It can be unnerving for an instructor to lose confidence during a lesson, but it happens more often than you might think. I’m not talking about losing confidence in the grand scale of an entire teaching career. I’m talking about the singular incident that might last for a few minutes or for the entire lesson. You walk away wondering what happened and feeling like you let your student down.

You might be surprised to know that losing confidence is part of human nature. No one has confidence 100% of the time. The key to overcoming loss of confidence is in your instructor’s tool kit.


First off, let me say that no one gives great lessons all of the time.  Let me repeat that- no one- not even the best instructors in the world- give terrific lessons every time. 

And secondly, although everyone can identify a truly horrible lesson, sometimes the lessons that feel like failures to instructors were actually quite successful to the student. 

Let’s start with guide lines:

  • Know who you are as an instructor. Understand your teaching level, what you’re capable of and don’t try to teach over your head. All of us are evolving in our instructor journeys. Those who are beginner instructors today can choose to improve their riding experiences and education, which will enable them to move up in their teaching as well as in riding. It takes time and hard work.
  • Teach the level of student you know you’re capable of teaching, and recommend a more advanced instructor for those that are beyond your current ability. You may make an industry friend, and you’ll develop a reputation for honesty. Soon, you could find other instructors sending students to you.
  • Realize your teaching level is a wavy line that moves like a moored boat on a body of water. You will have some experiences that put you way above your line and other experience may drop you below. Every instructor’s background is different. Your level will be will be the one for which you have the most training, experience and education.
  • Unless you are George Morris or Stephen Peters or some other equestrian icon, or if you are fortunate to  have underling instructors, most of your students are apt to be closer to the bottom of your teaching level than the top. Why? Because there are more beginners in the world than there are competition ready riders.
  • Sometimes you’ll have the challenge of working with a more advanced student who pushes the edge of your experience, or requires you to teach at a stage you haven’t visited in a while. This can threaten your confidence.

The Dive

So, say you walk into the arena to start your brand new student, and your confidence drops like a water balloon from the top of a five-story building. One of three things just happened.

  1. You agreed to teach a student who’s riding is too advanced for your level of teaching
  2. The individual’s persona intimidated you
  3. You were unprepared for the lesson

Since I’m going to believe that you avoid situation 1, we’ll discuss 2 and 3 to improve instructor confidence.

The Individual’s Persona

Let’s face it. People can be down right intimidating. You run the risk every day of dealing with someone whose personhood threatens to overwhelm yours. Often they don’t mean to do it, and sometimes they didn’t. Loss of confidence can be the result of something in you or your life that allowed you to become momentarily intimidated. Since I’m not a psychologist my advice is:

  • Remember the student chose to take a lesson from you because they want to learn. They are in your class to gain your knowledge.
  • There is always something you can share and develop in a student who is within your teaching level, even if they’re pushing your limits. This requires that you understand what your unique experiences are.
  • Preparation puts you in the driver’s seat as opposed to your student.
  • Preparation is the key to confidence

Plan for Instructor Confidence

Anyone who has read The Riding Instructor for a while can guess where I’m headed, but I’m going to fool you and take preparation to before you even need a lesson plan. You can read Teach Riding With a Lesson Plan for more information.

I apologize for the feelings I’m about to ruffle, and I admit to having done done this very thing. One of the biggest indicators that you have not prepared for your new student’s lesson is to say some form of the  following:

“Go ahead and do your warm-up. I want to watch you a bit, get to know how you ride and see how your horse moves.”

This says, “Oh, by the way, I waited until just now to figure out what we’ll do in your lesson.” You may as well ask the student to tell you want they’d like to do that day.

This is Not a Newby

And because we’re not discussing starting a beginner, before you ever agreed to teach this person you should have had one of the following situations:

  1. You’ve seen them ride- at a show or at the barn where you teach,or some other place, OR
  2. You’ve had a face to face to discuss their goals, strengths and weaknesses, and things they need to work on. At the same time you have explained enough about your teaching methods that they have done a mental buy-in. OR
  3. You’ve had a phone conversation to discuss their goals, strengths and weaknesses, and things they need to work on. And you’ve explained enough about your teaching methods that they have done a mental buy-in.

Increase Your Chance of Success

You can’t be sure of preparing a good lesson for a non-beginner without some sort of initial interview, and if you ask the right questions you’ll be able to put together a plan for a stellar first lesson, one that will cause your student to return. And you’ll assess the students ability while giving a great lesson.

When you have a strong plan and put on your instructor hat, you greatly reduce the possibility of being intimidated by anyone, or losing your confidence when you teach.

Thank you and Let’s Talk.

I’m grateful to the reader who emailed me about this topic. She was correct when she said there are lots of articles about confidence in riding, even building confidence in students, but so little for riding instructor confidence. There are lots of emergency fixes for specific situations. If there has been a time you’ve lost confidence as an instructor and would like to share your experience, either leave a comment, or drop me an email at We’ll talk.

When you have one of those lost confidence moments, forgive yourself, and push on. Remember -no one gives great lessons 100% of the time.

Here’s to a world filled with terrific instruction.

Barbara Ellin Fox


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