The riding instructor /trainer – student/client relationship is a conundrum that causes major difficulties for everyone involved. A lot of the issues exist because of a lack of clear definition of “who you are” on both parts.

For simplicity’s sake I’ll use the term “instructor” for all the titles we give to those who teach riding and “student” for student/client/customer, etc.

And for the sake of this blog post we’re going to pull the instructor out of the stable mix and separate him or her from the people that board your horse. This is because horse boarding is a service industry.  Instructing riding is not that black and white.

Instructors are Educators

That’s right. Instructing riding is part service industry and part education. While it’s nice for an instructor to be able to give clients what they want (considered good service by some), it is not what giving riding instruction is about. Riding instruction is about the instructor passing on their knowledge and giving guidance to the student. It’s about teaching you what I know, or at least some of it.

If you come to my barn to begin taking lessons, you are there to learn what I have to teach you about riding. That makes me the teacher (the educator, not the server)- you the student (the learner, not the served).

I haven’t come by my education cheaply, nor have I come by it without putting in a significant mount of time, effort, sweat, pain and even tears. The years I spent taking instruction and the time I spent with my formal education are only part of what makes me a good instructor. The rest comes from years of riding and teaching, and of success and failure. I’ve paid “the price” for my education, as much as any other professional has paid the price for theirs; lawyers, doctors, football players, college professors, you name it. If you don’t believe this, we are off on the wrong foot.

When You Play at My House, I’m in Charge

In my barn, in lessons or clinics that I teach, we do things my way. I am the authority figure. Always remaining teachable, I stay open to new ideas and different points of view.

With the busy lives we all lead I do my best to adapt to the needs of my students.  Flexibility is part of developing good relationships. But adapting can be a chink in the armor of a dedicated instructor. It can be hard to adapt without feeling like you’re compromising important standards, but that’s why an instructor needs to have a firm grip on what is most important to them.

Each instructor needs to decide what they will stand on and where they can bend. For instance, I’ll work with a lot of personality types, a lot of different goals, financial statuses, and personal issues, but areas I won’t “give” on are how horses are treated, the attitude of my clientele; solid basics or integrity.

Taking riding lessons from a particular instructor is not your right. It’s your privilege and opportunity. I also view teaching my students the same way. We are fortunate to have one another.

How Do We View Each Other?

If more students would look at their instructors as teachers, and less as stepping stones to winning blue ribbons, a lot of the friction would go away. And if more instructors would look at the time you set aside to take a lesson from them as important down to the minute; or the money you hand over for the lesson as a product of your hard work, a lot of this friction would go away.

Think of These Things:

Our time is precious; yours and mine
Your success affects my success.
You represent my work/knowledge.
You represent your work and what you have learned.
We work hard for our money, you and I

As a riding student you have invested money into purchasing the clothing and equipment your instructor requires that you use for lessons. You’ve spent the time locating your purchases. When you sign up for lessons you clear your schedule for that time period, plus for the time it takes to get home from work, change, drive to the barn, and afterwards return to your home. It’s a lot more than the actual half hour or hour lesson.

You need to be respected for your investment and you expect a return for your investment; namely a riding education. When you pay an instructor for riding lessons, the student has not then purchased an instructor, rather you have purchased a predetermined amount of the instructor’s time.

Students Have Choices

As a student you have choices to make that go beyond your dreams of becoming the best rider you can be. Everyone has character flaws; riding instructors and students. You need to decide which ones you can deal with and what you can’t. And you need to develop the kind of relationship you want with an instructor.

Will you keep it professional or are you looking for an instructor/buddy relationship? Do you want to be stroked and flattered? Or are you wanting to be pushed to the best of your ability, maybe even farther, so that you can do amazing things? Are you a self-starter who wants to learn how to be independent in riding while continuing to learn? Are you dependent; a person who needs to be guided through every step of every process from choosing a helmet to going to a show? You can make good choices that will enable you to have a strong relationship with your instructor by determining your needs and choosing the right instructor..

Who Makes the Real Change?

I’ve received emails from readers complaining instructors don’t do things the way the reader wants them to. Think about this, the only person we are capable of changing is ourselves; and sometimes even that seems near impossible. If, for instance, you are fearful, your instructor can create a safer, slower environment for you and you may seem to be improving, but truly getting over fear has to come from inside you. Or if you are not placing where you want in shows, say because your lower leg swings, your instructor can tell you ways that you can improve your leg but if you don’t spend the time in the saddle, it will never happen.

The actual change comes from you. Should a student take lessons from an instructor with whom they’re not in agreement and get annoyed when the instructor doesn’t change for them?

