September 24, 2017

How To Choose A Riding Program, Part 3

More questions to ask before you sign up.

3. How many people will be in the same lesson?

Most beginners benefit from private lessons and will make the most progress that way. Very young riders (under 7 yrs.) should always be in private lessons for safety reasons. Intermediate to advanced riders may do well with the interaction of group lessons. A Group lesson should have no more than 6 students with one instructor or 10 riders with 2 instructors. All group lessons should be ranked according to the ability of the riders, not their age or size.  Also, any groups beyond basic riding should be separated according to riding style and the focus of the class.   

 4. Are ground classes required? Are they included?

All programs should require one ground lesson before you are allowed to ride. More may be indicated depending on the student, but more than 2 or 3 shouldn’t be needed unless riders are very young or handicapped. Ground work can always be reviewed at the beginning of riding lessons as needed.

 5. What are the requirements for riders?

Ask about your particular situation such as age, height, weight, experience, riding style, able-bodied vs. handicapped, etc.

6. What level of riders do they teach?

Some barns only take advanced riders and do not teach beginners. Some are the other way around. If they teach advanced riders, does their certification match? Do they have horses suitable for your level of rider? How are riders advanced? Do they have a system in place to test students or is it arbitrary?

7. Are you insured?

Liability insurance is a must. Some barns will require you to have insurance as well, but usually only if you have your own horse.

8. What riding styles do you offer?

So many options here, but the basics are Western and English.  Western style-think western movies, cowboy boots, “ten-gallon” hats, jeans and the like. Western saddles are larger, heavier and provide more rider support. English style- Movies like National Velvet. Clothing- Hunt coats, breeches, black tall boots, velvet hunt caps. English saddles are lighter, smaller and provide less rider support.

9. Can I watch a lesson? Is an appointment required or can I just stop by?

If they won’t let you watch a lesson, continue your search elsewhere. But an appointment to watch someone at your level is a good idea. Also, some instructors are the only staff, so it may be necessary to make an appointment to discuss your situation. Don’t expect them to stop a lesson to chat with you. If they do take time out of a lesson for you, what does that say about their priorities? Will you be getting the lesson you are paying for if someone calls or stops by while you are riding?

10. How much do you charge? Do I pay per ride, buy a package, or monthly? Are there minimum requirements?

Be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Determine how much you are paying for each lesson, how long that lesson is and how much of that time is “horse” time. And remember, not all instructors are the same. Better instructors might charge more, but you may advance more quickly and therefore pay less in the long run. The cheaper instructor may not be the best deal after all.  In this area it’s best not to skimp. Pay for the best you can afford. Also, some instructors are capable of teaching from beginners to very advanced riders. If you choose one of them, you won’t have to change trainers to keep improving your skills.

Now that you have completed your research, it is time to visit the facilities you have chosen. If you have made an appointment, please be on time. Allow the staff to show you the facility while you observe. Is the facility clean and well cared for? Keep in mind that the instructor may not own the grounds and might not have any control over this aspect. Are the horses healthy? Is the Tack Room (horse equipment room) neat and well organized? Is the tack well cared for? Are the students properly supervised?  Is everyone- students, instructors and staff properly attired? (Long pants, boots, riding helmets when mounted, no baggy clothing) Do the students and staff seem happy?

Observe the lesson.  The instructor should greet all the students by their name, not the horses name. All tack (saddles & bridles) should be checked along with the riders attire. The lesson should include a warm-up for both horses & riders. Students should be engaged in the lesson. All students should be challenged, but not overwhelmed. Most important of all- The instructor should teach! That means they are talking the entire time, giving instruction not just on what to do, but how to do it. They should always be offering  position corrections while keeping a positive attitude.  The instructors should be attentive to the lesson at all times, not texting, talking on the phone or with people not in the lesson.  Assess the program  and decide if it is a fit.  If so…..

Speak with management and schedule a lesson. Understand that most first lessons are only on the ground and not riding. If that is not what you want, see if they can accommodate a change.  Confirm that you meet their requirements and determine what attire you will need to purchase. Some barns have very specific requirements, so make sure you get the correct items.  Fill out paperwork & make your payment in advance. That will save your spot and save time on lesson day.

Attend your lesson! Make sure it is everything you wanted it to be, but don’t be surprised if you feel nervous. If the lesson fell short was it the fault of the instructor? Or were your expectations too high?  Everyone wants to gallop off into the sunset, but those skills take time to achieve. Your first ground lesson should include- Safety around horses, catching the horse/putting on the halter, leading, stopping, turning, grooming, tying/untying, and putting the horse away. The first riding lesson should include-everything from the ground lesson plus Saddling, bridling, mounting, stop, go, turns, reverses, stop (lots of stops!), dismount. Anymore than that is usually too much. Less might be an indicator that the barn progresses it’s students very slowly.  Access the lesson and decide if you want to continue. If so, check out some package prices. They usually offer a better rate than the Pay-Per-Ride rate, but may have more restrictions. If the lesson wasn’t what you expected, be sure to tell the instructor and find out why. They should be able to explain why. If the explanation makes sense, give it another shot. If things still seem wrong, perhaps this place isn’t a good match for you. You shouldn’t have to talk yourself into it. It is either a good fit or it isn’t. After a few lessons you should know. If it doesn’t fit, look elsewhere. The right program for you is out there. You just have to find it.

The world of Equestrian Sports is challenging, wide-ranging and, at all times, exciting. You can always aspire to a higher level of riding, no matter what your discipline. You just need the right person to can show you the way.  Enjoy the Ride!