A reader had an interesting situation to discuss this week involving a client with two horses in  training  and a plan for their daughter to show.

Normally this would be ideal, except the parents enroll the daughter in after school activities that cause them to cancel lessons—a lot. The horses are in regular training and are winning in shows.

In a nutshell, the instructor said: …she wants to show but is not even close to having the skills to ride these horses much less show them.  Unless this girl rides 3 days a week for the next 6 months to a year there is no way she can be competitive.

Yeah. If You’ve Ever Been in This Situation, Raise Your Hand.

What isn’t stated, but is usually the norm, goes something like this: The parents don’t understand why their daughter, who takes occasional lessons, can’t ride the horses when they’ve invested so much money in training. The horses are winning in competition so their training is working. If the trainer relents and lets the child ride, the parents won’t be happy when their child comes up a loser. Or worse.

The riding instructor will take the brunt of the punishment with a dissatisfied client and possible loss of training horses, to say nothing of the blow to her reputation if the child shows and does it poorly.

This is a tough situation.

I’ll get right to my suggestions. And remember these are only suggestions. I make no promise that my advice will work to solve the instructor’s problem.

Make a Plan

I’m going to call the student Susie, and the two training horses Bunko and Barney.

We’re going to make an entire plan for Susie, Bunko and Barney, that satisfies the Instructor. Then the instructor will have a meeting with Susie and her parent’s, talk it through, and sell the deal.

If the iInstructor and I were face to face, I would ask, “What is the goal?”

The email suggests several

1.  Get the parents to bring Susie to lessons consistently

2.  Get the Susie’s riding skills to the point that she can ride the horses

3.  Susie wants to show

4.  Have a performance the instructor can feel good about

5.  Keep Susie, Bunko, and Barney in training

Which is the Engine?

Which of these goals is the engine that drives this particular train?

Susie wants to show.

The fastest way to get buy-in from Susie’s parents is to hang a carrot in front of Susie so what she wants becomes more important than anything else. We have to get Susie and her parents to put getting to every lesson at the top of their priority list.

The Fastest Way to Get Susie Into the Show Ring

Step One

Find a horse that has been to a million shows, and will pack Susie around the show ring. If it’s a dressage test, find the horse that will do the walk trot test without a rider. Let’s call him Cruiser. Leave Bunko and Barney in the trainer’s hands. Even if Susie could ride them at home she lacks experience. There is no way to meld horses and rider, and have a happy outcome at this point.

Now We Have an Attainable Goal 

Decide what it will take for Susie to successfully compete with Cruiser. Pick a show you know will work. Lay out a plan. Write it down.

And we’re going to change the tone of the problem from Susie ‘isn’t even close, much less etc.’  to ‘If Susie faithfully takes _____ lessons a week for ______ months she will be ready to ride Cruiser in the ____ show.’ 

You have just put a show within Susie’s reach. All she has to do is fulfill your requirements.


Before we move on to the next step, let’s talk about the philosophy the instructor will use with Susie’s parents. Tell Susie’s parents, in order to protect their training investment and keep Bunko and Barney moving up the training scale, the Instructor would like to get Susie into the show ring on been-there-done-that Cruiser so she can get the experience she needs to succeed with Bunko and Barney.

It’s possible Susie will be content for a while, showing packer-boy Cruiser at the lower level, building her confidence.  Beware-as soon as Susie starts winning, her parents will want her on Bunko and Barney, but watch Susie and let her stick with Cruiser until she starts salivating for one of the fancy horses.

Step Two

Remember, the Art of War tells us “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” The natures of horses and humans require the plan be flexible. This doesn’t mean the instructor will be a pushover. Just be ready to adjust stride a little bit.

Choose which horse, Bunko or Barney, will be the first target for Susie to ride. Which one will adapt easiest to being ridden by a newbie?

Make a plan based on the progress of stage one. Susie can also start taking lessons on Bunko when _________. Fill in the blanks- her hands are steady enough to ______, her legs have strengthened enough to _____, she has gotten ___ scores of ____ with Cruiser. The instructor will make this whatever she believes is right.

This is not a plan to show Bunko. It is a plan to ride Bunko. If you play this correctly, riding Bunko in a lesson should be a reward and an addition to the time spent on Cruiser. Bunko does not replace Cruiser until Susie rides him well enough to show.

Step three

What will it take for Susie to be ready to show Bunko. Lay out the plan with the requirements. Pick a target.

Step four

This plan will integrate riding Barney into Susie’s, now very active, equestrian life, and at this point Cruiser should move on to some other starter rider.

Step Five

This is your plan for Susie to begin showing Barney.

This is Not the End

At this point in the plan, Susie is showing both Bunko and Barney. Don’t stop here. Now your plans move from show to show, regional to regional, championship to championship because this whole scenario is driven by Susie wants to show.

It’s Time to Approach Susie and Her Parents 

You’ve laid out the entire plan (remaining cognizant of Sun Tzu) for Susie, Bunko and Barney from beginning to end. Write it down. If you divulge your plan all at one time, Susie’s parents will skip right to step five. Instead, set a conference with Susie and her parents to discuss step one, preparing to show Cruiser at ___ horse show on____. Build some excitement into the plans with your enthusiasm.

Don’t expose your whole plan, but be ready to discuss the highlights they need to hear to get on board. You may want to give Susie a calendar of lesson dates with the show date circled.  Or offer her a star each time she brings the calendar to a lesson. Let her help keep her attendance record. Schedule regular times to revisit your plan with the family and discuss progress, concerns and changes. This keeps you in the drivers seat.

You Have to Sell it

In order to successfully take over leadership for Susie, Bunko and Barney’s joint careers, the instructor has to believe in the plan they’ve developed and sell it to Susie’s parents. Choose real goals that are attainable and approach the goals positively. Not “if she doesn’t ____, she’ll never do ____,” rather  “She’ll be able to _______ in _____ months if she does _____,_____ &_______.” Show them the goals and then put everything in their hands. If six months go by and Susie has taken ten lessons instead of twenty four, and her parents want to know why Susie isn’t in the show ring, you can answer with confidence, but be ready to make a new plan for Susie, so she, Bunko, and Barney remain in your barn.

Now It’s Your Turn

I’ve shared my ideas but maybe you’ve had a situation like this and you had success with different method. Please share your ideas with us in the comments. We can all use encouragement. What would you do to stimulate Susie’s parents to get her to lessons?

Thanks for joining me today!

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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