Stable Advice: Moving on to a Different Instructor

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Editor’s Note: Horse Illustrated is introducing a new column for 2015. Stable Advice is a place for our readers to offer their advice on some of those uniquely equestrian problems. These aren’t the questions that you’d normally ask your vet or trainer. These are questions about horse life, like dealing with interpersonal struggles at the barn, juggling horse commitments and “real world” obligations, and generally navigating the challenges of living in the 21st-century horse world. Think of this as a place to share advice with a group of your best equestrian friends.

If you’d like to submit a question for a future column, email it to hc-editor@i5publishing.com and use the subject line “Stable Advice.” Any questions we use will remain anonymous.

Riding Lesson

Is the instructor who taught you when you were a beginner the best instructor for you now?

This month’s Stable Advice question:

I’ve been riding with the same instructor since I was a beginner. She’s helped me a lot as a rider, but I feel like I’ve hit a plateau and my lessons seem more like supervised practice than real learning experiences. I want to keep progressing, and I think that will require moving on to a more advanced instructor. I really like my instructor as a person and I want to maintain a good relationship with her after I leave the barn. Is there a way to make an amicable split from a longtime instructor?

Have you been through this? Have any advice for this reader? Click “Submit a Comment” below to share it. Some of the best responses will be featured in a future issue of Horse Illustrated!

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Just because you split from your old riding instructor doesn’t mean you can’t go back to her for a brush up or riding help. That will make him/her feel special and help you improve on your riding. You may also consider staying with him/her longer. A new instructor can be a good and bad change. Good luck!

  2. Before making the decision to move, I think a conversation with the current instructor is order. Make sure that you have some clear goals that you want to achieve, not just to “keep progressing.” Write them down then discuss them with your current instructor. With clear goals, she might be able to help you achieve these. She might also recommend that you go to another instructor, and could offer suggestions. Switching to another instructor without being familiar with them is a big gamble. Clinics with other trainers might also be a good idea to check out. Just keep the lines of communication open. So many problems can be avoided by communicating. Best of luck!

  3. There are a lot of considerations that need to be made before this question can be answered well. You said you have been with the same trainer since you were a beginner, how many hours have you had in the saddle? Someone can ride for years, but if they do it infrequently (casually lesson/ride ~once a week), the solid foundation you need to establish before moving on to more advanced movements may just not be there yet. Riding takes a lot of practice and working on the same things over and over to get them right, not only for your safely, but for your horse as well. If you are riding infrequently are upset with lack of progress you might help yourself get better by talking to your instructor about leasing options (or buying) so you can practice more outside your lessons.
    If you feel like you are losing sight of your goal you can do the simplest thing ever and just ask! Maybe something with your balance or timing just isn’t quite right and you need to work on developing a better “feel”.
    Make sure you are actively listening during lessons. If your instructor seems to be giving you the same advice over and over again, it might not be them. Ask someone to video your ride and watch it later analyzing yourself critically. Are you really doing everything they are asking of you or glossing over the finer details saying, that’s good enough? Good enough is never enough and that mentality won’t get you very far. If you truly want to improve and learn new skills be HONEST in your critique. Another simple solution is to ask your trainer if you (and your horse) are ready to try something new or different.
    Sometimes what you work on in lessons has to do with your horse as well. If you have aspirations to jump 5’ fences and doesn’t have the scope, that might be an issue. Or if you have a green horse, it takes time and work to get your horse where you want them to be. You and your horse have a partnership and you both have to be physically and mentally ready to tackle new experiences. That being said, if you have made it this far, spent more hours in the saddle then sleeping, spoken to your instructor about what you need to work on, have watched yourself ride, know your horse’s physical and mental capabilities and your own and you are still not satisfied, maybe it is time to make a switch. Again, not knowing which discipline you are speaking of I can only guess at this, but in a generalized way: if you have covered the basics of w/t/c and have good communication with your horse and want to start specializing in a discipline that your trainer is not an expert in, there shouldn’t be any hard feelings.
    The most important thing is to talk to your trainer about your goals and the steps you need to take to get there. Lastly: NEVER feel discouraged. Everyone hits plateaus no matter what their discipline or riding level. All you can do is work hard and be the best horse person (therefore best learner) you can be.
    Hope this helps!

  4. I had a very similar situation. I took western lessons at a barn for 2+ years. My instructor was awesome and super fun, but after awhile it seemed like, as you said, supervised practice. I also wanted to start a different discipline (branch out a little), so I switched to a jumping instructor. My trainer totally understood and we are still great friends. There’s nothing wrong with paying your previous instructor a visit to say thanks for their awesome help!

  5. If you have a good relationship with your instructor then you should be able to talk to him/her about your situation without offending them. Be honest but grateful about all the help you’ve received in the past.

  6. Be honest and extremely grateful. Hopefully your instructor will understand and offer to be there for you on your journey. Send her updates on your progress if she is open to continuing a relationship. If not, no worries – you need to do what is best for you and are not responsible for how she handles the news. Your responsibility is to share it with as much grace and thankfulness for where she has brought you to be able to move to the next level and without her, you would not be where you are today – Huge Thank You!