Does the Student Know More Than the Instructor?

Sometimes a  prevailing attitude seems to be that the student knows better than the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t change, some students believe it’s their right to stick around and bad mouth him or her, especially if there isn’t another instructor conveniently located to them. Or they complain that the instructor does things at his own convenience.

It’s as if the student believes the instructor owes them more than what they are paying for. Perhaps that’s because most instructors go the extra mile to help their students. But, please, if you’re going to take riding lessons from me at my facility, on a horse that I paid for, using tack that I purchased, and ride in an arena that I pay for and maintain, please think twice before you decide you have the right to determine how I do things.

Paying for riding lessons, even paying for a lot of riding lessons, does not make me your employee. I have had instructors tell me, “Because they give you money, students think they own you.”

I also hear from people who complain that their instructor doesn’t take them to enough shows. Or I hear from horse owners who say the instructor won’t give the room in the trailer when they want it. My mind boggles over this sort of complaint. If you have a problem with having to be invited to share a ride in a horse trailer belonging to someone else, the simplest solution is to buy one of your own. You’ll also need a hauling vehicle to go with it. At that point, not only can you go to horse shows when you want to, you can also go to clinics  and other fun activities. And you could even give a friend’s horse a ride.

Let’s Talk About It

Most instructors and  students bend over backwards to accommodate one another. It’s a give and take relationship. This requires work. If you have an issue, discuss it with your instructor. Find out when she has time to sit down with you and talk. Make an appointment. The worst thing you can do is bad mouth someone instead of facing them on an issue. It makes you look bad. And if you and your instructor can’t work out your differences, then it’s probably time to move on. But watch the gossip and the bad mouthing. It nevers make a person look good.

Let me give you an example, although it has to do with boarding. I was approached by someone asking if I would board her horse. She was unhappy with where the horse was currently living and needed to move it. I told her I was sorry, but I only board horses that belong to students. I suggested several other barns in the area but she had complaints about each one. Fortunately, she found a place for her horse.

A few months later, the same woman emailed me asking if I would reconsider taking her horse because the new barn was not satisfactory. She listed numerous reasons. I knew in that moment, that I had made the right choice by turning her down. My impression was that she was never satisfied and bad mouthed every place she went with her horse.  Why would I open my barn door to that? She gave me a very clear indication of what it would be like to have her as part of my program.

We all want to be treated fairly. It’s the riding instructor’s job to make clear how things are done in her program. It’s the students job to decide whether or not they can live with the program. Rarely, in my experience, have I found a student that I could not work with, but I strongly suggest that if you find a particular instructor is not for you, don’t prolong the pain.  Look for another instructor that can give you what you need. Just be sure you have a realistic idea of what you are paying for when you purchase riding lessons.

Relationships are tough. Unmet expectations, excessive demands, micro management, assumptions, and bad attitudes need to be brought under control by both the instructor and the student. It is possible to have a great relationship between instructors and students, and instructors and ex-students. It just takes effort from both sides.

Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • So I just came back from a one on one lesson, and my instructor means bussines. He had me run 2 laps around the outside arena and do 10 pushups and then repeat, it’s for getting in shape he said. So anyway, I got to ride after that and I was on a 20 m circle in which he put a small X and I was cantering and he instructed me to drop the stirrups when he reached the number four (he was counting strides I suppose) and then take them back after the jump. I was kind of afraid of dropping them and didn’t do it. I did apologize and wanted to try again but he said first he has to make sure that I will listen and do as he says. So he got me off the horse and told me to do another 10 pushups (I found it rather funny but didn’t say a word). While I was doing the exercise he put his foot on my back, pushed me to the ground and told me to get up, of course I couldn’t, he told me to try harder or I’ll get sand in my mouth. He finally took pitty on me and said the way I felt was the same way he felt when I didn’t listen, that he wants to teach me but he can’t do it if I don’t let him and that from now one the first rule will be obedience, that I am not allowed to question his methods because he will never put me in a dangerous situation, the second rule will be discipline and that next time I choose not to do as he says it will be a lot more humiliating then pushing me in the sand, and the third rule was that I have to ask for permission to speak when I am in the saddle and he may or may not grant me that permission. That being said the lesson continued ok from that moment on, I did everything he said, of course there wasn’t any “that was good” or even a smile but the big surprise was that at the end he said “you’re showing this summer and you have to come every day free of charge”. Wait what? I said yes, thank you (you can’t say no to this guy) but right now I need some tequila shots or a bottle of wine to come to terms with what just happened.

