Just as there are people who work diligently and with singular purpose toward the goal of mastery in their profession, so there are also those with equal determination to suck at what they do for a living. Let’s take for example the riding instructor, who sits in one spot for the duration of the lesson often times in some remote corner of the arena. Never before have I seen so many sit down riding instructors as I have since moving to California. And these are not people new to the profession, but rather nationally successful people in their discipline of choice. Winners in the show ring with the wall of ribbons, awards and medals to prove it.
I inherently know that all those prizes don’t mean diddly squat in the scheme of things, but your average riding customer clearly does not since these instructors always seem to have a full lesson schedule with more waiting in the wings to receive this particular brand of teaching. I can’t decide if it’s laziness or boredom that keeps them planted on their derrieres. Maybe it’s something else?
Here’s a recent article that’s making the rounds on the Internet that discusses why America is producing a large quantity of mediocre instructors. http://theridinginstructor.net/75/top-3-reasons-why-america-producing-so-many-mediocre-instructors/ I’m not sure these are my top three reasons, but I won’t argue the validity or truth of the reasons presented. For argument sake let’s just go with them. Now that the top three reasons have been identified and discussed – what now?
At this point I am reminded of how a big company works, or the Government. Meeting announced. Problem dissected. Potential catalysts discussed at length. Good meeting all, let’s go for lunch. Six months later another meeting is called.
‘How are we doing on that matter we discussed at out last meeting, George?’
‘Well, sir, we’ve confirmed that those were indeed the top three reasons.’
‘We’re thinking of putting together a small team to further analyze the situation.’
‘Good! Good! What’s for lunch?’
I can’t realistically do a thing about the current state of American instructorship. It’s beyond my means, capabilities and willpower. What I can do, though, is warn off people who might become potential clients. So following is a list of warning signs that you might be entering a Craptastic Instructor Zone:
1) As previously mentioned, unless the instructor is confined to a wheelchair or body cast there’s no good reason for them to be sitting or standing still during the lesson. One of the greatest tools an instructor uses at his or her disposal is their eyes. They are constantly adjusting their position to see horse and rider from different perspectives to be able to pick up on nuances.
2) Students that have been students ‘forever’. Except for the very odd exception, a good instructor will teach a student all that they know and then move the student on. No one instructor knows everything. There are great athlete and coach combinations, but very few that stick it out together for a whole career. There’s a reason for that. While familiarity with one another can have its advantages, it can also have its disadvantages. I’ve seen many cases of instructors purposely (and sometimes inadvertently) making their students dependant on them. Beware the instructor with a long list of ‘forever’ students, especially if they’re still working on how to halt the horse without throwing out the anchor after all those years.
3) A smorgasbord of ‘new’ students. This might simply indicate the instructor is new to the region having moved there recently. That’s easily found out. But for an instructor who’s been around long enough to have established themselves, big turn over in the student ranks can indicate big issues like that particular coffee shop in town on the corner, run by the Ogre, that always has the ‘Help Wanted’ sign in their window.
4) Disproportionate amount of ‘accidents’. Riders falling off, horses running off, tack breaking, weekly ambulance or vet visits etc… While all of these things happen from time to time, an instructor whose students and horses are plagued by accidents and injuries is the proverbial flashing red neon sign.
5) Unhappy participants. If rider and horse aren’t happy in the lesson and no attempt is being made to rectified that, walk away unless you like being miserable and paying for that privilege.
6) Avoid the instructor who puts students on lame or drugged horses and especially if they a) don’t recognize the horse is lame, b) don’t care that the horse is lame, or c) carry the needle in their back pocket.
7) You’ve all seen – and heard – the hockey (soccer/baseball/football etc…) parent. Well, they also come in the form of riding instructors. You’ll see them at shows all uptight, making their students nervous, ‘coaching’ (read yelling at) their students, and otherwise displaying uninstructor-like behaviors. Again, unless you like to pay for that type of treatment – pass.
8) Too much sugar is fluff. That’s right, a cotton candy instructor is just another form of a dependency maker, unless you’re five years old. Teaching requires balance. You’ll never progress as a rider unless you are challenged, occasionally pushed, and corrected. If all you ever hear is how awesome you’re doing, rest assured you aren’t actually that awesome. Unless you’re five. In which case, you are definitely going to be a gold medalist in the Olympics.
9) Either an instructor that never schools their school or client’s horses, or the instructor that has to get on every horse before a student rides at a show, or in a lesson.
10) If students regularly ask questions that don’t get answered directly, the answers don’t make sense, no clarification is offered when a student is confused, or answers always leave the student unsatisfied, then the instructor is wanting in the communication, and likely knowledge, departments. Maybe try another language?
11) Displaying and talking about credentials everywhere, all the time, is either one super insecure instructor or one that knows they don’t know anything of value and needs to cover it up. By the same token, a complete lack of credentials or history and continued avoidance of the topic when asked is a red flag. Everyone has their own tolerance level for papered or show ring credentials. Be more impressed with the person in front of you and what comes out of their mouth than the certificates and ribbons hanging in the office. Feel super confident when both match.
It can be a trying endeavor to find a good riding instructor, but the profession is no different than any other. If you need a mechanic for your car you don’t just run your finger down the Yellow Pages, pick a garage at random and hope for the best. You talk to friends and family. You call the BBB. You look on Yelp for reviews. You call and talk to someone at the business. You maybe do a drive-by in your Mother’s car. Then you make an informed decision.
Go watch an instructor give some lessons, not just one. Talk to students, current and former. Have a close look at the lesson horses. Interrogate the instructor, asking some of the tougher questions not just how much per hour. Nobody should feel so desperate for instruction as to settle for mediocrity. And if people stop settling for mediocrity, it’ll cease to exist. It’s a simple case of supply and demand.
Always remember; it takes more time, energy and resources to unlearn bad lessons than to learn them right the first time around.