Riding instructors aren’t just responsible for teaching their students how to ride. On the contrary, they are responsible for the lives of their students, and many riding instructors have a profound influence upon those they teach.

When I was growing up, I was far more terrified of my riding instructors than my parents, but in a good way. If I screwed up in school or got caught doing something I shouldn’t, it was the wrath I faced at the barn that I feared most. This wasn’t because my instructors were scary, but because I was appalled by the idea of disappointing them.

Your students will develop intense relationships with you, and it is therefore your responsibility to do right by them. This means keeping them safe, of course, but it also means doing your job with as much honor and enthusiasm as you can muster.

That said, you should also be focused on the business aspect of riding instruction. Drop the idea that becoming a riding instructor is a simply hobby, and start thinking of it as your career. Sure, you enjoy it, and you should be grateful to have such an opportunity. But you are in the business to make money, so start honing your business skills as well.

1- Safety Comes First

Everything you do as a riding instructor should take safety into account, from helping your students tack up to deciding which student should ride which horse. I’ve seen far too many senseless accidents caused by riding instructor negligence, and it won’t happen if you are vigilant about safety.

Develop a safety protocol for your riding instruction business and refer to it often until you have the entire thing memorized. Know how you will handle any potentially dangerous situation, and consult safety experts before you implement the program.

Furthermore, all riding instructors should be First Aid and CPR certified. End of story. You might not be able to foresee a situation in which you would need those skills, but you will. Horseback riding is a dangerous sport, so why would you leave your students’ safety up to chance?

2- Establish Barn Rules

Barn rules are essential to any horse business where clients work directly with the animals. Not only does this keep your students and their families safe, but it also protects your horses. Never assume that people know how to behave with horses because in my experience, most of them don’t.

Your barn rules should be posted in a visible place, such as on the gate to the riding arena, on the tack room door or at the entrance to the barn. Before a new student starts taking riding lessons, go over each barn rule one at a time and make sure he or she doesn’t have any questions.

I also suggest printing out a copy of the barn rules for every student and his family. Have him sign one copy, which you will keep on file, and let him take the other one home. This way, if he should break a rule in the future, you will have proof that he has read and understood the polices at your equestrian facility.

3- Find a Mentor

No riding instructor learns everything on his own. You’ve taken a great first step in downloading this eBook, but a flesh-and-blood mentor is an invaluable asset. He or she can share experiences, teach techniques and point out mistakes, which means that you will be ahead of the competition right from the get-go.

Your mentor might be another riding instructor at your barn or a friend who has been teaching for longer than you. It doesn’t matter who you choose, as long as he or she can impart valuable wisdom.

If you can’t find a mentor, I suggest you read as much as you can about riding instruction. eBooks, print books, web sites, trade journals, magazines-the options are endless. Riding instruction is a sufficiently popular career that hundreds of experts have written about it so you don’t have to make the same mistakes they did.

4- Set a Minimum Age

When I first started teaching riding lessons, I accepted all age groups for my lessons-this turned out to be a mistake. I now refuse to teach students under the age of 14, mostly because I teach only advanced jumping and dressage lessons, but you might be working with beginners.

In this case, I would avoid students under the age of seven. Small children have short attention spans and are more prone to accidents while on horseback. They present a liability issue, and there is only so far that they can progress until they get older.

Obviously, some riding instructors will disagree with me here, and I admit that there are exceptions. I once worked with an adorable four-year-old girl named Michelle who turned out to be one of the most accomplished barrel racers in the country before she was 10. However, it is important to set guidelines in your riding instruction business.

5- Prepare to Discipline

One of the problems many of my clients encounter in riding instruction is the issue of disobedient students. When you work with children and teenagers, you are bound to encounter at least a few who cannot follow directions, who create disturbances and who generally make your life miserable.

I’ve learned to nip this problem in the bud by creating negative consequences. Just like at school, your students are in a learning environment where safety (see rule 1) is the highest priority. Misbehavior can cause accidents and injuries not only for that student, but for others as well.

To discipline your students, decide in advance how you will handle bad behavior. You might give a warning or two, followed by a punishment. For example, when my students misbehave after a single warning, they have to spend the next lesson cleaning tack. It works wonders, as you can imagine.

You should also not be afraid to pull students from their horses if they cannot behave. I will not allow a student to continue riding if he or she poses a danger to himself or others. It isn’t fair to the other students, and it creates a liability for me. So learn to crack down on discipline if you want to be a great riding instructor.

6- Set Guidelines for Parents

As you have probably discovered, parents are often more difficult for riding instructors to control than their children. When you have a large lesson, you might have ten or fifteen parents standing by the rail, each of whom has comments to make or complaints to deliver.

In my riding lessons, parents must observe from the stadium seating next to the arena. If they have questions or concerns, they are free to address them after the lesson. During, however, my attention is focused exclusively on my students, and interruptions (except in emergencies) are not tolerated.

This might seem militaristic, but it serves an important purpose. If my attention is constantly distracted by parents, who is teaching my students? And what happens if an accident occurs while my back is turned?

I know some riding instructors who do not allow parents to watch, and I haven’t adopted this policy yet. However, if a parent refuses to follow my rules, he or she is no longer allowed near the arena.

7- Don’t Be a Diplomat

Everything you do as a riding instructor should take safety into account, from helping your students tack up to deciding which student should ride which horse. I’ve seen far too many senseless accidents caused by riding instructor negligence, and it won’t happen if you are vigilant about safety.

Develop a safety protocol for your riding instruction business and refer to it often until you have the entire thing memorized. Know how you will handle any potentially dangerous situation, and consult safety experts before you implement the program.

Negotiating on important issues, such as safety and protocol, are a bad way to start your career as a riding instructor. You can be flexible on some points, but know when to stand firm and hold your ground.

8- Collect First

The best way to handle business as a riding instructor is to charge for lessons by the month. In other words, riders pay for the entire month of lessons in advance, regardless of how many lessons they take each week. You can simplify this further by setting a single price for month of lessons (such as $220 for one lesson per week) regardless of how many times the lesson occurs that month.

This makes both collection and record-keeping much easier. You can record all of the checks you receive at the beginning of the month, and then you’ll know who still owes you. It is also a good idea to set policies for late payments. If a rider doesn’t pay you by the due date, he or she incurs a late fee (barring a good reason). Or you can say that students don’t ride until they are paid up.

9- Know Your Ability

I can’t tell you how many riding instructors I meet who are teaching above their own level of knowledge. A great riding instructor will pass students on to new teachers when they surpass them; it’s the authentic and honest way to handle your business, and your profits will actually increase because of it.

Similarly, you can continue learning as you develop your career as a riding instructor. Don’t be afraid to get out there and become a student yourself so you can offer more services to your clients.

10- Change It Up

The best thing riding instructors can do to increase client retention and improve their relationships with their students is to add variety. Every lesson shouldn’t be like the last. Although I do recommend writing lesson plans for your classes, plan them in such a way that each experience is new and different.

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