    • JoJo if this was a lesson I took I’d be joining you for tequila shots. Since I can’t tell whether or not you are wringing a spoof, I’ll say this. If your post is a spoof-good writing. If your post is not a spoof I’d say as a riding instructor and as a woman- never go back. It’s abuse. Barbara Ellin Fox

      • It’s not a spoof, I wish it was. I understood he was trained the same way and I also know that many students put up with his behaviour because he produces very good riders in shows. He didn’t hurt me, but I also think it is abuse. It’s a pitty I like riding and there is no one close in my area but him.

        • JoJo, this is very sad because it sounds as if the man has serious ego issues and can only succeed by intimidating his students. Please keep looking for someone else. Don’t put up with abuse, whether it’s verbal, emotional or physical. Barbara

  • Barbara, Your calm considered wisdom, your compassion and understanding and the constant validity of you advices impress me beyond measure. As a human being dealing with human beings I could learn much from you. My Regards, Roger

    • Dear Roger,
      You are way too kind in your assessment of me. Thank you. I am grateful to have learned much from you. Barbara

        • Dear Roger,
          Oh dear. I hope you’re not implying I’m unteachable. I thought our discussions were thought provoking and mentally stimulating, even if there were a few things we didn’t agree on.

          • Barbara, Barbara. How could I imply that? I meant that there was nothing for you to learn from me. The few things where we did not agree were probably more a matter of circumstance rather than principle. You have my great respect.

  • I agree with a lot of what you say. And I do get that it is instruction that students are paying for but I don’t agree that it is not a service you are providing. My husband is a physician he has a very well know practice and has been successful for many years at it. Because he treats it as a service industry. People keep coming back to him. In your industry you do have to do a certain amount to make your students happy despite just giving good instruction. I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the table as I am sure many have. I have found on the student end that those instructors who recognize that their job is not just teaching me but also showing respect and kindness and professionalism earn my business which to me makes it a service industry. And I happily return those qualities to my instructor along with payment. On the instructor end i find that developing a open lines of communication and treating my students with care and respect help them to learn from me because along with liking my instruction they like who I am. This is especially important with children. Parents do want role models and they will pay more for it. When it comes to my kids I have even let the level of instruction be sacrificed so that my kids ride with someone who they and I can respect.
    I thought your response to not being included in a trailer ride a bit over the top. I cant remember the exact wording but it ended with “get your own trailer” That is not kind or respectful. If my instructor said that to me I would be on my way to finding a new one. I make this point because i feel it supports my idea that it “is” a service industry.

    • Laura Pteros,
      Thank you so much for your thorough comment on Riding Instructors and Students – Who are you?

      You are mistaken when you indicate that I don’t believe riding instructors provide a service. I said riding instruction was not a service industry. Providing a service is not the same thing as being a service industry. Do you believe that public school is a service industry or is it an educational industry?

      I would suggest that people keep coming back to your husband because he is a good doctor, not because he provides a service. If a doctor is not good at what he does, no amount of good service will make people return. Your husband is a good doctor who provides service, which is certainly better than a good doctor who provides lousy service.

      Treating people kindly and with respect makes good business sense no matter what the industry is. You say “. . . showing respect and kindness and professionalism earn my business which to me makes it a service industry.” It seems the issue is the difference between our definitions of service industry. I believe treating people with respect and kindness is an indicator of the character of the individual, not of a service industry. Good character should always be sought. This post speaks about instructors and students being respectful of each other; their time, their incomes, their goals, their results. It also addresses the need for communication between instructors and students. It’s definitely a two way street.

      And if you spend any amount of time on the Riding Instructor you will find professionalism a common thread through posts.

      You also wrote “When it comes to my kids I have even let the level of instruction be sacrificed so that my kids ride with someone who they and I can respect.” In the post I state “Look for another instructor that can give you what you need. Just be sure you have a realistic idea of what you are paying for when you purchase riding lessons.” This is exactly what you have done. Kudos for making a choice that suits your needs. If it is more necessary to be treated a particular way than it is to have the best instruction then you have made a good decision. Others might choose the best instruction no matter what the cost. It depends on your goals.

      I take exception to your last statement “I thought your response to not being included in a trailer ride a bit over the top. I cant remember the exact wording but it ended with “get your own trailer” That is not kind or respectful. If my instructor said that to me I would be on my way to finding a new one. I make this point because i feel it supports my idea that it “is” a service industry.”

      You infer that there was meanness in what I wrote.

