Weights and measures

The main question posed during #horsehour on Twitter last week was what makes a good riding instructor.  The hour flew by, although it was a slow start for me: despite this being part of what I want to do with my life, I had very little idea of how to answer the question, nevermind succinctly!  I was surprised that I was so stumped, partly because, at the last count, I’ve worked with about 20 instructors to date, and that’s just as a client, without including colleagues.

The discussion provoked some great responses from instructors and clients alike, but it wasn’t until over half way through that one bright spark pointed out that there was a clear correlation between the many responses: all of the positive attributes mentioned were personal qualities – nobody mentioned formal qualifications.  At this point, it was a real shame that not a single governing body or mainstream media outlet engaged with Horse Hour – the perspective from organisations such as the British Horse Society (BHS), Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) and projects such as HoofRide would’ve been fascinating.

Equestrianism is very much married to tradition and, increasingly, is partnered with protection against litigation – both of which are very much supported by the idea of obtaining formal qualifications, but the statement offered by several people was that certificates are just that: all they conclusively prove is that a person can pass an exam.  Unless that exam is specifically in the subject of imparting knowledge sympathetically and to the needs of an individual, it offers no insight as to whether the person in question is a good teacher.

Horse Hour participants mentioned qualities such as communication skills, an encouraging attitude and the ability to work towards goals as must-haves for riding instructors.  Many wished to be inspired, both with confidence and the courage to reach higher within the sport.  Patience and passion were also high on the list – but very few of these are measured in terms of BHS, ABRS or UKCC qualifications.  So why do we still have these lengthy and expensive processes?

Two reasons: it’s what we’ve always done, and it keeps us safe.  The general public understands an approval process, and it gives them a benchmark, or an offering of perspective.  A sense of the person having some formal expertise is offered, something which is particularly important to novices.

When I think back over the instructors I’ve received tuition from, my favourites are the ones with the personal attributes listed above.  Of course, it’s great when someone compliments your technique, and when you can see or feel the difference for yourself at the end of a session, whether the difference is big or small.  There are even positives to the instructors I’ve been less keen to work with have sometimes given me something to help me improve, but the reasons I haven’t liked working with those people?  Nothing to do with their qualifications or that I’ve felt they’ve made me a worse rider rather than a better one, but everything to do with personality clashes.

If I’m asked how to choose a place to train, it’s rare that I send people to the BHS where to train guide, but far more likely that I’ll say the following: try places out; see how it feels.  Are the horses nice?  Are you able to do the type of riding that you want to do?  Are the staff friendly and considerate of your requirements?  Is the place tidy (much like the event manager in me heads straight to the toilets when visiting a venue for the first time)?  It’s that elusive “feel” we refer to when riding – to develop your feel in the saddle, the environment you’re learning in needs to feel right for you, not for anyone else and certainly not for an examiner.  Because it’s not them taking the lessons and they’re not the ones handing over the money.

It increasingly seems that qualifications open doors and tick boxes: just like people seeking jobs in the corporate world are expected to have A levels (or High School Diplomas) and even degrees are standard requirements these days, it is a given that riding instructors carry pieces of paper and letters after their names.  But it would seem that their personalities keep clients walking through the doors and into their arenas.

Clients: do you check your instructor’s credentials before booking a lesson?  What about them makes you want to return?

Instructors: do you have any formal qualifications?  If so, how do they help you in your role?


10 thoughts on “Weights and measures

  1. Easy 🙂

    I have my BHS AI and Stage IV but that only proves I’ve got the knowledge. You would have to ask my employers if I’ve got the experience. I know people in the BHS who I would not train with, even if they were the best in the country, because of their mannerisms. This guy used to train me and never got the best from me as he shouted and made me feel like an idiot all the time. Once I was riding towards this 3’9″ oxer and the 17.2hh I was riding started broncing on the spot. He shouted at me not to pull him in the mouth. I definitely wasn’t! My reins were slack and it was all I could do to put my leg on and ride towards the fence. I was a nervous wreck before my stage IV and I know I only scraped through. Other trainers have made me feel good about myself and that means I confidently volunteer to jump the difficult horse etc, and I’d much rather come away from a lesson feeling positive. Even if the lessons gone badly but I understand why and how to improve.

