Amateur Hour

5 Tips for Coaching Adult Amateurs Riders

I may own a farrier business with my husband, but I’m still an amateur rider and competitor.

It’s a tough world out there. All the articles I see online mostly talk about how painful the injuries can be as an adult rider (agree) and how much wine you need (a lot). There is also a lot out there about how to be a good student (basically, shut your mouth and do what your instructor says).

What I don’t see much of, however, is how to be a good riding instructor or trainer for the not-a-junior crew.

Training and instructing kids and teens is way different than teaching adult riders. Kids are programmed to listen to grown-ups. They haven’t had a chance to establish real fears yet. Younger people are also more flexible, bounce better when they hit the ground, and they don’t know how much health insurance, horses, tack, or horse shows cost.

Knowing how to ride well, train horses, and teach kids does not automatically translate to being able to work with grown-up riders. With kids (and non-horse-savvy parents), an instructor or trainer has to be the authority; with adults, that authority has to become more of a dialogue.

As an amateur, finding the right coach can be an emotional, frustrating, discouraging process. We can’t ride like we used to, but we still want to be active and have a good time.

Some tips for coaching us adult riders (and training our horses):

1. If we already know how to ride, don’t try to change our style completely to suit your program.

It may not be the way you want it done, but sending us back to basics when we we’ve been doing quite well for years is a waste of both of our time. Obviously, safety issues should be addressed, but stirrup length and quirky habits do not need punishment, they just need direction. Let’s move forward and improve productively.

(flickr/Roger Goun)

2. Adults don’t want to “suck it up”, and frankly, we shouldn’t have to.

If we tell you something we’re afraid of, or an injury or limitation we have, that’s all real. We’ve worked hard to not have to power through stuff anymore. I have nerve damage in my hands (thanks Robbie), and I’ll use my grippy reins instead of the fancy laced-leather reins in the show ring if I want to. I’m more than happy to discuss it with the judge, too, if he or she has a problem with it. I’m not happy to discuss it with the coach who is hired by me, though, if that coach hasn’t come up with a constructive solution to my problem.

3. When we tell you our goals, you should listen.

Can unreasonable goals be discussed? Absolutely. Can goals be changed through honest appraisals of skill and safety? Of course! But goals like, “I want my horse to walk, trot, and canter in an arena around other horses” is a pretty practical goal for most trainers. If you can’t make it happen, let’s end this now. Don’t take our money for months on end and not even try to accomplish the goals WE want.

4. Don’t forget who writes the checks.

If the horse’s owner wants things done a certain way, you need to either accommodate those wishes or explain why you can’t. You may train and instruct, but that is not your horse and not your choice to make. We amateurs are hiring you to do a job, and we want to be part of the decision-making process. If it’s just “your way or the highway,” we’ll pick the highway every time.

You can boss around kids; they’re ready for that. You can’t boss around adults for long.

5. If you can’t help us, just say so.

I had a C-section, and I have a heck of a time staying up straight when riding now—because my hip adductors are pulling me forward, not because I’m trying to lean forward. Small distinction? Sure. But knowing the cause makes all the difference in getting the results. If you don’t understand how the human (or equine) body works, don’t just try to fake it ‘til you make it. Telling me to “sit up!” does nothing to fix the problem. Giving me specific stretches and exercises on and off the horse does.

There are so many good riding instructors and trainers out there, but it can be hard to determine who has actual skills and who is mostly talk. Being able to effectively work with adult students is undoubtedly harder than teaching kids. There is no more loyal of a client, though, than a happy adult amateur with a well-trained horse.


About the Author

Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.