      First let me point out that commercial haulers are in a service industry. Most riding instructors are not commercial haulers. Here is what I wrote about the trailers: “I also hear from people who complain that their instructor doesn’t take them to enough shows; won’t give the room in the trailer when they want it. My mind boggles over this sort of complaint. If you have a problem with having to be invited to share a ride in a horse trailer belonging to someone else, the simplest solution is to buy one of your own, and a hauling vehicle to go with it, then not only can you go to horse shows when you want to, you can also go to clinics and other fun activities.” I hardly think that is over the top, as you put it. In my years of teaching I have spoken to many students about getting their own trailer and have never lost one because of it.

      While I appreciate that you read my blog post and took your time to comment on it, I’m sad that you seem to have missed the meaning of the post.

      The best to you, Barbara Fox

  • Hi My name is Linda Finstad BHSAI I love your post on how to earn a living as a riding instructor it was very accurate. However in tough times riding instructors have to get a little more creative with their lesson plans and also how they attract new clients – check out this – you might find it very interesting
    How to make $50,000 teaching equine behaviour and communication
    this is NOT a get rich quick scheme it requires work but the detailed lesson plans and marketing blueprint make it very easy to expand your teaching business and make more money

  • And then there are the instructors who really are not any good. Of course they’re in control when you take the lesson. The only thing you can then do as a student, I have found, is vote with your feet. This has become a bigger problem as my riding has advanced; I now find that some qualified instructors are less experienced and knowledgeable than myself (nearly 40 years of riding lessons under my belt now!). More’s the pity.

  • I just have to agree with you. I have been taking horse riding lessons in Romania for about 7 months now and I have a wonderful instructor. There were moments of friction when he sometimes got angry and shouted at me (and believe me, he can yell really loud) because although I tried my best I just couldn’t get a horse to canter. But in the end it was all in my benefit, I understood that really listening to him and doing things his way got me to where I am now, and I’m pretty happy about my knowledge so far.

  • Thank you Barbara,

    Your summary is very much like my experience. Your comments on services is a the heart of it, I think. We have two sayings here at the barn, (1) It’s a sport not a hobby, and (2) We only teach students, not consumers of equestrian services. The second addresses what you said about parents and riders wanting instruction in certain ways, which usually translate into some version of, “the customer is always right”. I believe it is the contemporary self image of Americans being primarily consumers that distorts their experience of learning. Many become unteachable in their pursuit of expressing their consumer within.

    I’m old fashion. I teach most lessons from the back of a horse, as my instructor did. I am usually riding a green horse while the students are on well trained mounts. This more than anything sets the tone. I demonstrate, poorly as it might be sometimes on a green horse, explaining how the horse might be experiencing its learning. If a student expresses a complaint about their horse failing them, I will mount their horse and demonstrate the horse’s capability.

    Few consumer types will argue with direct experience of an instructor demonstrating, especially when the lesson is technically complex. My point is the same as yours. Students must respect their teacher and riding well is very effective in accomplishing respect in the minds of students.

    • Thank you Bob. Your explanations and comments are always so clear and you make excellent points, talents of a good instructor!

  • Oh my, that resonated. A lot. One of my greatest frustrations as a riding instructor is students who come to me for lessons but who’s schedules are too busy to fit a lesson in when I am available. Early on when I taught I would go out of my way, even making special trips to the farm to teach when it was convenient for my students. It was never enough. I’ve had to learn to set a schedule for myself and stick to it. My time is important, not renewable and unending. And YES! you said it when you stated that our knowledge has been paid for in a variety of ways. To feel like an indentured servant when in reality you are a qualified professional trainer has a very devaluing effect. Thank you for taking time to collect these concepts in your blog. I hope it helps to educate people to form better, more realistic and healthy relationships.

    • Bethanie,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I especially like your statement about your time not being unending/renewable. Time is so precious.

  • My thoughts on the three things to consider when trying to improve your relationship with your student(s):

    1. Be able to prove to your students that your methods are solid via literature in any form from other professionals in the field via…books, magazines, video’s, anything. I like going to watch a clinic with a student, observe and note the strengths and weakness’ in each pair. In private talk about each pair and share your thoughts with your students. My favorite activity is spending a day at a dressage show with your student. Spend time watching many rides at various levels. During each ride(quietly and privately)point out the good the bad and the ugly about the ride . Then pick an approximate score for each ride and see how your guess measures up to the actual score given by the judge. Then have your student do the same thing with riders that ride at their level. The most common method I use to help connect with my students (which I use often and feel is very important to their learning to trust in what I teach)…. is to let them watch me ride. During the ride I provide them with commentary as to what I am doing, what aids are being used to get a certain result or a correction, and answering any questions that they have along the way. Watching is an important tool and many students are able to transfer the information learned via “watching” better than just doing. People learn differently. It can also be extremely useful to your connection to your student that you are willing to give them this gift of learning even if it is not during their lesson time. The trust that they develop from that connection is really important.

