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You put a lot of faith in your riding instructor.

Especially when you are just starting out, you trust their knowledge and judgement to choose a safe horse for you, and to find the balance between pushing you to improve and yet not asking you to do something outside of your skill level.

You are riding to have fun, so you want a teacher who works with your personality, and helps you progress by conveying information in a way you understand.

Many people find an instructor by simply looking up the closest barn and heading out for a lesson. But if you want to be sure you are finding the best instructor for you, or you are feeling stuck in your riding and want a new perspective, there are a few simple steps you can take.

Hit play below for three tips on choosing a great riding instructor.

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46 Responses

  1. This is SO important. I’ve been to a highly certified instructor who was located nearby. The instructing style didn t suit me and I was left struggling week after week. Then I had the opportunity to watch the instructor ride and realized I’d had my last lesson with that instructor. I could have saved a lot of time and money, not to mention effort being driven down a riding path which doesn’t interest me, if I’d considered these tips. Now I’m much more selective in choosing instructors and willing to travel for quality instruction. Thanks for this great info Callie.

  2. One other thing I would look into is the facility where the lessons are being held . I was working with a trainer who I loved, but when her barn merged with another, ultimately putting her in a new location, things fell apart. The footing in the “new” arena is awful and slightly dangerous, other trainers aren’t as friendly, etc. I am now on the hunt for a new barn, simply due to a change in location.

  3. Very important. If you’re an older rider (50, 60, 60+, ….) starting out or returning after many years, make sure the potential instructor have experience and a level of comfort with teaching someone at that age. That instructor needs to realize that the older rider will often not have the same joint flexibility, etc. vs. a student that is ten years old. If an instructor badgers older riders when the rider is experiencing difficulties – that’s a flag.

  4. Wow, I wish I had known this when I first started out 12 years ago. I met a lot of bad trainers. Learned a lot about horses and some of the trainers I dealt with. So, now I am ready to get back into the swing of things. I need to look for a good trainer and will take these tips with me. Thank you again Callie. I’m sure glad your helping us riders with invaluable info.

  5. Excellent advice. My instructor is the owner of the farm where I board my two horses. I like her style, and have learned a lot. I have however reached a plateau, and would like to venture out to learn more. I wish I had an abundance of instructors to choose from in the area where I live. But unless I want to travel for hours, I have not been able to find anyone. I would love to come to Holy Brook PA for a few days at some point, if you are available to give lessons.

  6. Hi Callie! Thanks for this video. I find that even though the “returning rider/adult rider” demographic is on the increase, there are few places that really cater to the “adult” learner–seems like the $$ is still in instructing young people. Do you have suggestions for how to approach a barn and suss out their attitude towards adults?

  7. Great video Callie! I hadn’t thought about watching the instructor ride….especially when the instructor teaches in different disciplines!

  8. My experience with finding an instructor has been one of the most discouraging parts of my journey with horses. There’s not a big horse community in my area. It’s difficult to find an instructor at all, let alone one I really trust. (I hear a lot of “show the horse who’s boss” around here). So, right now I rely heavily on online instruction like CRK.

    When I was first starting out, I did put too much trust in some instructors, even finding myself doing things that I felt really uncomfortable about instinctively. So I guess to others just starting out, I would highly recommend doing some research on the different styles and philosophies before you entrust your money, time, and learned habits on just any instructor.

  9. What do you think about joining two or more riding schools … is that truly confusing like one of my riding instructors say or it’s a kind of controling and exploitation ?