    In terms of credentials, I think word of mouth is the best advert. I’ve got a lot of clients that way. As well as being a friendly face on the yard so they feel they can approach you and ask questions.

    I don’t think that my qualifications help in my role atm, but if I hadn’t trained for them I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have. They also give you access to other opportunities, and means you can get insurance. Next year I’m going to aim for my Intermediate Instructor :O


    • thanks for your input 🙂

      I think possibly the biggest problem with the BHS system is that they’ve tried to move with the times in terms of content (for example, the PTT syllabus containing a huge amount now about sports nutrition and human physiology/health) but I still find it too linear in terms of making the assumption that, the longer you teach for and the higher you go up the qualification ladder, you’ll be teaching more towards advanced/elite performance. Which I think is very flawed logic. I’ve said elsewhere that experience does not equal ability, and the demands of the market may not be that the longer you’re in the industry, you’re less likely to teach beginners and more likely to be coaching clients who are competing at affiliated level. Which, in my opinion, starts to make the system irrelevant.

      I think there is a need for CPD (continuing professional development) within any industry, and everyone should be encouraged to remain relevant and up to date in their skills (particularly important with things like first aid, where CPR procedures seem to change annually), but the assumption that once you’ve been teaching for ten years, all your clients will be out at BE100s every other weekend seems a bit strange.

      What’s good about the BHS system is that as well as the physiology, they’re including more coaching skills stuff in the syllabus (the main criticism in the past being that the qualifications are great for equine care and management, but that the BHS forgot the fact that human clients are involved too), and as long as there is genuine value to instructors and their employers as well as to clients, then that’s great. But I remain confused as to what the best thing for me is! Though that’s probably pretty revealing as to how unprepared for life I am!

  2. I have done my BHS stage one, and I WAS thinking about continuing with the BHS at least until I could get my AI but the more I study, the more I feel it isn’t for me as my experience is far more advanced than anything I have encountered so far. I do think all horsey people should learn as much as they can about horse care, and I suppose if you are a Novice, then possibly the BHS stage system would be more beneficial. I am finding it very dull and definitely old fashioned.

    I agree that there needs to be continued teaching/learning for all instructors as I know a few instructors who have been qualified for years and are still teaching beginners and would not be able to pass the current exams. I think they are ‘stagnant’ in not only their career but also for the riders they are teaching. The riders get to a certain point, and then have to find a new instructor as the one they began with is not capable of teaching them past a beginner. This doesn’t teach loyalty, something of which needs to be taught more in today’s current society! (but that is another issue all together!)

    I think I may continue with the BHS because having that qualification does open a few doors that would be un-available otherwise.


    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I had a conversation yesterday with some friends about how some more old fashioned methods are dying out, but there are some things which I think are still worth learning. I don’t have a problem with having to demonstrate basic knowledge and skills in an exam – if you’re finding the studying dull and you know the syllabus already, why not sit your Stage Two without studying? There isn’t a requirement to undertake hours of studying beforehand, if you think you’ll pass then go ahead and enter.

      I’m inclined to disagree slightly with your comment about some people not being suited to teach beyond beginner level: I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as they’re happy and they recognise this. The issue I take is when instructors take the incorrect assumption that years of experience is directly equal to an ability to teach at advanced/elite level – this is what I think is untrue. I do not at all have a problem with people constantly teaching beginners or advanced riders, as long as that is what they’re suited to and they have appropriate knowledge and skills. If a person would like to teach across all abilities, then again I wouldn’t prevent them from doing so, again as long as they have the right skills set. I credit the success and strength of my own training with the fact that I have changed instructors so much: my opinion is that it’s better to learn from a variety of people in many ways. Moving instructors hasn’t always meant I’ve moved yards, so the establishment has still benefited from my custom, I’ve just moved on internally. As a professional I also wouldn’t be offended if a client chose not to ride with me again, either due to personal reasons or because they wanted to do something different – it’s about what’s right for them. If I were in a position of people walking away in droves, I’d have to have a serious look at why that were happening and adjust, but if it were for good reasons, then I wouldn’t be upset.

