the courage for canter, you just aren’t using that courage yet. Keep up the good work. You can do it.

      • LadyAmericanAutisticDressageRider Reply September 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm

        She has the accent too. Well I was throw in March 2012 from my mare who I was leasing at the time. While on the mends, the lady that owned her had to decide between college or a horse and college won. She gave the mare to me but I wasn’t allowed to know this until I got an all clear from the doctor that I could get back on. That’s right my parents were NOT letting me quit. Unlike some parents who see their kids take one tumble and it is game over. The mother of the lady wanted to be the one that told me the horse was mine. Well fast forward to October of the same year and I enter into a walk only test where I get a perfect score. I usually score in the top 3 when I enter. We plan to do the canter eventually but no on the horse I have now. She is about 18 years old and is now getting arthritis in her hind legs. She is used in other lessons other than my own. Plus coach says her canter is not the most balanced and I trust my coach’s judgment real well here. I am an extremely serious rider. I pour my heart and soul into my sport that it HAS affected my driving. Coming home from a lesson, I fell asleep at a stop light about a mile from my house. Luckily the ONLY thing injured was my pride/ego. Now my parents take me to my lessons. My goal is to find a way to go to the 2015 World Special Olympics games in Los Angeles.

        • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm

          Determination, hard work and excellent instruction will help you reach your goals. You are on the right track. I wish you the very best of luck.

  28. Great article! I completely agree “teachers and instructors are the people who have the most powerful influence over the upcoming generation of horsemen and women. Unless instructors choose to develop depth in their own education and unless instructors are willing to slow down and teach the foundation to their students, U.S. Horsemanship will continue on its downward spiral.”
    It may be that horsemanship has been diluted in segments of the U.S. equine industry, but it is not dead. Horsemanship is alive and well and remains central to the educational philosophy of the U.S. Pony Clubs and Pony Clubs around the world. As is safety and the welfare of the horse and rider.
    The U.S. Pony Clubs (www.ponyclub.org) continues to work hard at developing well-rounded riders and horseman. Our motto is “Sportsmanship, Stewardship, Leadership through Horsemanship”. 2014 will mark our 60th year of providing equestrian education. Pony Club within the U.S. is no-longer just for youth, and the English style of riding. The USPC of 2013 is a youth and adult equestrian education organization which supports English and Western style riding and 11 riding disciplines and activities. Horse management is the core educational component to the Pony Club standard of education, and is now offered as standalone educational and certification track.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you for reading my post and for taking the time to add your thoughtful comments here. I believe that United States Pony Club is the best equestrian youth organization in the world.

  29. I thoroughly enjoyed your article and agree with the weakness that you point out of so many instructors and their motivations. By choice we have remained a very small horse barn. Our sole purpose is to teach our riders how to ride safely and enjoy their equine partner. Our students do not learn “how to show”. Too much emphasis is put on showing and not enough on the joy of riding. It is only after students have a firm understanding of the basics and mastered the physical skills that we will even let them think about showing. We have had riders from our farm who have done well showing and some students who will never enter a show ring. The one thing they have in common is their love of riding and the love of horses.

    The goal of too many instructors, students, and especially parents is to learn to show and not how to ride.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      This is so nice to read. People who ride for the joy of riding usually ride all of their lives. Thank you for reading my article and posting your comment

  30. I remember when I discovered a german text – The rider forms the horse – I was mesmerized. I was fortunate to be able to go to germany and embark on an amazing journey to discover what that meant. I constantly need to be reminded, but I will never forget that moment I had, after working so very hard, when I realized it was possible to be of one mind with the horse – if but for a moment. I came back to the US and cringe at the rolling eyes of some trainers and the riders with bad hands who want so very much to be so much better…but the trainer says “good job”, “super”…..An art form of such sublimity has just become a money making machine for so many…

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 26, 2013 at 7:09 am

      Those epiphanies are life changing and exciting. Your last statement about art form makes me think that’s the pivotal moment that our art became an industry. Thank you for your very interesting comment

  31. One is put in mind of that statement by Waldemar Seunig where he writes of the horse’s response to “the rider whose love it feels”.

