More specifically, what makes a professional riding instructor? And, how do I choose the right one?
Let’s begin with what determines an equestrian to be a professional. Webster’s Dictionary defines professionalism as the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.
The equestrian profession is completely and utterly unregulated. Any Joe, Harry or Sally can claim professional equestrian status and begin teaching beginners right off the street. Buy a cheap, broke pony, charge $40 a session, and voila! You’ll have folks lining up to come ride. And, any upper level professional can decide to teach. Most of the time, Harry doesn’t have a clue and ends up teaching some poor girl to “kick and pull.” And, most upper level professionals tend to, well…be professionals. But occasionally, Joe or Sally has spent lots of time and money investing in education with upper level riders, books, online classes, and more. And, maybe Joe has a business degree–heck, maybe Sally has her MBA and has been running a successful equestrian business for years. And, just maybe, that upper level professional has the skill but lacks good judgment and polite behavior. If everyone was ethical, we wouldn’t have any problems. Old Harry would stay out of the instruction/training business, because he doesn’t have a clue what correct riding really is. And the upper level professional rider who lacks good judgment and polite behavior would stick to riding, and get out of the teaching business. But, the truth is, there are a whole lot of Harrys, very few Joes, the occasional Sally, and too many professionals who are amazingly talented at riding but lack the professionalism required to be good instructors.
So how do you choose, then? How, do you, the unsuspecting potential client, choose with whom to ride?
There are so many ways to go about choosing a good instructor, but let’s begin with the beginner rider who is essentially clueless about correct basics.
1. Recommendations–do you know people who have ridden with this instructor? Do they have positive things to say about him/her? This is usually a good start.
2. PROFESSIONALISM: does the instructor have polite behavior? Does he/she ride with skill, or is it scary to watch him/her ride? When teaching, does the instructor yell at students, or use positive, encouraging words to educate his/her students? Does the instructor use good judgment when matching riders to horses? Check Facebook–does the instructor use FB as a positive marketing tool, or as his/her personal rant/rave platform for all that is wrong with the world?
3. Self-education–does the instructor regularly ride with upper level trainers and clinicians? Does the instructor maintain an educational library? Can the instructor clearly explain the WHY behind what he/she is asking you to execute?
4. Facility–is the facility well-maintained? Do the horses appear happy and healthy? Do other riders appear happy to be there?
5. Credentials–does this instructor maintain trainer’s insurance (this is more important than you’d think)? Is he/she affiliated with the organizations governing his/her sport? Does he/she have a show record? How about any awards?
Of course, the above criteria isn’t an end-all answer to finding the perfect instructor–ultimately, you have to ‘click,’ and sometimes even the best instructor just doesn’t mesh with your particular learning style. Don’t focus too much on one particular criteria–a winning show record doesn’t mean an instructor knows how to effectively communicate her riding skill to students. Instead, find an instructor who is knowledgeable, professional, capable, and has the desire to share the love of equestrianism with his/her students.
And, if you’re out there calling yourself an equestrian professional, ask yourself: do I use good judgment? Do I have the required skill set and understanding for teaching riding instruction? Do I have polite behavior? Or, am I in this industry because I need a way to pay for my horse, and this is the easiest way? Do I invest time and money into improving my own skills, or am I happy with knowing what I know? I hope, for the sake of our industry, that if you are even the least bit hesitant in answering any of those questions, that you will make the correct ethical decision to excuse yourself from this business.