I'm pre-warning you all this article is more about things to think about rather than necessarily a definitive step-by-step guide to finding the best instructor. There are so many instructors with different coaching styles, different levels of experience, different qualifications and different training philosophies and approaches.
So we are going to go through a couple of ways that you can slim down your 'possibles' list, this is about giving you some things to think about that yo might not have thought about before but im also going to play devils advocate here and give you a couple of alternative opinions and ideas.
Why is choosing an instructor important?
Your coach will be the person you go to when you have a problem in the training of your horse. It might be that you have an issue you cant fix or that you're not quite sure what you need to do or how you need to do it. They will be the person that will give you the tools and knowledge. Great instructors can inspire and motivate you, they can be part of your support network if you ever need to ask a question or have a concern about your training.
The wrong trainer might not have the knowledge to be able to progress you and get you to reaching your goals. Or worse, they might teach you theories and exercises that are completely false. They may have tools and exercises to train your horse but they may not be in line with how you want to train your horse or they might simply not work for you or, even worse, they might not actually know how to help you. They may not be able to explain new things in a way that you understand and you lave feeling deflated and unmotivated.
The practicalities first
The very first thing you need to nail down is how much you want to invest into your lessons and how far you are willing to travel or whether you want your coach to come to you.
When it comes to investing its not just about how much one lesson will close but how many lessons you want to have each month. You might find that one lesson a month with a more expensive instructor might be more beneficial for you or weekly lessons with a less expensive coach might work better for you. You'll see a pattern as we go through this that its about deciding what you want and there is no one way that works well for everyone.
Every organisation (BD, BS, BE, BHS) have a database of instructors. The best place to start is to have a look there and make a list of instructors and then you can start wittling down that list based off of how much you are willing to pay and how far you are willing to travel.
When it comes to a coaches experience i would always advise that you choose a coach that has either ridden at or coached riders at the level you would like to compete at. It will mean that they have the tools and knowledge to be able to show you how to achieve your goals.
There is a trend at the moment thought of just finding a rider that gets good results in your area or you follow on social media or you admire as a rider to just select them as your coach and then off you go. But it is a little more complicated than that and just because they can ride does not in any way mean they can teach.
Its not just about what level they have ridden to though. A lot of riders want a coach that has ridden at Grand Prix, but to play devils advocate, this rider may not have trained that horse to Grand Prix, in which case, they wont have learnt how to teach a horse the actual movements. Also, a rider that has only trained one horse to a certain level will only have one set of ways to train a horse and, as we know, all horses and riders are different and what works for one horse doesn't necessarily work for another.
Ideally you want a coach that has a large amount of knowledge of training different types of horses. This will mean that they have loads of tools and exercises and ways to teach and train a horse and it will be more likely that they would have a training method that works for you and your horse. If you do want a rider that has ridden at a certain level, make sure that they have trained those horses to that level and preferably multiple horses. A rider that has trained multiple horses to a high level shows a training philosophy that works. Ideally, it would also help if all it was a range of different horses too which means that rider would have to develop different ways and exercises to achieve the same outcome.
But you don't need to pick a coach that has riding experience. I've seen trainers that have taken multiple riders to a level higher than they actually competed or rode at themselves. These coaches will still have the same level of experience as they will have developed multiple methods to suit the different horses and riders they teach. Similarly, a coach that is also a qualified judge is a great asset as they will be able to provide you with training from the perspective of the people that, at the end of the day will be marking you.
You can do a lot of research on this, look up their BD record and it will show you what level they have competed at, what horses they have competed at what level. Don't just take their word for it on their Facebook page or advert as it is a trend at the moment, for some to use the ever so fashionable term of 'Grand Prix rider' when in fact they havent ridden a grand prix. Its a bit of a grey area as i guess if you have sat on a grand prix horse then technically you are a rider of a grand prix horse but if you havent competed or trained that horse to grand prix, (i dont know), there's a lot of grey areas when it comes to things like that.
This takes us nicely onto our next point: the coaches qualifications. For some, qualifications will be the first thing they look for when deciding on a coach, but for others qualifications don't matter at all.
Again, for me this is not as simple as it seems. I've seen coaches with their BHS, UKCC and everything else and they have been awful teachers. Similarly, some of the top riders and coaches in the country wont have these big formal qualifications. The important thing to know about all these qualifications is that they teach you how to teach not what to teach.