    2. Be sure your student knows how you got where you are, (even if your not riding Grand Prix)….let them know who you rode under, your riding/showing/training and instructing background etc,(even if there has been a break in your riding, my break was to raise three children… still I found when I went back to riding/training and teaching, I had not lost anything except physical conditioning). The other day I had a young lady at my current barn ask me as I untacked my Dutch mare (who is going solid Prix St. Georges, and is schooling the Grand Prix movements) “how long have you been riding?”. When I told her 49 years, her jaw dropped. Nothing good is learned overnight. Another thing that students need to understand is that great riders and/or great trainers do not always make great instructors. Everyone has their niche. Interaction with actual people and being able to convey your knowledge in a way each student can understand and feel encouraged by it is not a given.

    3. Find out what your students goals and expectations are from the beginning. If they are a green rider and want to be a fourth level rider, be honest with them about what it will take for them to get there. Unless they are gifted toward the discipline you are teaching it may take quite some time. If they also have a green horse that is conformationally not going to be a fourth level horse, you should be honest with them about that. The sooner they understand what type of horse is capable of the level they expect to ride the quicker they will set their sites on such an animal. They must also understand that learning to ride while also training said horse (without the skill set to accomplish this) will take additional time and have it’s own set of frustrating moments. In my opinion there is nothing like a well schooled horse for your students to learn how to get correct results from just by following your instruction. A student whom expects to excel quickly while trying to train their own horse at the same time will most likely have a slow go of it compared to students who can access a really good school horse who can show them the ropes. This can be very disappointing to your student as a rider. Their expectations of progress based on their dedication to their riding and the needs of their untrained horse need to be clear. I often think, let the well skilled riders ride, let the great trainers train, let great instructors teach and let all riders learn in whatever fashion they can. Sometimes a person fits in more than one of these categories, and sometimes a person can be all of these things. To be great at any one or all of these things takes an enormous amount of time, effort and generally speaking, money.

  • I read your article with interest and I think you make some excellent points, particularly regarding respecting your knowledge.

    As the owner of a large training and boarding facility, I am, as you say, the provider of a service. I take that responsibility very seriously and I embrace any and all difficulties and problems with as much grace as possible. The two professional riders and trainers who train out of my facility share my philosophy of dealing with any and all issues with graciousness. With that, I do not ever see them compromise their professionalism or ethics. I do see them handle issues with firmness and the strength of their convictions.
    I think it is possible to have both the respect of the clients, and the option to be questioned if something might be perceived as wrong.


    • Sally,
      Thanks for your comment. One of my subversive goals when I write blog posts is to draw people into conversation 🙂 and I particularly love to hear from people who have found their formula and are happy and succeeding. It is encouraging and refreshing to those who are trying to find their way. It sounds like you have developed a group with not only quality professional skills but also the ability to discuss issues without feeling threatened. The emails that I get from people who are struggling with relationships make me sad. There seem to be an equal amount of complaints from trainer/instructors as there are from students. Much it really does boil down to respect, doesn’t it? Respect, honesty, belief in a set of standards and a healthy dose of good old fashioned manners and consideration. America has such a diversity of types of instruction and spans a great variety of types of operations that people can be left muddling along in unhappy situations. If you had 3 pieces of advice for Instructor/Student relationships that are struggling, what would they be?

    • Just finding this blog and comments. I’m a parent, payer of my child’s riding education. She has only been in it for 5 years. I am with a small outfit instructor who is sole instructor with limited ponies. She use to have a larger outfit years ago but downsized and moved. I fully respect someone’s program is their program and each student will progress at different speeds. A couple years ago I sort of questioned how does the child help understand how to achieve their goals and really was trying to find out if she was on a track to achieve her own little goals (I verbalized her goals to the instructor for her). And then just recently tried to have the same conversation as I had to make a decision on if I allow her to go out for her school’s equestrian team, if the moment was right for that. What I got back was a chewed out rant that came out like vomit and implications I should take my child and move on. How dare I question the instructor’s seat assignments. I tried to explain I believe there has been miscommunication. I had to let the tirade just fall down on me. And I heard what I felt was defensiveness of the past 5 years of her instruction and if there was failing it was due to my daughter. That my daughter didn’t progress a couple years ago because she lacked focus. She said only recently have things been clicking with my daughter and that is showing since she entered the jumping program and haven’t I even paid attention to her saying that the jumping on the horse she has picked is going really well? Hey that is fine if that was the case a couple years ago but I also believe I should have been given feedback at the time if she felt there was a focus problem. A discussion of if the riding slot selection could be working against my daughter. Not to hear about it years later. I also got told how can I expect my child to ever progress if all I do is one lesson a week and allow my child to take tennis camp and do lacrosse. It will never be more than a hobby or activity if she does more than one thing. I never responded to these things. I have a hard enough time getting her to offer more than one riding slot option for me as it is when we pick a regular slot each quarter so I’m really stumped how I could possibly step up her riding. She now does 6 lessons a month (vs once a week) but again that seems to be painful. I believe her dance card is pretty full and again it is a sole instructor outfit. I admit and have told her yes it is hard to coordinate the schedules of all of these children. I get it, I have my own pain point coordinating the schedules of my own children’s activities so I understand. I don’t beat her up over it, I don’t feel she is a failure at it or blame her for it. It is the reality.

