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How to Win Your Riding Instructor’s Heart

February 5, 2021

Hi there humans! You want to know one of the best things about horses? We’re great listeners.

Even though there’s a language barrier, we always know how you feel.

As a school pony, I understand all the barn chatter. I know that you really want your instructor to like you. I also get the perspective from the other side of the arena, since my personal Girl has been teaching horsemanship for years.

I thought I’d use my knowledge to give you the inside scoop on how to win your instructor’s heart

Turns out, it’s a little more complicated than getting a horse to like you. You can’t just give her cookies!

1. Communicate

It’s essential that you share important information with your instructor.

She wants to know your goals and dreams, even the ones you think are silly or impossible. She wants to know what makes you nervous or frustrated.

She wants to know if you are sore and tired, and she wants to know if you’ve done your horsey homework — she can figure this out on her own, but she’d rather hear it from you!

expressive pony communicating her feelings
Don't be shy - tell her how you REALLY feel!

She also wants to know if your goals change. I hear a lot of students say they don’t want to tell their trainer [fill in the blank] because the trainer is sure to be disappointed. Trust me – the only thing that disappoints her is dishonesty!

If you’ve decided that showing is not your thing, or that you don’t like riding without stirrups enough to work toward a Teal Level ribbon, your instructor is one of the first people who should know.

Make sure she also knows well ahead of time when you are going out of town, or if you have a busy schedule of dance competitions to juggle.

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. If there’s something you wish she’d communicated better, ask for the information you need, instead of making assumptions!

instructor showing two young students how pony defends her space bubble
Your instructor has a space bubble, too!

2. Respect boundaries

At the same time, remember that your instructor is a person. She may love you and her job, but she needs time away to recharge and attend to the rest of her life.

If you’re texting her at 10:30pm to reschedule your morning lesson, or asking her to help you choose a new saddle on Sunday afternoon when she’s supposed to be off, you’re not giving her much of a break.

Have you ever met a horse that’s been overworked? He’s probably hard to catch, right? He might pin his ears back when you bring out the saddle, or pull toward the gate every time you ride.

He’s definitely not giving you 100%.

Don’t make your human instructor ring sour and cranky! Interact only during her designated working hours, unless you have a genuine emergency.

Let her have her turnout time so she can roll in the mud or do whatever it is humans do when they’re not at the barn.

office hours sign
clock face with rider silouhette

3. Understand that time is money

When they are on the job, instructors live tightly scheduled lives.

Their ability to make a living depends on getting paid for the time they spend with students and horses.

While they might love to chat with you about your new cross-training program, or analyze videos of horses for sale, they can’t afford to spend a lot of extra time with each and every student.

Have you ever wondered why lessons are so expensive? It’s because the cost of keeping horses is high – a single horse can cost several hundred dollars a month to keep fed, sound, and healthy.

Riding facilities are expensive to maintain, and equine professionals have to pay for hefty insurance policies. You’re also paying for your instructor’s continuing education, which has already cost her many thousands of dollars.

So if your instructor tells you that she can’t go horse shopping with you for free, it’s not personal. It’s that three unpaid hours might make the difference in her ability to pay her phone bill that month.

You can help by arriving on time for lessons and complying with all her cancellation policies (even if it means paying for a lesson you had to cancel at the last minute).

Offer to compensate her for any time she spends helping you outside of your lesson hours.

This makes her way less stressed, and makes you the kind of student she wants to go above and beyond to help.

riding instructor teaching lesson to student on pony as sun sets
Riding instructors work long hours so we can play together.

4. Don’t do drama (be like a horse instead)

I know horse people like to judge. I mean, you pay someone to judge you every time we go to a show together! Weird.

But barn gossip can quickly turn toxic, and trust me, your instructor is tired of it.

Her job requires all her clients to stay safe and happy. She can’t play favorites. If one of her students feels like the victim of some barn bullying, her job just got a whole lot harder. She might even lose business.

All of this can start with a single thoughtless comment. I’ve seen a lot of needless tears and fears brewing in the barn due to assumptions, criticism, and quotes taken out of context.

Instead of getting sucked into the drama, ask yourself what you can do to make your barn a more positive, supportive environment.

group of riding students hugging each other
The barn should always be your happy place!

Build people up instead of tearing them down. Approach unfamiliar things with curiosity instead of passing judgment, and remember that no one is perfect. (Even me, and I’m The Greatest Horse That Ever Lived.)

And keep in mind, if you get in trouble, it doesn’t mean your instructor hates you. Sometimes she’s just got to put on her Boss Mare hat and do some ear pinning and kicking for the good of the herd. Mares deal with a situation and move on. Be like a mare and save your emotional energy for something that really matters.

5. Be an active student

I know I said your instructor can’t play favorites. A good instructor gives her students equal attention and opportunity. She doesn’t rank them against each other, or bend the rules for certain students and not others.

 But she totally has secret favorites.

You want to know how to become one? It’s not coffee deliveries – although those are always appreciated! The secret is completely free, and not that hard.

Basically, your instructor just wants to see that you care about becoming a good horseman.

How can she tell if you care? By what you do outside of lessons:

students watching rider and horse while instructor teaches clinic
Active students always want to learn more!

If you want you want to be an active student but you’re thinking it sounds like a big time commitment, don’t worry.

Your instructor appreciates every single minute you spend exploring your horse passion, and single minutes can really add up.

I think humans have more minutes than they realize. If you can’t seem to find any, maybe look for them in the Screen Time stats on your phone?

And hey, if you really love horses, being the kind of student your instructor will love is a joy instead of a job. Time spent learning how to connect with and care for a horse is always time well spent!

It works both ways: Here are some good tips on finding an instructor YOU can love!
And help setting active student goals:

See more of my wondrous words of wisdom in the ARCHIVES

More fabulous posts on the way...

It's All About Me

Heaven's Fire avatar

Fun facts about me: I’m a mounted games ambassador, part-time Dragon, and accomplished artist. Half Arabian, half Quarter Horse, with a whole lot of heart. I’ve never met a cookie I didn’t like.

And most importantly, I’m a veteran school pony – which means I have plenty of horsey wisdom to share with YOU.

I’ve been the star lesson horse at HorseSense Riding Academy for over a decade, beloved by many, even those who’ve tried and failed to catch me. I’m the kind of girl that prefers a little gallop and sass, so it took me a while to realize that teaching horsemanship is a special job. The way I figure it, if I can help even one student learn to think like a horse and become a good partner, I’ve made the world a better place for horses… and the humans who love them.

You can check out the video of me training my Girl on the archives page.