Have you got what it takes to become a Horse Riding Instructor?
By Becky Parker
A truly GOOD horse riding instructor is worth their weight in gold. Be it under the label of Instructor/Coach/Trainer/Tyrant they are the person who inspires you most when you are first learning, who picks you up and dusts you off when you fall (repeatedly), who shares your excitement for a new skill conquered, who praises you when you get it right, and who gently (or not) nudges you in the right direction when it’s all going wrong. Often they help you source your first horse and then guide you in the right direction/problem solve/commiserate and celebrate with you with the succession that follow over the years. Throughout our lives we will generally come across a great many horse riding instructors as we work our way through riding school and/or Pony Club to Riding Club or discipline-specific trainers, but there will always be one or two that stick in our memories. Whose little voices creep into our heads whenever we are schooling alone or when it’s all going horribly wrong mid-round or test!
What is it that makes these instructors so great? Here we take a look through a mixture of research, questioning and personal experience at the most important qualities a horse riding instructor must possess.
First things first…
If you’re going to teach (even your mates) you need to be insured. We all know horses are unpredictable, and when you’re telling another rider what to do on their mount you can be held liable for any accidents that happen, even if it isn’t entirely your fault! A bad accident can result in a lifetime of expense to the victim, and you can find yourself in extremely hot water if you’re deemed responsible for the incident. When it comes to a legal dispute, arguing that your student “knew the risks” will not hold up!
You don’t need qualifications in order to get insurance to teach, but whether your existing insurance policy covers you for teaching is at the discretion of the individual insurance company, so never assume you’ll be covered by yours or your horse’s existing policy. Put all assumptions to one side and speak to your insurance company about the facts before assuming any role as a horse riding instructor.
BRITISH HORSE SOCIETY EQUINE EXCELLENCE PATHWAY
The British Horse Society (BHS) has recently modernised their exam system to allow students to specialise in the areas that interest them most. Here are the main points to take away.
There are essentially 3 pathways to choose from…
- Groom Pathway (with Care and Lunge Elements)
- Professional Rider Pathway
- Coaching Pathway
The grading is from Level 1 – 5.
Students who take exams in all 3 Pathways are awarded a certificate in ‘Complete Horsemanship’ for each Level they have passed all 3 elements in. At Stages 3 and 4 this can be specialised in either Dressage or Jumping.
The BHS Ride and Road Safety exam is now known as the BHS Ride Safe Award.
For further reading please head over to the British Horse Society website.
The UKCC qualifications are coaching specific qualifications awarded through the British Equestrian Federation. Coaches can be from Level 1-4 and can choose to specialise in either Dressage, Showjumping or Eventing at either level or remain all round General coaches. These qualifications specifically concentrate on the practical elements of planning, delivering and reviewing lessons. Further information can be found on the BEF website here.
Qualifications might not be necessary in order to get insurance to teach your mates (and we all know a pro rider or two making a good extra wage and doing a fab job at the same time coaching without a single qualification of any kind to their name) but if you plan to follow a career as a Freelance Instructor or through the Riding School route with aspirations of becoming a Yard Manager you will need these pieces or paper to prove your competence. For insurance purposes alone, not to mention the reassurance of understandably nervous mothers, riding schools will usually require all of their independently teaching horse riding instructors to hold their BHS Stage 3 Coach (formerly BHSAI) and Yard Managers to hold their BHS Stage 4 Coach (formerly BHSII) or equivalent level UKCC qualification.
You can read more about the British Horse Society Pathways here.
The right personality
Experience + Knowledge + The Human Element = A GOOD HORSE RIDING INSTRUCTOR
The list of desired attributes in an horse riding instructor vary depending on who you ask and who you are teaching but the key recurring elements are:
- A working knowledge of both Human and Equine Biomechanics – Without a basic understanding of the horse’s correct way of moving and the riders achievable range of movement and feel it is very hard to instruct someone on how it should be done.
- Relevant Personal Riding Experience – Whilst you don’t have to be a world beater some personal experience of how what you are asking of your student should feel is essential in teaching. Experience riding a variety of horses of all breeds/sex/age and ability increases your problem-solving portfolio when dealing with behavioural issues. No two horses will learn or feel the same way so no one way of teaching will ever fit all. Only experience will teach you how to recognise and work around this.
- The ability to LISTEN – It may sound obvious but communicate with your student to discover their individual needs. Ask them what their goals are? What are the issues preventing them from reaching them? How do they feel they are progressing? What worries them? Do they understand what you just asked them to do? How do they feel that test/round went? Your job is not to shout and lecture but to work with the rider and horse as a 3-way triangle to reach their end goal and you can only do that, by listening to them.
- The ability to ADAPT and be CREATIVE – As a horse riding instructor you will find you teach such a huge range of ages and abilities the ability to adjust your delivery style and exercises to suit will be a significant factor in your popularity and ultimately your success at earning a living. Showing enthusiasm by keeping the lessons dynamic and creating a rapport with all of your students is what will keep them encouraged to return to you rather than anyone else.