  32. Agree with this article 100 percent. It’s our responsibility as inductors to continue educating ourselves and to pass on the knowledge correctly and effectively…. To make the “masters” we have learned from proud to have given this “torch” to carry on. Respect +Repitition+Reward =Results.

  33. This is oh-too-true. I spent the first 12 years of my riding career riding with people, un-grounded in basics and classical training, who never taught me to RIDE but rather patted me on the back and congratulated my passenger ability… but CALLED it riding. I have been fortunate now at 24, finding an excellent instructor who is both an excellent teacher with a beautiful balance of push/correction and encouragement, but also a RIDER who has the ability and talent to help me get where I want to go–to take my own horse and complete a 3-day event or horse trial. I have never experienced a teacher like this (a REAL teacher) before, and I NEVER want to go back to the coasting, “everything-looks-fine” passenger ride around the arena that I had accepted as normal and the “best that I could get.” I know from experience that there are many, many instructors that just let their students coast around for fear of scaring them off, overface them and frighten them, teach them poorly or worse, dangerously, and in general do nothing to further their RIDING ability… and they create a strong sense of COMPLACENCY in their students. Having an instructor like the one I do now has rekindled my love for riding, and I often spend more time studying it then I did for some classes in college, and I do this by CHOICE, because my drive has had a fire lit under it by great instruction I never knew I wanted so bad til I found it! If you find an instructor that is grounded in the technical basics and can teach… never let them go. They are the rarity in this country and worth their weight in gold.

  34. I want to thank you for that article. I am a certified trainer and have been for more years than I like to say. I encounter the “want-to-be” instructors on a daily basis and honestly it scares me. Thank you for writing the truth! We all had to start from somewhere, however the self proclaimed, self nominated instructors/trainers are hurting this great sport.

  35. So much truth to this article and thank you for sharing ! As a rider that came up through PC ranks and went on to study (riding & instruction ) in England under Cherie’ Hatton-Hall, I am frequently disappointed by evidence of poor fundamentals of instruction, based on lack of depth of knowledge in the subject, with complete willingness to pass that lack on, resulting in yet more misunderstanding. Another favorite read is William Muse’ler, and Col . Alois Podhajsky.

  36. Thank you for the article. In The Netherlands it is very common that even big name trainers train, take lessons and learn from other big name trainers. There is always room to improve. Trainers that have been teaching for years but never take regular lessons themselves are to me a red flag.

  37. Some of the responsibility of poor instruction can be placed on parents who feel that after a few lessons their little darling should be at the canter, and jumping before a balanced seat has be obtained. Instructors become the horse version of the fast food industry, to keep a client base. I worked as a begging level instructor and found that when the work became difficult many of my students quit, or parents became frustrated that we were not progressing at a faster pace. This one reason the foundation to good riding is being passed over.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Jan
      You are right about this and it’s really too bad that this has become a way of life for American children. Each time a program has an influx of a group of new students, a large percentage will go this way. It’s the tiny percentage, the ones who stick and want to work hard and want the barn life that bring us the satisfaction of a job well done. They’re the ones who will keep the foundation going. We just have to keep looking for that small percentage

  38. Perhaps it is appropriate to quote Dylan Thomas —

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

  39. or even A E Houseman ——

    I Hoed and trenched and weeded,
    And took the flowers to fair:
    I brought them home unheeded;
    The hue was not the wear.

    So up and down I sow them
    For lads like me to find,
    When I shall lie below them,
    A dead man out of mind.

    Some seed the birds devour,
    And some the season mars,
    But here and there will flower
    The solitary stars,

    And fields will yearly bear them
    As light-leaved spring comes on,
    And luckless lads will wear them
    When I am dead and gone

  40. I have to point out that this problem is a World wide one in the whole horse world. I am the founding Chair of the Equestrian Society and chat to the whole world. I am based in South Africa and we are having the same problem her as well.

    My answer is that one MUST be licensed to teach and also to ride, this then gives not only protection for all, but makes every one responsible and then we could have this as a world thing that every one is the same. Any one that wants to join me in the drive to build the worlds largest Society for a better world for the horse mail me at: alan@equestriansociety.org a better world for the best animal in the world.