      Realistically, as other people have said to me in the past, you have to work through one of the major coaching systems in order to gain professional credibility of some sort and also in order to be able to get insurance. Whether we see the content as relevant or not, we never know when in the future things may suddenly click into place and we realise why a certain thing was included, and it’s a recognisable benchmark which clients and employers like to see.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, it’s proving really interesting 🙂

      • I think I didn’t explain what I meant about teaching beginners… 🙂

        I agree if people want to teach beginners, and they are good at it then GO FOR IT! Everyone has to start somewhere and having a nice, happy instructor that is good at teaching you to overcome the first fears everyone undoubtedly feels when getting on a horse then that is brilliant. My issue is really, this person knows why her clients leave, complains why her clients leave…. and does nothing to help themselves!!!!! Thats what irritates me, not that teaching beginners is below someone who has been in the industry for so long, or that this person isn’t teaching at a higher level.

        This is a very interesting subject, and I definitely agree in the more training and knowledge one can get is the only way to improve yourself, your skills, and the nest way to teach others also.

        I will be taking my BHS without any formal studying…. the problem is I freeze in exam/competition circumstances….. a problem I have had for a long time and am trying very hard to fight through!!! 🙂 Keep us posted on your job! I will find that really interesting and informative.

        Aren’t horses Fab!! They bring people together, and make so many things better! xxx

      • Don’t worry, I’ll be following my usual posting schedule all summer (hopefully! I managed last year). So Thursdays should be horse stuff and Mondays should be everything else. I didn’t post a huge amount about my teaching last year, as I wasn’t sure what I could get away with, but I’ve seen some other examples of instructor blogs now and will be aiming to be a bit more detailed whilst still not naming any names.

  3. I thought I would post from the view of a client here as I have had a variety of instructors over the past few months. Firstly I do tend to check now if a stables is registered with BHS it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t ride there but I like to know what their approach is in general. I don’t check with the instructors though, oddly enough I have never really thought to. I have had great instructors who were fully qualified through schemes, great instructors who weren’t and not very good instructors who were and who weren’t qualified through schemes. Incidentally I think that it is true that sometimes you click with an instructor and that this is often totally independent of their qualifications. In fact sometimes it has more to do with their teaching method.
    I am beginning to see that different instructors at different points of your riding seems to be really useful. Interestingly a colleague asked me yesterday if I thought it was important that I like my instructor, I said I wasn’t sure – I know I have to respect them but I have never ridden often with an instructor I don’t like so I’m not sure. I guess for me if I get an instructor who is happy to accept my nerves and work on them with me rather than dismiss them entirely then that is most important to me.

    • I think it’s critical that you like an instructor! If you don’t like them, how can you feel comfortable with them and put trust in them? I’m realistic enough to know that the entire world won’t like me, but that’s fine, because I don’t have time to teach seven billion people to ride 😉 in all seriousness… instructors have to be tough, and not take it personally when they don’t get on with a client or potential client. As long as an instructor isn’t causing physical harm or emotional abuse, I think they can put it down to a personality difference and accept that the client in question isn’t for them, and they aren’t for the client.

      • That’s probably the crucial point, the trust level isn’t it, and it is perhaps the thing that some non riders find difficult to understand. I would agree that both instructors and clients should accept that at times there will be a personality clash, though sometimes I think I have lacked the confidence in my riding to do that.

  4. Pingback: Happy birthday #HorseHour | Kicking On

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