You get out a phone book or go online to find riding lessons in your area. You have found lots of places that offer lessons and now to see which one to go to. Whether you don’t know what kind of riding you want to do, you have a good idea of what you want, you have never ridden before, you have had limited lessons and experience, you had been to a school as a youth or you want lessons for your children, you will need to consider a few things to make the right choice.
First thing you want to ask when looking for a good and safe facility is “Is this really a school or is this place giving lessons just to draw in clients to sell horses". The owner of the facility should be the main person in charge of instructions or have a very good and experienced head instructor. I have found that most places that offer lessons may not have your best interest at heart. There are lots of “sale barns” now masquerading as schools and camps. They may have someone that gives lessons there part time, has a very young person (teenager) or they may do them themselves or have their spouse give the lessons. If there are lots of horses constantly going and coming from the barn, then you can consider them a sale barn. Most instructional schools will at times have a horse available for sale, but not a regular thing unless they are a breeding facility also, in which case, would have a trainer and young horses being trained for sale. They may have student’s horses there for sale or a boarder’s horse, but the barn is not the one selling the horse, the owner is.
Sale barns or trail barns my not be the best place to take you lessons at. Some may be very good though. You need to do your homework and find out what their main business is though. If it is selling horses, then they will be only trying to sell a horse not give you lessons. Selling is in their interest, so if they keep you unknowledgeable then it is to their benefit. If they are a trail barn, they may or may not have the skills to give lessons in the type riding you want to do. Again do your homework and find out what they do know well and if it is what type riding you want to do then it may work out. I personally do not think most people should be out of an arena until they master the skills of riding and controlling a horse well.
The next thing you need to know is how much experience do their instructors have and do they know how to help a person of the age and experience and discipline you need instruction for. Someone that knows how to get children started may not be as good for an adult beginner. You need to find someone that can assist you safely and be knowledgeable about the type riding you wish to do. Example: If you want to learn to jump then you need someone that can teach you basic flat riding until you are accomplished and then start you over fences when your level of riding is good enough, you would not go to someone that only knows and does trial riding if jumping or dressage or western pleasure is what you want to learn. If you are a beginner or you are getting lessons for your children and you do not know what you exactly want, then you may need to find a school that has an instructor that is experienced in many styles and types of riding and in starting the beginner with good basics that can grow into correct advancement.
The best way to judge a place to see if it is right for you is to set up an appointment to watch a lesson and visit the barn. They should require the students to wear a safety helmet or strongly advise it's use if they are a beginner no matter what age and they should have an equine liability insurance. Even better if their instructors are certified. There will be a number of things to watch for while you are there:
1. Does the place look clean and orderly?
2. Do they have an arena and round pen or a designated place to take the lessons in?
3. If they do is it level, clear of debris, a safe fence made of board or pipe panels, not junked up, good footing or is it in disrepair?
4. Does the instructor take time to check the horse’s bridle and saddle for proper fitting?
5. Do they spend time with the rider to make sure they understand everything in a patient manner or are they yelling and sarcastic?
6. Are the horses and ponies in good health and in clean stalls and paddocks or are they skinny, unhealthy looking, dirty stalls, no clean hay or water around?
7. Does the animal giving the lesson seem pleasant and alert or are they dull, impersonal, ears pinned back?
8. If they are doing a group lesson, does the instructor take time to give each one individual help or do they ignore the riders that aren’t as good.
9. Do the other clients seem happy and satisfied with the barn?
1 Ask yourself if this is the kind of place you will be happy at?
There is one thing that I do have a problem with and it is instructors that are not experienced and are not competent. I do not like to see riders falling off. You are there to learn to ride and stay on the horse not to fall off every time you ride. If riders are constantly falling then something is wrong! I also do not like using young horses for lessons. I feel a horse needs to have more experience than the ride so the rider can learn from the horse. Most horses under 8 years old are still learning, not to say there are not exceptions to any rule. I have also had horses that have had more riding time at 7 than ones at 20. It depends on the barn and the horse. I also like to see horses that have been at the barn for a number of years. Horses being used that are new and only been there for a short time is not a safe idea. The instructor needs to have ridden the horse and know what the animal is likely to do in all experiences that might happen in order to keep the rider safe.
My instructors were very experienced in what they were teaching and had many years in doing so. Young instructors are sometimes alright as long as you have a head instructor with many years of experience to guide them and step in if they are not correctly instructing you. You develop a feel with the more students you teach. You know when to push them and when to wait. Each student is an individual and needs to be treated that way.
Another thing you need to think about is if the instructor can help you if you have a physical problem. You may need closer attention if you do and they need to know something about human as well as equine anatomy and biomechanics.
If you think you have found the right place then sign up for one lesson and see how it goes. You need to feel confident in the instructor and not intimidated. They need to take time explaining what it is you will be learning and the structure of the lessons. The horse should be suitable to your needs and the saddle should be comfortable. Your horse should be quiet and mannerly as you are taught to groom and saddle it up. The instructor should be patient and helpful, giving you time to understand everything you are expected to do. Your instructor should give you confidence and make you feel as if you can accomplish everything and not move on until you can master simple tasks. If you feel in danger or do not feel comfortable at any time, you need to tell them. If they cannot help you work through it, then stop and leave! Always be safe never let them hurt you. If after the first lesson they have a horse or the horse you were riding is for sale, you should become a little suspicious. If it is really a good school of instruction and has an ethical business, they would not suggest you buying a horse right away.
Get references from students that have been there for years, veterinaries, neighbors or anyone that knows the business. You should also call your local county/city officials and see if they have a business license to teach. This does not mean that a very experienced teacher that only has a couple of students is not great. Sometimes the hidden back yard teachers are your best. They don’t have a big business, but may have your best interest at heart.
The best way to find the best school for your situation is to do a little research and study. Read about the different types of riding and breeds that are best for the type riding your think you might be interested in. After you find a place take a few lessons and see how it goes. Good luck on finding the right place for you.