Whether you are a brand-new rider taking your first horseback riding lesson or a lifelong rider partnering with a coach you hope can take you to the next level of equestrian competition, choosing a riding instructor, horse trainer, or coach is a huge decision. One bad riding instructor can crush our confidence and drain the joy out of the exciting hobby of horseback riding, while a skilled, honest, and encouraging coach or trainer can help us meet and surpass our riding goals.
Personally, I worked with a lot of riding instructors and coaches before becoming one myself. I realized early that it’s not always the best riders who make the best coaches (or the most “qualified” with certifications), instead, a good riding instructor, horse trainer, and riding coach has to have more diverse skills – like understanding how people learn, how to encourage while challenging riders, had a deal with the unique psychology of horseback riding. Rather than simply being an expert giving advice, a good riding instructor has to integrate multiple disciplines to build skills and confidence in a step-by-step way so riding lessons have maximum benefits physically and psychologically.
In this article, we’ll talk about what to look for in a coach your riding instructor, and some red flags that are signs your horse trainer may do more harm than good.
Qualities to Look for in a Riding Instructor
The absolute essential quality needed for any riding instructor coaches mutual respect; they must respect you, and you must respect them. Without respect that goes both ways, it’s impossible to develop riding skills or go to riding lessons in a fun and sustainable way. A riding coach may need to confront or tell you you’re doing something wrong (this happens a lot!) But with mutual respect, it’s possible to provide this feedback without being degrading. Kindness and honesty coexist in a good horse trainer or riding instructor.
Willingness to engage in conflict
There are two kinds of horse professionals: those who avoid conflict and those who engage it directly. You might think the latter are some stereotypical rant-raging misanthrope, but being willing to engage in conflict is actually healthy and essential to help other people grow, research indicates managing conflict ell (instead of avoiding it) is an essential trait of great teachers.
Whether it’s your riding, a way that you’re handling your horse, or even a thought pattern with which you are approaching horse show competition, you need a riding instructor, trainer, or coach who will give you a reality check and who is willing to say difficult things in order to help you grow as a person and as a horseback rider.
They’re supportive of your goals
A good horse trainer believes in you. A part of authentic coaching is to let you know that they support you and care about you, as this empowers people to take the risks they need to learn.
Your coach shouldn’t just be supportive, they should literally believe in your capacity to learn and improve. If you want to jump 3 foot jumps with your horse, and your riding instructor thinks you’ll never be able to safely and confidently jump over 2 feet, the not riding instructor is in a match for you and your goals. Make sure that you communicate your goals with your riding coach and both of you believe they are within reach.
For younger inexperienced competitors, there is almost nothing worse than signing up for a horse show only to realize you have a conflict with your riding coach being able to be there. When this happens repeatedly, it’s a sign that your trainer may be too busy to work with you. You don’t have to be best friends with your coach and able to text them random memes about horses, but any horse professional you work with should be available appropriately- if they’re difficult to schedule lessons with, don’t return phone calls, or habitually don’t show up to important competitions, it’s a sign that it may be time for a new coach.
Anyone who’s been in the horse world for long knows that there are, just as in any other sport, plenty of inauthentic people. For money, clout, or privileges many professionals will say just about anything that a client wants to hear. If you want to enjoy your riding lessons and grow as a person and as a rider, you need a riding instructor who is authentic and genuine. You must be able to trust their feedback is real.
Final thoughts on what to look for in a riding instructor
This is just a short list of things that you should look for in a riding coach, horse trainer, or, frankly, many other professionals. While it may be difficult to judge one quality over another, they tend to come in the package. You can trust the authenticity of your riding instructor if you know that they are also willing to engage in conflict and also supportive of your goals. With the right partnership with the coach or trainer that’s right for you, you and your horse can grow, learn, and exceed your current goals.
Riding horses – especially owning horses – means that we encounter many different people and animals through the sport. We aren’t just partners with our horse, but also a dozen or so professionals (who are themselves impacted by countless others). Many people choose to ride without a riding instructor and even to show without having a coach, but for those who are serious about leveling up their riding skills or competing to win, the help of professionals is essential.