    Thank you for you time

    1. To answer your first question, if I may, think about what Callie said: Look at how the instructor rides and decide if this is the type of riding you want to learn. There are Hunter/jumper barns, Eventing barns, Dressage barns, Western barns specializing in the various Western riding disciplines., etc. Decide what type of riding you want to learn first. The Classical Seat is the foundation of all riding basics, having that alignment of ear, shoulder, hip, heel and riding in balance needs to be taught within whatever discipline you choose! But I would decide on one discipline to start with. An Eventing barn will instruct in cross disciplines: Dressage, Show Jumping and Cross Country, so if you want to learn English riding and desire a variety, an Eventing barn might be a good start. Some barns offer Basics in Western and English, so you might look into this. The important thing is to decide what type of riding you want to do. “Barn hopping” is probably not the best route to take as it could be confusing. Find a good instructor that is accomplished in the type of riding you prefer, one that you can relate to and have confidence in. One that really knows how to teach the basics you’ll need to know first before exploring different styles and one who is approachable, answers your questions and is willing to let you observe teaching a lesson similar to one you’d take, some more advanced lessons so you can see what students look like who’ve been riding with him/her for a while, and is also willing to ride for you. I would not recommend riding in several different places for your riding plan. Switching because you aren’t happy with a place or just trying one place and then another to see which place matches your needs and interests the most is OK, but settle on an instructor and riding school that you can begin your journey with and stick with it for a while at least. Your instructor is telling you the truth, hopping around can be confusing to anyone, especially for someone who is just learning. If you do not have confidence in your current instructor and barn, checking out a couple of others could be worth your while. But if you feel your instructor is doing their job in teaching you, then stick with him/her for a while at least and share your goals with him/her. A good instructor will be honest with you if your personal riding goals do not match his/her riding program. Good luck! -Elizabeth CHA LEVEL 4 English riding instructor

  10. Good common sense ideas! I’ve experienced and observed some “prima donna” behavior in the past, more so with trainers who command big fees from rich clients and I’m much happier with my riding and my relationship with my horse away from that environment. I think it might be common for riding students to be able to check 3 out of 4 of these and then have to make do – this is linked to the stereotype of the demanding trainer – it seems like it’s a given that you have to overlook grumpy moods to get along or there’s a trade-off in another way. I’ve realized now that I’ve participated in your online classes how invaluable it is for me to have your expertise as a resource that I can cross reference and lean on to get a different perspective from someone I trust, so thank you! Having another way to gain knowledge other than just a once a week lesson is making a profound improvement on my knowledge base and in turn my mare’ s well-being. I’m learning more faster, more nuanced skills, and benefiting from yours and Wendy’s references to other resources for even more material to access. In just six months, I’ve advanced my knowledge dramatically more than if I had just been taking riding lessons for a pretty penny! Your online instruction is invaluable and well worth the investment.

    1. Stephanie – thank you for those kind words! We have enjoyed having you in our programs and we are glad to hear that they have been a supplement to your riding lessons 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Hi Callie! I wish I had come across this video 15 years ago when I first started riding as an adult just looking for some recreational activity. I took my daughter, who has mild special needs, along with 2 other moms and their daughters who were interested, to a barn that specialized in therapeutic riding but also for taught lessons to beginner riders of any age and capability. After watching her lessons and getting to know the instructors, watching different lessons, etc., I thought I liked their approach to teaching and thought highly of how safety conscious they seemed. So when my daughter chose not to continue I decided to take lessons myself. The one instructor who I didn’t observe or know, was the only one who was allowed to teach beginning adults, like me. Long story short…after 5 years of group instruction, which was fun, I realized that I wasn’t making significant progress in my abilities but unknowingly had developed some bad habits that caused me to be pretty crooked and unbalanced, with no real correction. So I couldn’t call myself a beginner anymore but I now had to find a teacher who could actually teach me to ride. After going through several teachers, barns, styles of riding, etc., I finally decided that at my age that I would focus on dressage and have finally landed at a barn and teacher who is really teaching me and I’m making real progress! This coincided with taking your goal setting workshop this past January. Thanks for all you do, Callie!

  12. Hi Callie! One of my most frustrating issues, and saddest, is that when I go to ‘riding schools’, you so often see horses that are shut down. The stables may look nice and are well run, but the horses are not enjoying their job. Rotated throughout the day to accommodate pupil demand, it is just no life for them! But as a rider who is currently unable to own a horse, and city based, these are often the only options. I really struggle with supporting these establishments with my business, but want to keep riding!

    I don’t think there is an answer to this, as it is market demand, but just wanted to leave this observation and thank you for your work! By the way, I am following you from Australia!

    1. Stephanie, that is a tough situation to see horses in that state – which is why Callie brought it up in the video the mental and physical well-being of the horses should always be paramount. Understandably, supporting those types of situations can be difficult morally although I have found that some barn owners simply might not take notice and brining certain things to their attention in a gentle manor can be a good way to navigate that situation. Thanks for being a part of the community, even all the way in Australia 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Wow, I wish I had seen this 12 yrs ago when I bought my first horse at 40. I kept the instructor that sold me my rescue. Thought I had a professional trainer but turned out to be a wanna be. I’ve learned a lot over the years and had some good trainers and some very bad ones. I didn’t get a lot of help with my new horse and felt I was alone a lot to tackle some problems. Thank you for wanting to help those in the horse world.

