10 Rules for Being a Good Riding School Parent

At every riding school, there’s an unwritten parental code of conduct: what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say. Our columnist, The Riding Instructor, presents some basic guidelines.

From The Riding Instructor:

So as I’ve returned to teaching over the last year, I’ve realized that there really is an art to being a good riding school parent.  So I’ve put together my 10 rules  for the parents of our students; instructors, please feel free to add your own.

Good riding school parents…

  1. Communicate: what their expectations are, what their budget is, if they aren’t going to be in lessons for a few weeks.  Most instructors I know are on tight lesson schedules, but I’m always willing to talk for a few minutes while the next lesson is mounting – or send me an email.
  2. Don’t cancel at the last minute unless the child is actively dying.  Like most barns, we have a cancellation policy; we also – I suspect like most barns – don’t enforce it very well.  I think sometimes parents forget no lesson, no paycheck for the hard-working professional who is teaching their child.
  3. Watch their kids ride.  Doesn’t have to be every lesson, but watching their progress and praising their hard work can go a long way.  Somehow, just dropping your kid off or waiting in the car doesn’t quite send the right message.
  4. Keep quiet in the ring.  I don’t mind if you say “Good job!” as your kid goes by, but the students should hear one voice in the ring: the instructor’s.  I know it looks like I just say the same things over and over, but it’s taken me years of experience to learn when to say, “Eyes up, heels down, kick on.”
  5. Are realistic about what they can afford.  Many parents hate to tell their kids “no” outright, so kids get a lot of “maybe someday… we’ll get a horse… go to a show…”  I think it’s much better to tell the kids what is and is not possible, always pointing out that once they are adults, they will be able to make their own horsie dreams come true.
  6. Help out, but don’t take the student’s place.  The sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to tack up alone or adjust the stirrups is really valuable and parents are often too ready to step in, rather than letting the kids figure it out on their own.  Watching a kid struggle with the stirrup buckles might be a little frustrating, but it’s part of the growth process.
  7. Don’t push.  Kids move at different paces.  I have one student who’s a nice, secure little rider with a really good seat.  Cantering scares the pants off her.  Her skills are more than up to the challenge, but she’s not emotionally ready.  Parental pressure there can hurt more than it helps.
  8. Model good behavior.  They wear appropriate shoes and clothes to the barn, follow the barn rules, emphasize persistence and effort. If the barn rules say you’re supposed to clean the bridle after riding, don’t hustle your kids to leave as soon as their lesson is done.
  9. Embrace the hard work, not the glamour.  Kids learn way more valuable lessons about life from cleaning stalls than from blue ribbons and shiny trophies.
  10. Occasionally bring the instructor coffee on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon in November.  I’m just sayin’… skim milk, no sugar….

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