Pro Tips

How to Be a Good (or Better) Student

“If you already know, then why are you paying me?”

I once had a student ask, “When can I learn how to go fast?”

A telling question, actually, because I apparently failed to explain to him, in terms he would really absorb, that one cannot simply hop on a horse and gallop. One must walk first, then trot, then canter. Thus, my answer: “When you learn how to stop fast.”

You know what you want out of a riding instructor, right? Someone who dedicates time to help you learn, grow and progress with your riding and goals. And is flexible. And affordable. And really “understands” you.

Students often put a lot of pressure on instructors to be what they want them to be: professional, punctual, honest, safe, flexible. To do everything within their control help them reach their goals while imparting their knowledge slowly so it sinks in.


Why is this relationship so one-sided? Simple: the money goes from student to teacher. Teachers have a vested interest, and hopefully a real desire, to develop an atmosphere to help students learn, succeed and create retention.

Flip this coin around and ask yourself, “If I expect this much out of my instructor, am I being a good student? Am I being the kind of person an instructor wants to teach?”

Instructors DO have their opinions on what kinds of students they prefer, whether they admit it or not. So I asked several professional riding instructors, “what makes a good student?” Here’s what they said:

“Cathy T.”

1. Pays attention during lessons and communicates when they don’t understand something so that the instructor has a chance to explain it in a different way.

2. Realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn to ride well. Understands that their own physical fitness and balance is a big factor. Does not expect to be an expert in six months.

3. Shows up on time and pays promptly without having to be chased down for it.

Don’t be…

1. The person who has trainer-hopped six times in a year and likes to interrupt lessons to tell you that Previous Trainer did it a different way.

2. The person who is super inconsistent with taking lessons, but pissy they are not progressing (e.g. they come out once, miss two times, show up 3 weeks later…etc.).

3. The “I CAN’T” person who won’t even try. I have heard things like “I CAN’T put my heels down!” Yet strangely when I have them put their heels down while standing with their toes on a curb they can do it. So I’m pretty sure you have normal ankle flexion and you can do it. If someone says they’re scared I’m totally kind to that. If that’s why they can’t. But “I can’t put my heels down” or “I can’t keep my hands low” is pretty much B.S..


Pretty simple: A good student is willing to learn and admit they don’t know everything. Like I always say, “If you already know, then why are here? Why are you paying me?”


“Jeff S.”

1. Good students show up on time and schedule regularly. They have good work ethic and are able to focus on a task for extended periods of time.

2. They do not interject their own opinions or complain about the horse, but instead ask well thought out questions when it’s appropriate. Some students really suffer from “diarrhea of the mouth.”

3. Good students must have a high level of respect for their trainer, and in many ways this can’t happen if too much of a friendship is created.

4. Also, a big pet peeve of mine is when a client is being disloyal and seeking other trainers early in process. Outgrowing a coach is one thing, but leaving because you get annoyed one day shows a lack of respect and commitment.


Pay on time. Show up on time. Listen and try.


Three things that make someone a great student:

1. Listen and trust me. It can be hard but I trust that I am going to teach what I know and do it safely even if you don’t agree with me at that precise moment.

2. Someone who can drop their ego and attitude at the gate. Don’t act like you know it all, because even if you have ridden before there are always more skills that can be learned. Don’t just assume you can come into a lesson and act like you own the place, that is what the instructor is there for. We are here to teach and tell you point blank, without sugar coating anything what you can do to better yourself and your horse.

3. Please be on time. I understand traffic and things like that get in the way, but at least let me know so that I am not sitting around for an extra 15 or 20 minutes wondering where you are. This does not help, especially when I have multiple lessons on the same day and you show up 25 minutes late expecting to still get your lesson in…sorry.

“Jessica B.”

A student has to show up regularly. Then, listen and be mentally present for a least half of the lesson. Keep up the good work!

©flickr/Katherine Mustafa

The instructors I surveyed had several common themes: Be on time. Pay on time. Be willing to learn, listen and try new things. Let them teach you. That’s why you’re there. (If you don’t remember how to choose a good instructor, and why you’re paying so much, please refer to my previous article “Why Lessons So Damn Expensive?“).

Coach/student dynamics are often one sided. A coach might bend to the wills of the student because they don’t want to lose them as a paying client, and certain clients will exploit this to the fullest. Don’t be that person. Make it a balanced, two-sided relationship by being the kind of client an instructor wants to show up and teach.

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