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?