  41. Blame should go in all directions. How about some of the judges (even at the lowest levels) who are in it for the wrong reasons? They ignore a correctly ridden horse who is the wrong breed for the discipline. Some seem to be in it for prestige or a few bucks on the side. I know some of the stables in my area that host shows do it for one reason only: shows are a huge money maker. Who cares if the student is ready, let’s get all of them signed up for Saturday’s show and in as many classes as possible.

    Someone mentioned parents. Yes, parents also distort the sport for younger riders. They control when the child gets a new horse or what instructor they ride under. One common issue is that parents go ballistic if their child doesn’t ride all lesson, every lesson. When does the child learn how to handle a horse from the ground? When does he learn horsemanship? It doesn’t help that stables market the sessions as “riding” lessons, creating this expectation it’s all about Junior sitting on a moving horse for the entire lesson. And nobody is educating parents otherwise. We need to reach them and explain to them that all that other “boring” stuff is essential for making the child into a better horseman.

    One thing I don’t have a remedy for is the economics of riding. In the past 6 years in my area the cost of feed/hay as just about doubled. Insurance has gone up 20%+. Fuel for the truck that takes the horses to the show is over $4/gallon some areas. Taxes (property and income) have both shot up. However, the average INCOME has only increased modestly for most people. Some people are still out of work due to the recession. When the cheapest (large) group lesson in my area with the not-so-great instructors cost $30 or $40, I don’t know how many people can stick with it as seriously as they need to to get ahead. And, sorry to blame instructors again, but some are still demanding all riders buy big packages of lessons up front. Not everyone has hundreds of dollars laying around just to try the instructor. And that’s not even including the many schooling shows some instructors will push riders, ready or not, to sign up for (plus horse rental fee, horse hauling fees, etc). They’re pricing themselves out of the market.

    • Just read the article Calico and have to say every word is what happens in South Africa and is what I created the Equestrian Society for to try and fix.

      What I think is needed is 1 World Body that sets the standard and controls all Instructors and they must have a license to teach.

      This License MUST also have a protection Insurance for both teach and student as “SORRY” accidents will happen as your are working with an animal.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 8, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Calico
      I agree with you- blame goes in many directions- It’s time to train the parents, too. And it’s time to teach students what riding is actually about. People need to learn that riding is not about horse shows. Horse shows are a product of riding. Horse shows have done much damage to riding. And unfortunately too many parent’s equate success in child rearing to whatever award they can hold in their hand. You have hit on many good points. As far as the $ thing goes- I grew up in the generation that found a way to do the things they wanted to do even if they had to save allowance, muck stalls, or wash the neighbor’s dog, or if they had to stay home from shows in order to be able to ride. Maybe if more people had to work for it, instead of being handed it, we’d see a few things change. I have always believed that even when it comes to showing- my students don’t show with me until they’ve gone to a show to help the others first. You’d be amazed what that does for the work ethic. Thanks for your comment. You’ve got some good points
      Barbara

    • I so agree with everything that you have written. It saddens me that horses are going to be just for the wealthy. As a child I baby sat so that I could pay for my horse show entries and the tack that I needed. I also rode to my lessons, about six miles, worked four or five horses for the stables and rode home again. Maybe it isn’t all the bad instructors, maybe it is also a lack of work ethic on the students part. The student has to be receptive to learning and willing to do the homework. I would hate to see a mandatory licensing on instructors. Not everyone that rides wants to show, licensing would lean more heavily towards the show people. Safety and overall horsemanship should be a must on every instructors curriculum.

      • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 9, 2013 at 8:25 am

        I wouldn’t like to see mandatory licensing either. I don’t think it would improve the situation and would be extremely hard to enforce. School teachers have to be certified and there are lots of not so good ones there, too. (AND there are some very good school teachers!) There are so many kinds of riding and so many different goals that their needs to be much flexibility. A good work ethic and a good example would be very hard to beat.

  42. Not at all sure about this. This world is so over- regulated and over- licensed that we lose freedom. Some of the best riders could not teach and some of the best teachers might not ride that well. Better to teach by example I think.

  43. If such people are pricing themselves out of the market perhaps things are moving in the right direction.

  44. just a point on Regor’s comment and also Calico point of the cost at $30 – $40, that is about the same cost in South Africa (R300 to R400 per hour) only difference is that the top end is all most all for privet 1 on 1 lesson in SA.

