1. Your intentions
Before you start looking for a new instructor, have a clear understanding of where you stand and what your future intentions are. If you are a beginner or novice rider, aim for a riding school that can teach you with patience and minimal pressure. If you’re an advanced rider looking to climb the grades, look for a proven coach who will get you to your goals, but be prepared to work hard and be pushed.
2. Track record
Possibly one of the greatest contributing factors when it comes to picking an instructor is their track record. The type of riders being produced is a good reflection of the instructor’s success as a coach. Of course, a good horse has a lot to do with a rider’s success, but you can tell a lot about how a rider has been brought on by their sportsmanship, their style of riding, their arena etiquette and the manner in which they treat their horse – not just the rosettes they’re bringing home. Behind every successful rider is a coach who is constantly teaching, motivating and inspiring their rider to work hard and push towards their goals.
You may not be interested in competitive riding and rather just want to continue developing your skills and talents as a rider. In this case, other riders who have shown large signs of improvement are a good reflection of the instructor’s coaching abilities. You can still consider an instructor who teaches other competitive riders, but just be clear about your intentions and set personal goals you would like help achieving.
If you’re interested in an instructor’s coaching success, talk to other riders in your personal network and ask them about the progress and results they have achieved with their instructor.
3. Qualified vs unqualified
There is a tremendous lack of certified instructors in South Africa who have completed the necessary criteria to be a qualified instructor. Most of our professional riders double themselves as instructors, but the fact that someone can ride well does not always mean they can teach well. Many top riders let their accomplishments speak for themselves, and it’s up to you as a rider to decide who you’d rather go with.
4. Making contact
Once you think you’ve got an instructor in mind you’d like to try, give them a call and chat about the possibility of them taking you on. Make sure that they have the capacity to teach you, because a coach who has too many students may struggle to give everyone individualised care, and you may find yourself fighting for their time. Whether you choose to chat on the phone or meet in person, talk about your intentions, your goals, problems you feel need to be addressed with your horse, and your time available. Some instructors expect a level of participation or commitment that some riders are not able to meet due to time constraints. The more competitive instructors are unlikely to teach on weekends due to shows and will expect you to have at least two lessons during the week.
Discuss the best way forward, and don’t forget to ask:
- How many lessons am I expected to have?
- What is the cost of the lessons and do you offer a lesson package?
- Are you able to offer me show help?
- What is the maximum number of riders in a group lesson?
- What is the length and structure of the lesson?
- What work will I be expected to do outside of lessons by myself?
5. Watch others in a lesson
A very good idea to get a feel for the lesson structure and the instructor’s way of going is to spectate a few lessons. Try to watch a lesson with riders who are at a similar level to you, as this will be the most accurate reflection of what you can expect.
Pay attention to the structure of the lesson. Most instructors have a set routine that they follow such as a loose warm-up, followed by structured flatwork (lateral movements, upward and downward transitions, circle work), followed by jumping warm-up exercises or cavalettis, and then finished by a more intensive gymnastic or course training. Often, lessons will have a specific focus, so pay attention to how the instructor addresses these. Listen to the instructor’s verbal teaching and see if you can clearly follow and understand their instructions to the riders. Watch how the instructor corrects the riders and how the riders react to the constructive criticism.
6. Trial lesson
Most instructors are open to or even prefer an assessment or trial lesson, so that they can meet your horse and get a feel for your type of riding. Bring up any concerns or problems you may be experiencing before the lesson begins, so that the instructor can pay attention to these as you ride. The instructor may even get onto your horse to get a feel for him and his way of going. Listen to the instructor’s advice as you go and see if anything they say is making sense and working for you.
7. Lessons are also for the horse
As much as we think about ourselves when it comes to picking an instructor, we also need to keep our horse in mind. You might love an instructor’s style of teaching, but if their routine and structure is not in line with your horse’s personality, then you may need to reconsider. For example, some instructors favour forward and bold, whereas others prefer careful and precise riding. You could end up struggling to get your horse to adjust to an instructor’s preferred way of going, but that being said, the majority of good coaches are able to accommodate a variety of horses without changing too much about them.
8. The extra mile
Recreational riders are quite happy to have their weekly lessons and do their own thing for the rest of the time. However, riders who are investing a lot of time and money in the sport will be looking for a coach who can go the extra mile. Many competition riders choose to leave an instructor when they feel undervalued or ignored, so it means a lot to that rider to have consistent support, beneficial suggestions and a genuine interest in the success of both horse and rider.
9. Hard work goes a long way
As much as you may have a fantastic instructor, success of horse-and-rider combinations comes down to hard work and dedication from the rider’s end. Don’t have unrealistic expectations from your instructor, because a lot of the responsibility comes down to you!