Beginner riding lesson instructors and their programs are the foundation of the horse industry. Here’s why.

Business Models

There are many models for riding lesson programs ranging from the barn or instructor that teaches to support their showing to the one that makes a business on the show circuit. There is the instructor who teaches with one backyard horse or the instructor who sells horses to students to compete in the big time. Taking a general overall view, one model is not better than the other because they each serve a different purpose. However, none of them would exist without the person who instructs beginners.

Instruction Mountain

A drawing of a mountain with sections labeled for levels of riding, beginner, intermediate, advance, elite

Beginner Level Riders

For me, the beginner level rider includes advanced beginners. This includes riders who are just starting to ones who are jumping up to 3 feet. Riders who can ride out on the trail on a well-trained horse. Ones who attend local shows and local games. If they compete at the higher-level competitions such as A circuit, AQHA shows, or Arabian shows, it’s in the lowest category.  

I put the USPC D levels in the beginner category. Beginner level riders are people who are learning the basics of riding and controlling a horse. At the advanced beginner level, they are trying new activities, such as barrel racing, up to training level dressage, and beginner novice in eventing. Beginner/advanced beginner is a deep level.


The intermediate rider can ride a more difficult horse. They work toward jumping up to 3’6. They are solid at training level dressage and working on first level. In eventing, they are riding Training level. In western riding, they might work with cattle or reining. If an intermediate rider is competitive, they have likely moved past just attending local shows and are onto breed or rated competitions. I would consider a USPC C level (C1-C3) an intermediate rider. They might apprentice as a working student or with an instructor to teach beginners.


The levels become more specific, with fewer members as they go up. An advanced rider can work with a green horse and handle problem horses. If they are competitive, they are riding the A circuit, aiming for championship competitions in breed shows or in rodeo. They are the Pony Club B and A rider, the Hunter Classic rider, the upper-level dressage rider, the jumper, and the upper levels in western riding. They may have their eyes on moving into the elite category, or they may become a trainer or instructor. 


Elite riders, in my mind, are those who have made it to the Olympics or have gained another level of notoriety that few others achieve.

The Progression

If all riders progressed at the same rate in all areas, it would be easy to define stages of ability, but since they don’t, consider my definitions loose. Determining levels is sort of a you-know-it-when-you-see-it situation, and that depends on a lot of circumstances. For my illustration, I hope you’ll agree that there are more beginner level riders than any other level of rider.

It’s true that not all people begin riding through riding lessons, but most riders, in order to get to advanced or elite, have entered the lesson system at some point, be it through regular lessons or clinics. And I think you’ll agree that every rider began as a beginner. I haven’t heard of any baby popping from the womb wearing dressage boots and spurs, although it may feel like that!

Consider What They Bring

Beginner programs and beginner riding instructors are the basis of our industry. Think about what a beginner program brings to the table. They produce the riders who buy helmets and first boots, or the one who moves into competitions and buys show clothes and pays dues and entries. If they buy a horse, they buy tack, pay a farrier and a vet, perhaps board, pay for supplements, hauling, and well… you know how it goes with the money we spend on our horses. You can read The Case for Teaching Beginner Riding Lessons or Beginner Instructor- What’s Your Value? 

The point is, without the opportunities beginner instructors provide for new people to ride, all the other levels would eventually dry up. Fewer horses would sell for big money. And a lot of ancillary businesses would hurt as well. 

The people who instruct beginner riders make it possible for others to have a selective business model. For instance, the model of only taking riders who have their own horse, or those who have started riding, depends on the beginner instructor to get the newbie into condition for them. And there is nothing wrong with their model. If they want to concentrate on showing and developing clients who will go bigger, that’s part of the horse business that will always be around… as long as beginner’s instructors keep teaching.

If all beginner instructors and barns closed or boycotted (and I am NOT suggesting this!!) what would happen first? Aside from there being a huge number of unhappy horse lovers, the junior divisions, including equitation finals, would dwindle and collapse as the junior riders age out and there are no replacement riders. Apparel companies could close their economy lines of boots, children’s sized riding clothes, and affordable adult riding apparel. The market to pass those old show horses to would go soft.

Will We Run Out of Beginner Level Riders?

Here is an article at Good Horse on a few of the qualities of a good instructor. 

The beginner level is not dependent on any other level to survive, except for developing more riding instructors. With over 4,000,000 babies born a year in the U.S., there is a continual new crop of people who want to experience horses. 

The instructors, trainers, and barns who concentrate on the intermediate rider and up serve a good purpose in our industry, but I’m sure they don’t spend their time wondering where those riders come from. If you’ve ever felt “less-than” because you teach beginners or your program is small, stop it right now. Think of it this way. If the riding lesson industry were a crystal goblet, the instructor of beginners is the stem. Without the stem the goblet breaks. In my Instruction Mountain illustration, you are the base. You support the rest of the mountain. You are important. I would go as far to say, you are the most important instructor in the business.

Oh, and the gate at the bottom of the mountain? That’s yours. You are a gatekeeper

The Beginner Mountain

On Beginner Mountain I’ve included types of programs and riding for beginners.

A drawn mountain with labels for beginner riders

I’d love it if you would share what you would change on my Beginner Mountain or what you would add. Send me a suggestion at and I’ll include your suggestions on a new meme and I’ll share it on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor.

Barbara Ellin Fox

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