    So what’s new in the Horse World???

  45. If my memory serves me correctly it was Waldemar Seunig who wrote to the effect that young people were often learning for the wrong reasons and that few continued to ride anyway; that the best time for a person to be taught was at the age of 18 when they knew why they wanted to learn and were prepared to work at it. (Any errors in the above are mine). Of course these days most 18 year olds have to work for a living or work (?) at university or a college. Difficult; unless the student works at a Stud Farm or a Training Stables.
    The only other way I can see is for the aspirant horseman (I am NOT going to be PC and write horseperson) to take time off and go for fulltime residential training.

  46. This is so true. i may be young. but i see so many riders now adays and have rode with many, that dont know the basics. by their second lesson they were jumping without the basics of riding! which has inspired me to become an instructor so i can teach beginners and even the advanced all the basics in riding that will intern, make the student a better all around rider. it benefits the rider AND the horses they ride in the future! thanks for posting this article!

  47. I love this article, and it really speaks the truth, but I have a question. Why is it bad to count strides? I do this very consciously when on the ground watching and in the saddle, and I’ve never heard anyone say something bad about it before. What’s wrong with it?

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm

      Taeyo,
      Thanks for your comment. Counting strides is not bad as long as it doesn’t become the only way to ride to fences. A good rider should try to develop an eye for distances so that they can ride a variety of fences, even outside of the arena, without having to rely on counting the strides to get there. Counting strides becomes a crutch if it’s the only way a rider can reach the correct take off spot.

  48. I agree with so many posted opinions and would like add one more.

    No longer are instructors held with deep regard and devotion. In our crazy world that demands instant gratification and rewards, the instructors are often ground down under constant pressure and unrealistic expectations.

    When I was a pony clubber in PA, 40 years ago, coaches and instructors were GOD, you dare not complain and their word was law. If you didn’t listen, help and do what you were told with GOOD humor, you were unhorsed and your parents called right away with some question on whether you would be allowed to return. At the very least, you would have to apologize to the entire group for disrupting their opportunity to learn.

    How differently the instructors are treated now. Base disregard for common manners meant for safety of all, belligerence and talking back with parents complaining about having to still pay and like you said, a total lack of care for their mounts.

    I watched a clinic this summer held by a well known Olympian and when he corrected the rider, the parents allowed the child to smart mouth back at him…. at $500.00 a half hour. Perhaps the problem reside in a larger arena than just dressage, perhaps the US needs to learn a bit more about privilege and money hard earned.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply October 30, 2013 at 8:16 am

      Mindy,
      I love what you have said in your comment. We have become a society of entitlement and you’re right, it goes way beyond riding lessons. It’s very ugly. The way we have raised this generation is coming back to bite us now.

  49. I could not agree more. One of my pet peeves is seeing grooms prepare the horses and the kids just get on and ride – then the groom takes care of the horse after. These kids need to be grooming, bathing, tacking, packing feet, icing, etc. I hate it when I see the kid sitting around talking while the groom is caring for the horse.

    • Not only are the horses groomed for these riders, in some of the larger show barns the grooms warm up the horse before the class. The rider just has to perch and pose. Work ethics all around need to be examined, as a beginning level, and therapeutic instructor grooming and tacking are a part of the lesson. Out of respect to the horses putting the bridle on was saved for those with a little more experience.

      • LadyAmericanAutisticDressageRider Reply October 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm

        Yeah I have been told about that. I know how to tack my horse. My problem is I put so much of myself emotionally and physically into my riding that I give out and my coach has to take over for me. I am working on getting stronger. It is so much of myself that I fell asleep at the wheel driving home from a lesson once. It was at a stop light about a mile from my house. Now I have to be “escorted” to my lesson so it doesn’t happen again.

        • my comment was aimed at the spoiled and pampered, not at anyone like yourself who is working through exceptional challenges. I have no way of knowing what you are working through, only the fact that you are working through it–you have my admiration. Many instructors will get on the horse to school it or to help the horse and rider end on a good note. There is nothing to feel bad about here. Perhaps your biggest lesson is not to perfect the next dressage move, but to relax and enjoy the ride. I wish you all the best in your riding, please keep it up, you sound like a person who works hard and deserves the best.