This is still hugely important, as a coach needs to have the ability to communicate their knowledge in a way that you will understand and be able to put into practice yourself. It doesn't matter how much knowledge a coach has if they aren't able to communicate it in a way the rider understands. Also, how you learn may be totally different to how another rider learns, and these qualifications will teach the coach to have a variety of coaching styles and be able to switch between them to suit each rider, which trust me is a huge skill!
These qualifications are thousands of pounds and so, a lot of the time, coaches wont take these exams because of the costs or time spend away from the yard/coaching their clients not because they are not capable. So whilst qualifications are a great way to show that the coach was, at the time of their assessment, coaching in line with the organisations requirements it doesn't necessarily mean that they will be the best instructor.
On the BD database, it does tell you what qualifications each coach has so you can use that as a way to whittle down your list or you can leave out qualificatiosn if youre not fussed.
This is more of a side note because if you are wanting your coach to also get on your horse either to train them or help with a behaviour issue, then riding experience is extremely important. You will need to make sure that your coach has trained horses to the level that you are aiming for or that they have dealt with the behaviour you are having issues with.
References are a great way to find out more about the instructor. Find out from people that already have lessons with them what they are like, how they teach, what their methods and philosophies are. It will help you to find out more about them from a riders perspective. But remember to take what they say with a pinch of salt. What might work great for one rider might not work well for you or your horse.
You can ask around your friends to see who they are coached by, or if you have seen a rider that has really progressed recently its a great idea to ask them who is their coach and what they think of them as its always a good indicator of a good coach if someone has improved drastically since theyve been training with them.
Every rider likes a different way of coaching. There are two things that i would take into account when finding a coach. The first is their approach to training and the second is how they explain things. A trainers teaching style will be hugely influential in how much you take away from the session. Everyone learns differently so its important to find someone that explains new things in a way you understand and makes you come away from the lesson excited for the next one.
There are 3 different types of training approach (there are more but these are the three that ive found are most common):
Some riders like a direct approach: what's wrong, how do i fix it, how do i know when its good.
Some riders like a more theoretical approach: why you and your horse have these weaknesses, why these exercises work and why it is important that you improve this specific part.
And some riders like a more holistic approach: to feel supported and encouraged, to feel more confident when they leave and feel able to ask questions and that their instructor is there for them when they need them.
None of these types of riders are any better than another and you might find that you are in fact a combination of two or all of these. But different coaches will be more comfortable coaching in the style that they are themselves. So, for me, i am theoretical i like to know why i am doing something and why it is working or not working. So i love being able to teach these types of riders but i also learnt early on that some riders don't find value in that. The strength of a coach is their ability to be able to switch between coaching styles to suit the rider but making sure that all their riders make the same improvements and leave feeling motivated, more knowledgeable and confident to continue the training at home.
When it comes to how a coach explains new exercises, its important to find a way that suits you. Something that a lot of people dont know about me is that i am actually a qualified secondary school teacher and a big part of your training is about different teaching styles. One that really stuck with me was
Auditory: These riders learn by listening to instructions, descriptions and explanations. They like to discuss and ask questions.
Visual: These riders learn a lot from watching other riders or being given visual demonstrations, diagrams and images.
Kinaesthetic: These riders learn from moving and touching. These are practical riders that generally learn by investigating, trying things out and making mistakes and then improving on it.
From this then, its important to find a coach that explains new concepts or exercises in a way that works for you. And this is where its so important to go and have a lesson with a few different instructors first because, even if on paper they have all the experience and qualifications and attitude you are looking for you just might not click with them.
So, go try a couple of trainers out and when youve finished your lesson really think about
How do you know the coach is right for you?
Questions you can ask yourself
Did the trainer’s style suit your personal approach to riding and your relationship with your horse?
If you like to ask questions, did they take the time to answer, and were the answers clear enough for you to understand?
Did you learn at least one new theory or tool that made a difference to your riding or your horse?
Did they explain exercises clearly enough for you to follow without feeling lost?
Did you feel they showed enough interest in you/your horse to warrant going again?
Were they professional, or did they spend some of your lesson time chatting on the phone or to others – unless there is a very good reason, such as an emergency, this is not acceptable, and yes, it does happen!
Do you feel you are going to learn from this person, or just get exercised?
Finding an instructor is such a minefield, there are so many options and choices but remember its about finding on that you want to work with, that makes you come away from the lesson feeling inspired and excited to go again.