  14. Hi Callie,
    I love my instructor, Elaine, and she has taught me so much over the past year. However, my dream is to one day have my own horse, and the board is way too expensive. I know I will never afford $1800 – $2000 per month.
    I have another barn in mind and have texted and emailed with the instructor/owner. I am dragging my feet a little because I feel badly about leaving Elaine, and don’t know if the other instructor will be as good as her. The lessons at this other barn are a lot more reasonably priced and I could lease a horse with them at an affordable price as well. Not to mention the fact that she said she would help me find a horse of my own when I feel ready.
    I feel really torn. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Beth, I think in this situation as long as you explain your situation and approach it in a way to explain why you’ve made this decision she will understand. Besides, if you communicate with her and leave on good terms you could probably take a lesson with her occasionally to maintain your relationship with her. Best of luck!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. I’ve enjoyed each one of Callie’s videos and have incorporated her tips in my riding experience. Her explanations are easy to follow and she explains in a very visual manner. It’s like having an extra weekly riding lesson from another wonderful trainer.

  16. Excellent information in this video. One thing I might add is that, even if you have a regular trainer, you can take clinics and/or occasional lessons with other trainers (if you have your own horse – and your trainer isn’t one of those who is super possessive). I have found many times that the same principle will be taught with the same end goal but with just a different way of saying or describing the maneuver that will click with me.

    1. That is a great idea! Participating in clinics occasionally with different instructors can definitely help break through some challenges!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. This is SO important. I’ve used many, many instructors over the years, some of them very well known, but have found few REALLY GOOD instructors among them. Some problems I’ve noticed:

    1. Instructors who focus almost entirely on the showing world, spending lots of time teaching you how to HIDE your horse’s shortcomings rather than simply taking the time to teach the horse the correct way. I want my horse trained classically, as slowly as need be, so that the horse really masters the basics before moving on to other things. I also want a happy, relaxed horse that enjoys his work and looks forward to it.
    2. Instructors who want to use too many shortcuts or gadgets to supposedly make you progress faster in your riding.
    3. Instructors who don’t seem to pay attention to the physical aspects of riding, such as your horse’s soundness or mental willingness to work or respond in a certain way.
    4. Instructors who don’t like to be asked questions, about anything. Always a very bad sign, as Callie mentions in her video. Run away from these people!
    5. Instructors who press you to buy another horse because your horse is supposedly ‘not suitable’ for the discipline you choose, and one that THEY just happen to have for sale fits the bill completely.
    6. Instructors who push the horse too fast mentally or physically.
    7. Instructors who give the same canned lesson to almost all of their students, regardless of their ability, or who don’t pay attention to you when you’re taking a lesson from them.
    8. Instructors who spend the whole lesson just telling you where to put your hands/legs/feet and when to pull on the rein, etc. You will learn NOTHING from these people.
    9. Instructors who depend upon the use of force with horses, rather than persuasion or tact.
    10. Instructors who insist that THEY have to ride your horse several times a week for YOU to progress.
    11. Instructors who show up late a lot, showing that they do not value their student’s time and are somewhat distracted/disorganized.

  18. Great advice. I took lessons from one instructor for 5 years, And she was great. But eventually, I realized that she’ had prejudice against the breed of my horse that began to impact on my ability to move me to the next level in horsemanship. I need someone who not only teaches me equitation but also helps me build teamwork with my horse. Im still looking and will ask a lot of questions about his or her attitude about and experience with Halflingers.

  19. For me, finding a riding instructor is a matter of availability. There are not that many riding instructors where I live. Of the few riding instructors who do teach in my area, they have other jobs and other things they’re doing as well, and so that makes it hard for me to get lessons scheduled. When they do teach, their priority is Pony Club and children, not adults. Last summer, I did have a few lessons that I really enjoyed, but the instructor canceled more lessons than she carried through with.