  7. Look around, watch, and do your research. I was with an instructor that, for a long time, didn’t teach me a single thing. I quit with her and months later, my sister did as well. We switched to a new barn where we’ve been for over a year and we LOVE it! Neither of us has ever had our own horse, but the school horses are great and everyone at the barn is as well. Every trainer–even the sub trainers–are awesome. They’re all accomplished and tailor their instruction to who they’re teaching, paying attention to what the riders want and need to learn. I’ve learned more there than I did in my 8-9 years at other barns. All the others were worthless compared to Spring Run. I can only imagine where I’d be if I had started out here. Follow your heart and what your instinct tells you is right. Don’t stay somewhere where you’re miserable. Riding should be enjoyable. If it’s not, someone’s doing something wrong.

  8. As an instructor myself, I understand when someone feels they will grow under a new person. I teach beginners and up but I don’t expect to take one person all the way. Having different teachers is good for most riders at different points in their riding career. What I don’t like is having a student say they are taking a break and then a month later see pictures on social media of them riding somewhere else. Just tell me, I will understand.

  9. If your instructor truly understands the horse world and the direction that you are trying to go by taking lessons you can just say it point blank. Explain to them that, although you have really enjoyed your time learning from them and would like to be able to ride with them on a more personal level, you feel it would benefit you more to move on to an advanced trainer. To make them feel better about you moving on to a new trainer you could ask their opinion on some potential trainers and even ask if they have anyone they would recommend. This way they feel that you truly do trust their opinion and you will still feel that you can ask them for advice even when they aren’t your trainer. Hopefully your trainer will understand your feelings and can still stay in your life as a friend and possibly a riding buddy.

  10. I believe the best approach it the honest approach. Let you instructor know that that she has gotten you this far and now it is time for another to keep you moving forward. It is never easy to leave the safety and security of someone that has coached you along but it is neccessary for improvement. Give her a gift of appreciation and keep her informed of your progress. Good Luck….

  11. Let’s be honest. Many instructors take it as a personal insult if you choose to seek new instruction. This is never good for anyone, nor is it professional. Remember that when you tell your instructor the truth, that you would like to try someone new in order to gain new perspective and grow as a rider. Be honest, polite and thankful. And remember, what how they choose to act in return is the true measure of who they are and not a measure of your decision.

  12. Most instructors that teach beginners on up are not expected to take someone to the advanced levels like, let’s say, the Olympics. I think if you have exhausted all techniques with your current instructor, she would be more understanding than you think for your continued advancement with another instructor. Just talk it out. communication is the key to success in many areas of one’s life. Your current instructor may even know someone perfect for you to go to.

  13. Any good instructor that is actually invested in seeing you progress should understand that you might want to try out other options. That doesn’t mean they won’t miss you, or that they might not like what they’re hearing, but in the horse world, where politics is a game so many play, being up front and honest about your motivations should be taken well. In fact, your instructor might even be able to provide you with names of other instructor options so that you remain within their ‘network’. I just moved barns to obtain dressage training my prior instructor/barn could not provide. I still keep in touch with my prior instructor because I really respect her opinion and I want to remain her friend. She was sad to see me go (and I am sad to have left her!), but she understood.

  14. I suggest that you still keep taking lessons with your old instructor every once in a while and tke more lessons with your new instructor.

  15. I had to change instructors because the barn I was riding at because the barn was going bankrupt and she was leaving it, too. I had high respect for her and she remains to be one if the people I’ve respected most in my life because she pushed me to do things even when I personally felt that I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I’m lucky that my current, new instructor also rode at that same barn, so I knew her a bit, but even if you don’t personally know your new instructor, I would advise that honesty helps. I was honest with my instructor and she was honest with me and my family as well. I’ve always believed a good instructor has good relations with any student they have, so I’m sure your instructor will understand your reasons and even support you.

  16. It’s great that you are progressing with your riding – well done! ‘Out growing’ an instructor can be a difficult transition time but I would suggest you discuss this with your current instructor in a really constructive way.
    I would approach the task by first sitting down and writing out your goals and what support your feel you need to achieve these. You can then share these with your current instructor as the starting point for a really open chat about whether your instructor feels they have the skills to support you achieving these goals or whether you are best to look for a new member of your riding team. If you have your goals written out and expanded on this can also provide a great starting point for you to ‘interview’ new instructors.
    If you like the idea of a goal sheet you may like to add a few thoughts on under the following headings:
    >high points over the last year
    >low points over the last year
    >the challenges you currently face in your training and what you have tried
    >your strong points
    >your weak points
    >what you feel you need to change to achieve your goals
    >what you feel needs to change in your horse to achieve your goals
    >what may get in the way of your achieving your goals and the possible solutions
    >what you enjoy/don’t enjoy about the instruction you have received in the past
    >your preferred learning style
    In an instructor/student relationship it is very important you find the right ‘fit’ for you to keep up your progress and achieve your goals. Good luck!

  17. The best thing is to sit down with your instructor. Have a talk and explain that although you must move on, or feel so, you want to remain in a good relationship. If she knows you well she will likely want to see you succeed and the majority of instructors will help you find a new instructor! Not only will you and her feel better, but you will know that the help you’re recieving is a good, solid opinion, one that you’ve depended on for a long, long time. It’s smart to continue on as friends; one day you may help her, and she taught you a good foundation. That’s important, and a good relationship is something to value.

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