- A personal hunger for learning – The desire to constantly improve yourself and a passion for learning itself should be the real drive for any instructor. Keeping an open mind to new techniques, thinking outside the box to problem solve when a horse or rider is hitting a wall in their progress and always continuing with your own personal development will keep a freshness to your teaching that sets you apart.
The expert’s opinion
In order to gain a first-hand opinion, having no teaching experience myself, I took my question to someone who as an extremely experienced and well qualified horse riding instructor – manager of a team of instructors who happens to be based at an equine college and sees more than most what is required from the job at all levels:
Alex Robinson-Barr, BHSI, Team Leader for Equine at Bicton College tells us what characteristics she thinks make a good horse riding instructor…
“In order to be a great instructor you need to have many transferable qualities.
Some of these qualities that come to mind: patience, confidence, counselling ability, to able to ride the horse if required, ideally but not essentially (think of some of the old masters of equitation), to have the horses well-being and welfare at the heart of what you do, time management is essential, ability to stay cool and not burn in the summer but also wrap up like Michelin man in the winter! The instructor must be able to listen to the rider and adapt their approach accordingly. They also need to have relevant previous experience they can draw on when inspiring and supporting their clients.
Other skills you require in the instructors’ toolkit – saddle fitter, nutritionist for both horse and rider, marketing skills e.g. Facebook. A sense of humour at all times but be able to put your serious hat on as well. Understand all the new rules that come out from the various disciplines as they change all the time. Varied and exciting exercises to keep the horse and riders interested. Be able to project your voice in a calm and reassuring manner and not shout….
Above all love what you do and it will come through in your teaching!”
The hazards of the job
We have a real appreciation of honesty here at The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment, so with that in mind here is our little disclaimer section of a few of the hazards this career path may lead to with contributions from a few sources who strangely enough would prefer to remain anonymous…
Beware of the self-dressing child
Always assess your riders attire BEFORE allowing them to mount their pony. Many a child has turned up with their chaps on upside down, their gloves on the wrong hand and somehow or another their hat on back to front!
Beware of unexpected gusts of toxic wind
“It was the end of a very successful lesson and I was happily chatting away with my middle-aged well-spoken client. She was just a nervous beginner and had come on leaps and bounds with her confidence in that session. As she swung her leg over to dismount her leg caught on the saddle. I moved to the side of the horse to help just as she did the unthinkable ! I don’t know which of us was most embarrassed!” Tact and diplomacy is a definite prerequisite on such a occasions 🙂
Beware of the Big Talker
Always assess your rider’s ability for yourself at the beginning of the lesson and if at a riding school on a suitable sane and amenable horse. Many a rider will talk themselves up either to impress or more worryingly with a genuine belief that they are gods gift to equine kind! Have a Plan A, Plan B and if you have any worrying suspicions probably a Plan C too for what the content of this lesson will need to be.
Beware of the Ponies!
“The majority of ponies have hearts of gold but the cheeky little terrors make up for it with mischief aplenty for the whole lot of them. My favourite escapades have to be…
- The Shetland who ducked under the rail of the arena for a speedy exit depositing his small passenger hanging on the middle rail in shock
- The slightly erratic younger ponies who have not yet learnt to ignore children’s shrieks and bolt at the first strange noise only to gain more and more speed with every progressively shrill squeal of terror from the child
- The lazy ponies who refuse to move until you approach them with a lunge whip at which point they bolt off at mac 10 speed, all or nothing being their only offerings
Beware of the Parents
It really is impossible to talk about children, ponies and riding lessons without touching upon the reality of the over-enthusiastic parent.
Most parents adore their children and many give 3000%. Many instinctively know when to pipe up and down and that’s great, but there are some… whether their enthusiasm is borne of the desire to relive their pony club days, a desire to get little Cressida to the next Olympics, or merely that they want to see their child pay attention to the horse riding instructors THEIR WAY, they can sometimes be a tad trying, especially those who adopt the ‘back seat driver’ approach.
Jess Herbert an old college Instructor of mine has these pretty direct words to describe her approach to the “trickier” parent–
“If after several polite requests to be quiet they still persist; I simply smile and politely invite them in to take the lesson themselves. The shock effect this has usually stuns them into silence. I’m a great believer in giving the kids a chance to work it out for themselves. I tell them what to do then let them get on with it, constant instruction only confuses them. Riding should above all BE FUN for kids and adults alike.
The difficult parents, ponies and students might make it more of a challenge but the ones that listen and want to learn make it all the more worthwhile!”
I for one have been very lucky to have some fantastic horse riding instructors in my time but for me personally, it has always been the ones with a sense of fun who really seem to enjoy their job that have stuck in my head the most. Whilst at college one of our Lecturers/Instructors – Beverly Norman once jumped aboard a 13hh Highland Pony and jumped him around a 1 metre course just to prove us wrong that he could. We thought we were so clever and knew it all and she not only proved us spectacularly wrong but earned our respect and admiration into the bargain. The site of her giggling away on that pony looking so ridiculous but having so much fun will forever stick in my mind as what, not just teaching but riding on a whole should be about. That’s what being a good horse riding instructor is, she had the power to tell us all to just shut up and get on with it but she didn’t, she thought outside the box, taught us a valuable life lesson and gave us all a hilarious memory to take forward forever.