    The lessons I did have were special and quite wonderful because I had a knee injury and wasn’t sure I could even have my feet in stirrups, and so she introduced me to riding with a vaulting surcingle where I didn’t need a saddle or stirrups, and I had the security of holding lightly on the surcingle handles for stability. Her horse was wonderful, a tall, calm horse, with a smooth walking gait. I couldn’t walk smoothly myself because of my knee injury, and so I got to experience his smooth gait and then try walking that smoothly myself. In a way, it was more of a rehabilitation process for me than learning formal riding skills; that’s what I needed at the time. My PT would have preferred I wait until the end the summer to take riding lessons (my injury was in April), but still, she was supportive. The problem was the times I’d show up for my lesson, and the instructor wasn’t there. Something would have come up.

    I don’t really evaluate riding instructors by watching them ride. I kind of just go by feel, where I would meet them and their horses briefly before a lesson and then give it try.

    A few years back, I tried my first riding lessons. I had a lot of respect for the instructor, and I don’t know what happened. We each ended up quite upset with each other. What made it all the more upsetting to me was that I did really like and respect this instructor, and I didn’t want it to be so upsetting. I think what it may have been about were some personal issues and life traumas, one involving a horse.

    Then, a couple of years ago, I had the chance to go to a particular place to ride, and I had fun there a few times and some really nice experiences with one of the horses, especially, getting to know her and making friends with her, and the other horse there was fun to ride, but there were things about the situation there that I wasn’t comfortable with.

    One thing I’d be careful of, having gotten a significant injury to my knee and leg when I didn’t make it onto a horse when trying to mount, is what the intructor’s, or mentor’s, role is in such a situation. In that situation, my mentor took me to the ER, stayed with me there, and then took me home afterwards, and that involved an hour of shoveling snow to get to my door, because I couldn’t walk through it with a leg brace on, though I could walk through it without a problem with both my legs working. If this had happened somewhere else, where I wouldn’t have had this kind of help, I think it would have been much more horrible.

    Now, I’m hoping to come to Honey Brook Stables in September for live events. If I make it, that will be my second time there. That’s an experience I want to repeat and a place I want to return to. It’s just not something I can do often because of the traveling involved.

  20. Callie – to sum it all up, I wish I lived close enough to take lessons from you!
    Five years ago my trainer, whom I loved, she was almost like family, passed away. I tried several trainers and for some of the reasons u mentioned, it just didn’t work.
    I like the trainer I’m with now but I ride bitless when I bring my horse and by the comments she makes, she isn’t entirely comfortable with it. In Lizzy’s and my defense, at her clinic, Lizzy was fine. Another horse with a bit wouldn’t even let the rider on. This trainer is helping me to improve my riding but I feel there is some disconnect. I can’t describe exactly what the disconnectt is but I feel it. Maybe it’s more of an under tone. But one thing you said, I can put in to words -!the horse I ride does not seem happy with his job. So I’m improving but I’m not as connected as I’d like to be.

  21. Great points, thanks Callie.

    All the riding instructors around me start off with an obligatory assessment lesson, and I’ve discovered it’s important to point out to them that I – the rider – am assessing their teaching style as much as they’re assessing my horsewomanship skills.

    This is important especially because what they say to me ahead of booking a lesson is not necessarily what they do once I’ve committed to the lesson.

    Certainly trying out a few different instructors is a good idea.

  22. I’m having this problem at present, I’ve tried one instructor who is young and not yet experienced. She is lovely and I would imagine great for children but I need someone to explain in detail or provide more instruction than simply walking in circles and saying feet down. . I am trying another next week however I have a feeling this might be too serious. I will keep trialing till I find the right one. If anyone knows a great instructor in WI please let me know

    1. Good luck on your search Jewelz – hopefully someone in this community as a suggestion for you in WI!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  23. When we owned a martial arts school and people came in to “check us out” and compare us to other schools, we would tell them (whether they were interested adults or looking for their kids) to go check out a children’s class and while you’re there talk to the parents and ask them what they think of the instructor. The parents sit and watch and are not afraid to share what they like and don’t like. May also work for riding instructors.