      So what are reasonable instructor/parent and child progress exchanges and frequencies for them? What are reasonable questions? I believe what caused the tirade really was me initiating communication on 2 things: 1. Was it a good idea to allow my daughter for this upcoming year to try the school equestrian team as I feel she doesn’t transition horses quickly still (she doesn’t get the chance to transition horses to be honest) and 2. I know my daughter has a goal of wanting to be able to move up to the next pony/horse. What is realistic, where is she at, what are some obtainable goals beyond what the instructor has picked for the next immediate step (really a true progress report and a better picture of the roadmap beyond the one next step) and am I somehow impacting things on the slots I pick and the partner assignments that forces. A reminder of if I’m impacting some of this please let me know. I do not feel asking that when you don’t really get a smaller view of the roadmap or ever any discussion of goals is unreasonable nor does it mean I am questioning her seat assignments. I do not feel I was attacking her program. I wanted and needed a pulse.

      I had to make a decision on the equestrian team. When I originally brought up the topic what I felt I got was though it may be fun have you thought about the risks. I felt back then I even got feedback that she has great form on jumping but no feedback of I think another year of growth would position her better. It was just warnings of the chaos of the school programs. So I was left with my daughter saying I understand if I don’t do this but I really would like to do it. I had to make a final decision for the next school year and was trying to form the pro and con list and if that was a reasonable thing to attempt. So I was trying to get a true progress report to add that to the decision. I reminded her of that and said without any other input I had to decide x. Let me know if I’m off base on this decision.

      Shouldn’t there be periodic discussions of the child’s goals and progress. What it would take to get to them, what are the next steps, etc. Is that unreasonable? If those discussions are not happening how do you ask the question without it seeming like you are challenging the instructor’s program or seat judgment.

      During the tirade, all I could respond was this is blindsiding me and hasn’t been building up for me. I apologized and said I really wished the instructor had just said something to me a couple years ago and I can’t change any of that so sorry is all I can say. I was not questioning seat judgment.

      Maybe it is time I move on. I feel it is hard to find a good environment for lessons. I did approach the topic with my daughter. I said how would you feel if I looked to find another place to augment your riding and maybe with the goal to eventually change over if we find a right match. I did request she not discuss this with her instructor. She gave me some feedback of it may be okay but she would miss the current ponies and some of her friends and she thinks her instructor is good. She said the instructor can be strict but she thinks she needs that sometimes. I said well lets think about it and just let this evolve. I have to face the reality that the instructor clearly must not like me/get along with me or like if I ever ask a question. If I find the need to ask one again there is a good chance she will decide her dance card is full and removing my daughter from it doesn’t hurt her financially. I almost feel like I do need a safety net and not to be left with no riding options for my daughter. I pay ahead of time, we always bring fresh carrot bunches to every lesson for the horses, and we are always on time. I did not feel like I was a problem parent or that my daughter is a problem student in the program but if someone threatens it isn’t working out once, isn’t it reasonable to say the person will pull the trigger at some point and I will be left with a heartbroken child?

      • Dee,
        Your comment makes me very sad. There is a fine line between an instructor needing control of their program in order to insure the best quality instruction for students and an instructor who needs control for control’s sake. I am at a disadvantage, not knowing where you are or what else is available in your area. I’m sure your daughter must be fairly secure with her instructor, having ridden with her for 5 years which would make a move very serious.

        Not knowing the format of the riding program I’ve had to deduce some things from your comment. I’m not sure I know what you mean by seat assignments, but maybe I don’t need to know that. If I’m understanding this correctly you wanted to find out if i was wise for your daughter to join her school’s (academic school?) equestrian team and you wanted to understand the long term goals and plans for your daughter’s riding progress. I hope I’m understanding correctly.

