Lesson cancellations can become a big problem for instructors if they are not handled well.  Lesson cancellations leave holes in your income and also in the student’s progress.  Plus canceling students adds stress and worry to your life, and sometimes doubt about the commitment students have to good instruction.

The sister to cancellation, rescheduling, causes the instructor to juggle lessons, their own time, and even the time of other students and horses.


Ignored, lesson cancellations and rescheduling can ruin an instructors business, and take away from their feeling of accomplishment. It also slows the a student’s progress. A harsh attitude about cancellation can have the same effect and also give an instructor a reputation for being hard to work with.

The choices you make about dealing with lesson cancellations can set a smooth course for your business or it can create as snow balling event that results in more problems.

Most instructors fall into one of three categories with their stand on lesson cancellations.

1. Hide Your Head in the Sand

Ignore lesson cancellations because you’re grateful to have the students and you don’t want to lose them.

I’m not sure it’s fair to call this a stand. I’m always surprised when I run into avoidance. It speaks of lack of confidence and lack of professionalism. And it tells me this instructor will avoid other important issues with students.

Riding draws many different types of individuals, but being a professional in the horse business means that you will have to deal with confrontation.

Hiding your head in the sand will result in failure and dissatisfaction.

2. Be Tough

A student must pay for all lessons they contract for, regardless.

No one wants to be a Scrooge but instructors need to be paid for the time that they set aside for an individual, don’t they?

This is true, but it’s also true that sometimes life gets in the way of riding. There are only a handful of instructors alive today who are so revered that they can get by without being flexible.

3. Be Flexible

Flexibility is necessary in order to handle lesson cancellations fairly  for both the instructor and the student. This approach takes into consideration that not only does the student book your time, they also book your expertise. It acknowledges that people ride by choice. People get sick, have emergencies and while it might not seem possible to horse professionals—they even take vacations!

Flexibility is my favorite route.


Minimize head aches. Plan Ahead.  Everybody has a scheduling screw-up now and then, even instructors, and it might be difficult to have one hard fast rule for all situations, but difficulties can be avoided by planning ahead.

Develop a Policy

Consider the options that suit your particular type of teaching program.  What works for an instructor who teaches group lessons may not work for an instructor who teaches privates. The same applies to teaching on lesson horses verses the student’s horse. Your policy can be driven by your place of business.  Do you have to schedule or pay for arena time? Perhaps you travel to several different barns to teach. What factors come into play when a students cancels a lesson in your situation?  Developing a policy requires knowing your business.

Determine what constitutes an excusable emergency. Do you really want the kid with the flu at your barn today? Did your student really not know the date of the prom?  Are too much homework, too much stress, too tired emergencies?

Decide what is a reasonable excuse for rescheduling. Sometimes things that are not emergencies are really good reasons for rescheduling, particularly if the decision is made well ahead of time.  Would I reschedule for prom night? You bet.  Would I reschedule for almost any reason if I was given enough lead time? Probably. But if it was a continued practice, there would be penalties.

Instructors who make decisions ahead of time have an easier time handling situations with students.

Make Everyone Aware

Make sure prospective students understand your cancellation policy before they commit to lessons. When they do commit, go over your lesson policies with them, and give them a hard copy.  Some instructors choose to have the student/parent initial the important sections of their lesson agreement, so they are sure the client has read and understands what’s required.

Put the cancellation policy on your web page or face book page. Have a copy available in the barn office. Include it once a year in your lesson newsletter. Make sure everyone understands and is aware of the policy.

Follow Through

Don’t make your lesson cancellation policy hoping it will stop students from canceling. Students will still cancel. However, the policy will make it easier to handle lesson cancellations when they occur.

You will need to put teeth behind your choices. If students discover that you  won’t actually take a portion of their lesson fee, or whatever you’ve chosen as a penalty for improper cancellation, they will soon ignore your policy.

And it’s even worse to apply a policy to one student and not another, even if that student agrees to keep it a secret. The lid comes off a whole new can of worms when students learn their instructor has a scale of preferential treatment.

My best advice? Don’t do it. Follow through.


  • Decide who you are
  • Choose how to run your business
  • Make students aware
  • Stand by your decisions
  • Be flexible.
  • Follow through

Do you have a good lesson cancelation policy? I love to read about it in comments.

Here’s to a new season of your best lessons,

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I have a cancellation policy but I’m always afraid to charge my student for the missed lesson. I’m afraid I appear wishy washy….. I have a great business and clientele but I do struggle with this

    • Hi DeDe
      Thanks for your comment. It can be hard to speak up for yourself and enforce your own rules. The big issue is once you decide to go ahead with one students you need to go ahead with everyone. Best wishes to you with your riding program. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Hello from outback Australia!
    I came across your site a short while ago and love your entries. These help me with teaching my twin girls with their riding fundamentals, and keeps me in check with how to teach them.
    Much appreciated,

    • Hi Rebel,
      I’m happy to know my posts are helping your girls in their riding. Best wishes to you and them.

      Barbara Ellin Fox

    • Hi Christina,

      I signed you up. Please let me know if you received The Riding Instructor’s Lesson Planner. Glad to have you. I’m happy that you liked the article.

      Barbara Ellin Fox

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