  24. Yes, older adult riders returning to the sport especially need to be certain about who they are doing business with. I left a local barn twice due to a difference in goals and teaching style. The horses are well cared for, happy and in good condition. But, the instructor has an intense manner. I am back riding to enjoy horses, regain my seat and have fun. These words seem to bring out the opposite in the instructor. Also, be careful of one that complains about other riders at the barn. Complains openly about what they aren’t learning and their faults.

    1. Glad to hear you are enjoying riding again, the whole reason we do this is to have fun!

      – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  25. I almost didn’t watch this video! Glad I did! You had wonderful points for finding an instructor. I will use them all. My interest is dressage, and I want/need to do it through “natural horsemanship”. I’m in the Blacksburg, VA area, if anyone knows of anyone. Thanks, again, and I can’t wait for the next lesson.

  26. Thank you because I wasted a lot of time with an instructor that intimidated me and I just couldn’t improve. Seemed I did everything wrong and felt pretty frustrated at the end of each lesson. By accident he got too busy and gave me to a different instructor. Not only was she positive and caring to me but motivated me to work as hard as I could and end with a positive perspective and encouragement. I adore her and she fits every one of your tips and more. I wouldn’t trade her for the world! My horse is also the best cared for in the barn thanks to her knowledge and expert care. I really ended up with a winner but little did I know-until now.
    Now I am in the process of finding a new horse ages 9-13, 14 to 14.3 hands, english dressage, no bucking, spooking, kicking out, can be bathed and groomed and work with farrier, trailored easily and perhaps trail ride. Maybe someone is looking for a sale in Southern California and we can help each other. As I am a beginner I really need a safe horse! Thank you so much Callie I so enjoy and learn a ton from your videos.
    [email protected]

  27. Looking for advice… As an older rider and a person who does not own a horse, I have had multiple instructors and horses to teach me (English). I now lease a western pleasure horse and have found the instructor useful for the first year, however, I feel benefits of a lesson not as great, I’m just not learning that much anymore. The horse is important enough for me to continue leasing, but not sure if I should be wasting money on the same lesson over and over again. I find it useful to have eyes on the ground – there is no substitute for that. But perhaps now I should be looking towards online training… Thoughts?

    1. Laura – it sounds like having an extra support system of online learning for you would be extremely beneficial since it sounds like you are enjoying leasing the horse at your current facility, even if the instruction isn’t what you need at the moment. I’d love to chat with you more on which one of our programs could be a good fit for you and your riding goals, please reach out to me via email at [email protected]. Another suggestion is if it is available to you, you could also try having another lesson with a different instructor periodically that is a better fit for your goals!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  28. I like to go to shows and watch the instructors when they may be under a more stressful environment, especially if they are showing, too. I figure out who teaches adults/kids, their teaching styles, how they address their students who are exiting the show ring, etc. When I find someone I’m interested in I watch to see who their people are in the bleachers, and talk to them. I want to see if the community and I would be a good fit. And, of course, I want to know the obvious like how long they or their children have been riding there, pros and cons. It’s all in a very friendly and fun way, for I like to show so more than likely we will be seeing each other again. Different strokes for different folks. It’s all good. There’s room for all.

    1. Susan, that is a great way to see how an instructor performs under a little bit of stress, in a higher emotion environment! Plus talking to current students is another great strategy, thank you for sharing these tips with the community 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  29. It has been frustrating for me to find an instructor that I have fun with and feel comfortable with. I have been riding for years and just want someone who can keep me and my horse on track and improve both of us. I board my 2 horses at a place that does not have an instructor and will only let instructors teach there that have insurance. The two instructors I take lessons with now cannot be there consistently because of distance and other issues which is something I can deal with since a lot of the time I cannot find anyone to take lessons with. One of the instructors I just had a lesson with seemed to give up on me because the horse wasn’t going as he usually did. It seemed like he didn’t know what to tell me? Then he was too busy talking to his friend and the barn owner. So I just started riding the horse without his instruction and he went fine and then he started teaching me again. I was really annoyed with the whole thing. It’s not the first time I’ve been annoyed with him. This was my 11th lesson with him and I am thinking about stopping them. The other instructor works more on position and is more my style of riding but she seems to be somewhat unreliable as she cancels for stupid reasons. The barn owner is not supportive and what I mean by that is that she’s negative but the place is close to me and there are not a lot of options where I live. Any suggestions?

    1. Ann, are there other places with instructors that you can try out?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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