        Those hardly seem like topics that should cause a tirade. I’m wondering if the school’s equestrian program is connected to a different instructor – which could indicate fear of losing a student to someone else. Not being willing to discuss future plans (more than just the next move) indicates that maybe there aren’t any future plans or it might suggest someone who is trying to put your child in their mold. That is just a long distance opinion.

        Yes a parent should expect to be able to have discussions about their child’s progress and goals. No one deserves to be spewed at, ever.

        In my humble opinion you may be in a situation that has a time limit where the clock is ticking down. I don’t know if your daughter is at risk for receiving the results of the next meltdown. You need to evaluate the other instructors in your area an determine if there is a better situation for your daughter. It is hard to change barns but if you see this going down a bad path ou might have to decide which pain is least.

        You mention that the instructor teaches on ponies, do you mean literally ponies as in under 14.2 hand animals? If this is the case won’t your daughter soon out grow these smaller animals? Or are you referring to ponies as equines in general?

        I do want to mention the frequency of your daughter’s lessons. I understand that the instructor has not made more openings. I just want explain a little bit how this can be viewed. So much depends on the goals of the child (this reverts back toyour desire for conversation). When we look at youngsters who want to excel, even compete in the Olympics one day, we see people who have to be willing to put everything, all of their time and resources into their sport to achieve their goal. Working back wards from there to worthy goals that are perhaps not so lofty as Olympics, let’s say horse shows or horse ownership, a child is still looking at a serious commitment as far as time and expense go. Because there are no opportunities to practice riding outside of the actual lesson a child that wants to excel at riding needs to have more than one lesson a week. Things like tennis and lacrosse can be practiced and conditioned for outside of actual lessons, so it’s acceptable to do those lessons on a periodic basis (unless your child wants to make it to the top in either of those sports.) Once a week lessons in horsemanship are suitable for an average pleasure rider. I hope this makes sense to you. And I know you were trying to discuss goals.

        Some children ride because they like the friendships and the horses. Other kids ride because they want to compete. I recommend that you and your daughter discuss her goals and then plan accordingly. I sense that you’re trying to do that. If she’s in to riding because of friends and the love of horses, you might consider staying where you are and doing the best you can to stay out of the line of fire. Sometimes we parents have to sacrifice that way. But if your child is wanting to move up in her riding and is being held back, then perhaps you should consider an alternative place to ride.

        A word of caution. If you try out other places while she is still enrolled with her current instructor you may risk a blow up if the current instructor finds out.

        I wish I had a better answer for you. I really feel your pain in this both as a riding instructor and as a mother. Please keep trying for your daughter’s sake. Let me know if I can help.

        • Barbara:

          Thanks for the reply. By seat assignment I mean mount or what pony she assigns any student for a lesson and related I guess is when she allows them different challenges (either to try a new pony/horse or try a new skill). On pony I really do mean a couple of them are ponies, and a couple are horses. We are talking middle school age and if child is petite then still in safe zone of sizing. We are also talking ponies at the max size to still be called a pony.

          So there is little feedback on progress is my realization. I had to get an answer on should I allow my daughter go out for the school equestrian team (yes school related and they require no experience just that the child is in a program of at least 4 lessons per month) or is her riding not at a level for it to be a good idea With the school program you still maintain riding with your instructor and the school team just meets once a month with an instructor of another barn for a group lesson situation. Others in her program have done it with other local schools. I tried to ask her about it and really never got input on my daughter actually in the fall. The response was do you know how crazy those programs are and how dangerous some barns/instructors are, etc. I really have no concept of her progress or even yearly/quarterly/some increment goals or where she is taking her and teaching my daughter.

          I realized only just now that a couple years ago and then at this moment I was being misinterpreted. My questions were being taken as me trying to say what horse she should be assigned, what she should be doing, maybe what I felt she has achieved, that I was maybe questioning her judgement, teaching, and assessment of my child. That was not what I ever have thought or intended. All I could say is I believe there is a misunderstanding, I really wished you had mentioned something sooner and all I can say is I am sorry as I never intended this. I am not sure if that is believed as I’m still shocked she took me trying to elicit feedback a couple years ago this way and never said anything. So that misunderstanding she sat on has festered for a bit..

          She has at times talked of other parents that asked “odd” questions like can my child train some at home. I walked away after this reacting to me thinking you know what I believe these parents may have asked that for a couple reasons:
          1. She does make comments at times like glad to see you child is doing xzy, I love cross training to build up muscles that will make their legs stronger and help her.
          2. She does move slowly with most of the kids (other parents talk about that) but also as a parent you do not get feedback so you are left to wonder about progress and what if anything (besides more riding slots if you can get one) can help if the child wants it. Seems like the answer you have given is more riding slots if the child wants it 🙂

          I get what you are saying though about frequency and really understanding child’s overall goal. I need to understand that to put perspective on my daughter’s other goals. And if it is for it to just be an activity and for the love and joy I have to decide though is this the right place for that activity/love/joy.

