There is a difference between teachers, instructors, and coaches in the horse industry. While we may hero worship and think one is more important than the other, they are not. All are required to develop the complete horseman (duh- person.) With the vast ranges of interests in horse people, the positions receive distinct emphasis and value.

Scope plays a role in determining whether you are a teacher, an instructor, or a coach. Hopefully, you have a little of each position in your character.


The scope of a teacher is broad. Their interest is in developing the whole horseman, from putting on the first halter to understanding how the rider effects the horse, to recognizing the signs of stress in the Olympic level horse. A teacher is concerned about the basics of good riding, horse care, and training.

A teacher covers broad topics in horsemanship and riding, often giving their students a taste of different seats or activities. They encourage students to ride different horses, learn all kinds of barn chores, and experience the different aspects of horse life.

Impact is at the heart of teaching. Impact on the student’s life as a horse person, impact on the horse. Teachers look for growth in the individuals and celebrate milestones that are building blocks in general horse education. They get into the weeds and want you to not only know how to do something; they want you to know why.

Teachers spend more time with students molding their characters as horsemen.


The scope of an instructor is more focused. They may deal with a specific discipline or part of a discipline; equitation instructor, event instructor, dressage instructor, reining instructor. An instructor may accept students according to age, training, riding level, experience or future goals. They have a specific field and should be an expert in it. They have specific skills or techniques.

An instructor will influence the student’s attitude about their subject.


Competition is the scope of a coach. Their primary goal is to teach the rider how to navigate competitions and how to win. Coaches look toward tangible goals such as wins, times, scores, and awards.

Coaches teach the sport and strategy. Their goal is to develop the competitor. They evaluate competitor stress levels, exhaustion, tension, confusion, and they foster a sense of belief in self in their riders. They know when to increase or decrease pressure. A coach knows how to get into a competitor’s mind and help them focus.

On a given day, a coach may want a rider to see what winning riders do — or they may want the rider to ignore the competition. A coach may use things out of context for certain situations using a method at a competition for a particular horse, although the method may not apply to all horses.

Coaches focus on mastering the sport rather than avoiding failure.

Every sports hero can name a coach who was pivotal in helping them to reach their competitive goals. Often these coaches are successful ex-athletes who are thoroughly versed in the rules of the sport and how to play the game to win. They know the physical requirements from diet and exercise to hydration to alternate forms of exercise, pinpointing muscle development. Great coaches know how to teach athletes to win.

Andy Reid, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, (Go Chiefs!) may use basic skills in his training and he may put the polish of a player’s performance but his focus on game day is strategy, team cohesion, plays, team health, with one goal in mind… he intends to win a football game.

A coach’s strategy will influence an athlete’s outlook on competition. A coach who takes students and horses to competitions before they are ready to win is teaching students that being an also run is a goal.

Unless a rider goes to a show only to hang out and have a good time, they need a strategy for each time they enter the show ring. If they are there for a good time alone, they don’t need a coach and coaches don’t need them.

How they work together

Unless your student is a stay-at-home-horse-nerd (and we love you, too!) one is not complete without the other. A horseman will learn from all three; the teacher, the instructor, and the coach One is not exclusive of the others.

Not all riders make good instructors and not all coaches make good teachers, but in our world, you need to have a little bit of each to cover the spectrum of students and their interests. The goal isn’t to be the best at all of these positions but to be the best at the one or ones you have the most skill at. And the goal isn’t really to label yourself, it’s to know who you are. If we are clear to ourselves on who we are, we will be better able to excel at what we do.

Coaches rely on what teachers and instructors teach. Instructors rely on what coaches do to give their students goals and to show them new horizons. And neither of them would have many students if it weren’t for teachers filling students with basic knowledge and good experiences.

Coaches inspire the moment. Instructors inspire the discipline. Teachers inspire the lives of students.

The famous instructor who is doing Horsemaster classes for USEF is not of more value than the teacher whose riders are experiencing their first trail ride. The Olympic team coach does not have more worth than the dressage instructor who is teaching leg yield. The reining horse instructor is not of more value than the 4-H leader. They all fill a need in the industry.

But no one is everything to everyone. Take the skills and talent that you have and develop them to their highest potential. You may surprise yourself.

Vince Lombardi shared good advice: “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

Thanks for joining me,

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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