          • LadyAmericanAutisticDressageRider October 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm

            Well I do want to eventually move up. It gets old winning ribbons at the intro level against people who are NOT autistic or intellectually challenged. We now need to start looking for the right horse for me because the mare I have now is getting up there and has medical issues.

          • I’m sure that you will move up the levels, good luck in finding the right horse. The fact that you are showing and in the ribbons shows your determination and also speaks highly of your instructor. Again please enjoy the ride.

          • LadyAmericanAutisticDressageRider November 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

            Yeah I do enjoy it. I just wished I could get my health issues fixed and then I could drive myself to the barn more often to ride.

  50. So true, A great article and a must read for every horse person.

  51. Wow, it makes me so happy to meet a kindred spirit who is truly passionate about teaching and sees it as an art and a calling, not just a way to survive financially in the riding industry. Thank you for your profound thoughts on the subject

  52. I have just now seen this article thanks to a friend. It is a very accurate summary of the current state of instruction, in my view. I will add the following based on decades of experience in this environment.

    1. Too many Instructors are not learning and teaching foundations and basics

    There is no money in the basics today. The money today, it is thought, is in getting the student to a show as soon as possible and then selling them a horse they can board at your barn. Problem is if a student does not have the basics, they have no clue what the proper horse for them might be, so many tend to struggle endlessly with an inappropriate horse they love. But not to worry, the barn can then charge the student extra for riding and training the horse they bought to help them adapt to their inappropriate mount.

    As for having the students read the classic American basic technique writers, very few of today’s instructors know who the Masters are, and they generally do not care to hear their perspective anyway.

    2. Too many riding instructors in America are in the wrong profession.

    “They ride like they really know riding, but as spectacular as they and their horses are (are? not really, most just think they are), they can’t explain why they do what they do.”

    Even if they could explain their good riding, most current instructors can explain little beyond heels down and how to lean on the neck over a jump.

    Part of the problem is today’s student parents look primarily for an instructor that the kid likes. The parents primarily want the kid to be entertained and their self esteem elevated, even if by false success. A kid today who is required to learn real basics and is informed of their failures and successes in learning those basics is not properly entertained in the mind of most parents/consumers.

    3. Too Many Riding Instructors Teach for the Wrong Reasons

    So many generations of instructors have come and gone by now who have been trained in the big group lesson profitable format, that the knowledge of how to run a profitable barn has been lost. Today many people believe in “the bigger the better” principle of a stable. That approach puts too many eggs in one basket. A small to medium diversified stable with loyal riders is best over the long haul. Diversification includes high quality horse training, high quality riding instruction, high quality boarding, competition coaching, ethical assistance in purchasing horses, clinics, and possible other services like taking groups fox hunting.

    It is hard to do many things well. Smaller scale and attention to detail makes it possible. It is easier to do one or two things on a large scale poorly. This is what we see today.

    I apologize for sounding hopelessly critical or cynical, but after many decades of observation I have some conclusions.

    My advice to young instructors is to ride a horse while you teach. Ride a green horse and allow for failure in your riding as you train the horse so that your students can observe and learn from the progress of a young horse. Too many students today think horses are born trained, and they do not appreciate a horse’s training.

    Run your stable like a school not a consumer driven business. Do not accept every student, only committed students. Require a minimum number of lesson per month based on what works to teach a student.

    Don’t be seduced by the money from a quick horse sale to a student or to anyone. Selling a well matched horse will result in more and better long term sales.

    Remember it’s a lifestyle, not a business. Being with horses is a great way to spend your life. It probably won’t make you rich, but it can make you happy and satisfied much of the time.

    Be inspired by your student’s commitment. Be open to their questions and challenges. Teach awareness more than forms. A student who learns to be aware of them self and their horse will learn from riding throughout their life.

    • Your sentiments are spot on. The basics of good hands and seat are being tossed aside in order to get students over fences at any cost. Parents want their child to go to shows and win ribbons as fast as they can. We have become a nation of instant gratification and no one wants to put in the time that is required.
      I have been criticized because my students must first be able to do a proper posting trot before they ever consider a canter. I feel confident that they are able to control the horse and ride figures before moving on.
      Being able to break down what is going on with the riders anatomy is equally important. A good instructor is one that never stops learning, and I so appreciate this forum.