          I’m in maryland. I fear some of the places have very large group classes. I’m not sure if that format is good or bad. I have no perspective on what is a reasonable number of students in a ring at one time.

          I appreciate the response. I am trying to understand is feedback unreasonable and how can one ask for it if you are not getting it and not offend or seem like one is trying to subvert an instructor’s program. Clearly I did offend. There are always 2 sides to every story. I really did feel some swipes were taken at my daughter. So if I ignore the disrespect that happened to me, I’m stuck on that point at the moment. I lost some respect and trust after this. i apologized when I realized she felt disrespected regardless.

          Thanks for your perspective.

  • Barbara: This was a great article. Thank you for writing it. I don’t personally own a barn, but I do own a Dutch mare whom is schooling the Grand Prix movements (she is a work in progress). I also am able to use her for lessons for all level students when she is stabled at my home or in a barn that accepts outside instructors (a barn that does not have their own instructor on site). While my education and riding/showing time over my lifetime spans many, many decades, in various disciplines I consider it solid with several Olympic level riders/ instructor’s over the years teaching me a solid classical upbringing. I very much enjoy teaching, especially seeing my students excel, I push them a bit to show them how good they can be. I like to be friends with them and communicate outside of our lessons as time allows. I like them to come to where ever I keep my horse during the year to watch me ride. It is a great tool for them to see what correct riding can accomplish. What I find most difficult about being an instructor is watching another instrucors student struggle every day with things like basic position, riding their horse through into the bridle even though they have been taking lessons with their instructor/friend for many years and swear by them..there just isn’t any visible results of that effort/time and money. Nail in the coffin for me is watching their instructor ride the very same horse and not seeing much difference between what the instructor can accomplish with the horse and the student/owner. When the owner asked me one day to get on her horse and try him out (a Gypsy Vanner, 5 year old gelding)….he was forward, through into the bridle and accepting all my aids in less than 30 seconds. So, I know for a fact it is not the horse. So, I still to this day feel badly that she is in the situation she is and can’t seem to find a way out of it. For me personally, I try hard to put things like this that I encounter out of my mind and stay focused on the students I can help. Another day at the same barn, I had a hunter jumper gal ask me for a quick dressage lesson as part of a two phase event she planned on going to the next day (little late to ask for help, but I did not turn her down). Not only did she spend the first 10 or 15 minutes arguing with me about basic position and application of the aids…I actually ended up telling her, “you asked me for my help, and I volunteered to help you to accomplish your goals today, but, you as the student have to trust me, and not argue with the instruction given… you will see results…just have faith that you can get there today with my instruction…all you need to do is follow them. …Trust that I know what I am talking about even if it goes against your hunter jumper training”. Once she opened her mind to what was being taught, and followed my instruction, she did pretty darn good with keeping her horse forward, through into the bridle and was able to re-adjust her position enough to affect the horses way of going in just one session. I do feel sometimes that “it is my way or the highway”, especially when it comes to the basics of classical dressage training. I feel my students get what they pay for every time we have a lesson together. I feel they improve every time they ride by learning to ride every step. It is very satisfying for both of us. Again, thank you for writing this article, it was well worth the read.

    • Beverly,
      I love reading this. I think there are some very fortunate riders who benefit from your help. Good going and keep enjoying what you do.

  • This article reads like you have been reading my journal! All of this is right on & hits the mark.

    Thank you for having the courage to speak out on a very difficult subject!

    I look forward to reading more!

  • AMEN!…..finally….this riding instructor communicates how it really is!No Grey areas… No if ands or buts….KODOS!

    I’ve seen what you are speaking of and it kills me to see how disrespectful students parents and students can be to their Riding Instructor.

  • Absolutely brilliantly stated! We overhauled our program several years ago to focus primarily on lessons and a very, very select few boarders who are and must remain current students. It was hard the first time I suggested another farm might be a better match for a particular rider, but learning to let go, move on, and focus only on the clients who foster an atmosphere of joy, respect and learning has transformed the way I teach and made our farm an amazing place to be. Thank you for exploring the unspoken currents of the profession. I’m always eagerly awaiting your posts.

    • Dear Kimberly,
      Good for you for making these significant changes to your program. It takes conviction and a certain amount of bravery but it sounds like it was worth it! Thanks also for your encouragement.

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