    • Bob you are so right. I am also a photographer as well as a rider. I too learned from a cavalry officer my instructor was Col. Morgan at the Columbus Riding School. I had someone complaining that horse show photographers are so bad these days that they can’t seem to get any good photographs. My comment back was I certainly know when in the stride to take the photograph to make the horse look good but, that I can’t do anything if someone is riding like crap.

      The problem is that people’s eyes are being trained to bad riding. I had someone send me photos and the horse’s mouth was gaping and behind the vertical and she was so happy with her new coach because her horse was so light in her hands. I said excuse me look at your horse does he look happy?

      I look at the top dressage horses and see tense horses that can not bend and yet they are getting insanely high marks.

      Ever tried to jump one of those horses that has been trained behind the vertical? The land on the far side of a fence like a sack of concrete because the muscles at the base of the neck are not developed correctly.

      People don’t want to put the time into training period horse or rider.
      Cathy

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply December 19, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Bob,
      As always, your comments are insightful. Thank you.
      I have a friend whose 9 year old granddaughter was visiting from another state, so I invited her out to see the horses. The grandmother was excited and told me how the child had begun to jump in her lessons at home. My goal was to observe the child around my ponies (not riding) and try to ascertain what kind of instruction she was receiving. I had two questions for her. The first question was “What does your instructor say you do the best in your lessons?” The child almost instantly said “jumping”. But the tell tale answer came when I asked the 2nd question about 10 minutes later. “What does your instructor say you need to work on?” the answer came with a bit of attitude – “Nothing- she never says anything negative to me, if that’s what you mean.”

      • Thank you for your kind words everyone. I know it is getting harder, particularly in this economy, to make ends meet with a stable. I would not want to be a young instructor starting out now. Corn and soy beans are causing farmers to plow up hay fields and plant money crops, forcing up hay prices. There are more consumers of equestrian services (as I like to call them) than real students. Lots of challenges.

        I’ve been at it a long time and the rewards are still there. Walking up to the house from the barn on a dark winter night under a sky full of stars, seeing a kid canter for the first time, getting that first correct precise flying lead change in a young green horse, and so many other things remain as constants.

        It’s what got me into it in the beginning and what has kept me in it so long. The money has gone up and down. The students change with the culture and parenting styles, but there are very precious constant experiences that make this life special. My advice to young instructors and trainers is to take note of these great moments. The moments are the real paycheck in pursuing this life.

  53. Barbara,

    Three questions that can produce some interesting answers —-

    1. Why do you ride?

    2. Why do you want to learn to ride?

    3. Why do want to teach?

    A Happy and Merry CHRISTmas to you and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

    Roger H

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply December 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Roger
      They are 3 very important questions! A Happy and Merry CHRISTmas to you, too. It’s been a blessing to have you as a friend.
      Barbara

  54. Absolutely excellent article! Sadly, there is so much truth to the content. Please keep articles like this coming!

  55. I’m actually very interested in this topic for my master’s thesis in Ag Education- would you be able to discuss with me your sources for statistics and journal articles you have found on the topic? I’m having trouble finding actual quantifiable research on this, even though it’s such a hot topic currently.

  56. Sadly , this article is too true.

  57. I wish it hadn’t taken me all this time to come across this article. So much truth here it’s almost overwhelming. I thoroughly enjoyed every ounce of this article! Thank You!

  58. Carlos Eduardo Massenzi Filho Reply September 10, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    It’s true that there are trainers that don’t focus as much on the basics as they should. It’s true that many trainers end up forgetting the reason why we do what we do. And it’s also true that there are a lot of great riders that aren’t as good as a ground person. But we can’t forget all the great trainers out there, that love what they do, that try to teach as much of the basics possible even knowing most students just want to “JUMP”. It would be great if we had more people that could sponsor those great riders so they could keep doing what they do best.
    If we have those same problems with teachers in our schools and doctors in our hospitals (even knowing they had lots of years of expensive preparation). How could we expect to be different in our industry?
    I was lucky enough to have great trainers thru my career.
    So, if you aren’t happy with your trainer, maybe it’s time to get a new one.

    • Carlos,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes we should not forget the very good trainers and instructors that pour everything they have into their passion. Many of them do their best work when they aren’t even near a show arena. It takes a lot of skill to be able to pass our good knowledge to the next generation and it’s our job to get the next generation to pay attention. Spectacular riders should compete. Many gifted athletes have a lot of trouble teaching because their gift is so natural that they don’t know how to translate what they do into words that are palatable to the ones who are not so spectacularly talented. If you look at the horse world as a pyramid you’ll consider how the base, which is huge and made up of beginners, amateurs, people who may not jump higher than 3 feet or test beyond 4th level, and folk who ride because they love horses. This base is what keeps the pyramid strong so the few with the unusual talent, who make up the peak or point of the pyramid,can do what they do. If the base is healthy and strong; learning the true principles of good horsemanship and the art of riding – we all benefit. And if you’re not happy with your trainer, rather than make the decision to be disposable, I suggest finding out why you’re not happy and what it is you don’t get; after all it’s not always the instructor. And I’m glad to know that you had great trainers in your career. It makes a huge difference. As far as teachers in schools and doctors in hospitals go…I’m sort of a glass is half full person so I believe my industry will be better because I’m here to help. I plan to do my share. And hmmm, just a thought here…maybe the problems with the doctors that you refer to originated with the teachers in our schools!
      Some of us will keep our eyes on the top of the pyramid and others of us will watch that base. It’s all important. Keep positive, Carlos and the best of luck to you with teaching and riding. Thanks for your comment and thank you for reading The Riding Instructor
      Barbara Fox

  59. I agree somewhat with the article as I have seen a lot go on in this area, but there are many of us in ‘the trenches’ who strive to teach horsemanship first and foremost, and the love and care of the animal above all else. I am fortunate to have gained a clientele who embrace the love and care of their horses above all things. I put the horses’ and clients’ safety above anything else and together we make a cohesive barn and a very competitive show group on the A circuit! I think it is attainable to make horse needs and client safety a priority and still be able to win at top competitions as long as you have a solid foundation and are consistent in training and care.

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 11, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Brigitte,

      Kudos! It sounds like you have developed the good mix. We always need more instructors who have your philosophy.

      Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading The Riding Instructor.

      Barbara

  60. I agree with this article 100%! I feel the USEF is absolutely promoting this decline with the tolerance of unrealistic standards and Expectations along with pandering to big money show barns and a lack of accountability for breaking the rules! I have boycotted USEF and useless USHJA for two years. I’ll stay home and teach students how to really ride a horse and be a horseman. That’s more important!

    • TheRidingInstructor Reply September 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Elissa,
      Thanks for your good comment. It would be great if more people would realize that showing is not the end goal for the relationship with horses. Showing is fun (or should be) and can be a good test of your progress with a horse or with your riding but it isn’t an honest test of quality instruction or of a student’s real ability. Kudos to you!
      Barbara Fox

  61. TheRidingInstructor Reply September 10, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Natasha
    Thank you for your well stated and passionate comment. It is sad that the journey seems to hold little value these days, particularly when the journey has no real end…we should be ever learning, ever evolving toward better horsemanship. Horses have so much to teach us and add such quality to our lives but if that is ignored and we chase a perceived success – we truly miss the boat – or should I say in gate? I remember the days when the American Horse Show Association rule book began with a definition of sportsmanship. And I remember a time before dressage (for example) was much of a sport in the U.S. Today I shared a video on The Riding Instructor’s Facebook page that speaks volumes about what competition has done to the art of dressage. I also agree with you that the best way to make a change (or a difference) is for those of us who are passionate about any aspect of horsemanship to police ourselves, set an example of integrity and sportsmanship and consideration for the horse. Set the example and teach it to our students. Lately, in our barn, we’ve been discussing training and conditioning the right way as opposed to the quick to the blue ribbon way. I was encouraged that the conversation favored the right way and finished the day feeling very hopeful.
    Thanks for your comment and thank you for reading the Riding Instructor. Stick to your guns and make a difference, even if it’s one student at a time.
    Barbara Fox

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