The Riding School: An instructor’s code of ethics

How does your trainer stack up against this list of principles that The Riding Instructor uses to guide her work as an instructor? Or, if you’re a riding instructor yourself, do you agree?

From The Riding Instructor:

A couple of weeks ago, I made a list of advice to the parents of riding school students.  I realized upon reflection that it would be equally important to share the principles that I use to guide my work as an instructor. So, here’s the rules I try to live by:

Good riding instructors…

1.  Put safety above all else.  It’s really tempting sometimes to have the kids do something slightly out of their comfort zone or put them on the more challenging horse.  And it can be difficult to have those uncomfortable conversations (sending students home for inappropriate shoes or clothing). But there are so many things that we can’t control in riding that it’s really necessary to pay attention to what we can control.

2.  Have the well-being of the horse as a priority.  We all know that school horses work for a living, but it’s that very fact that should entitle them to our extra care and concern.  Well-fitting tack, good meals and farrier care, attention to the amount of work they do: we owe them this much.

3. Give their students their full attention. This should be obvious, but I know a million instructors who answer their cell phones during lessons or chat up parents while the kids ride.  We are professionals, people; we need to act like them.  Unless it’s a complete emergency, the phone needs to stay in the pocket.

4.  Don’t pressure students or parents into things they aren’t ready for.  Whether it’s showing, tack or horse purchases, more lessons–whatever–it’s best to present parents and students with their options and allow them the space to make their own decisions.  Be clear and upfront with information, but don’t put the screws on!

5.  Don’t play favorites or become the students’ friend.  This area gets a little fuzzier with adult students, but professional instructors should remain that, especially when dealing with juniors.  It’s much better to be the supportive mentor than the friend.   And while some students make you want to support them more–the horse crazy go-getters–I try hard to make opportunities available to all my students.  Sometimes the shy, quiet kid makes a much better barn rat than the ones who assert themselves more.

6.  Don’t get involved in barn drama.  Where there are teenagers (and what barn is without them?), there is some kind of internecine competition or turmoil.  Instructors need to stay above the fray and do everything possible to keep this kind of behavior to a minimum.

7.  Model the behaviors they want to see.  Want your kids to look neat, groom well, be kind to the horses?  Show them what that looks like.  The more they see their role models doing what they are teaching, the more they will want to do these things themselves.

8. Have a plan.  All riding lessons have a natural plan of warm-up, intensive exercise, and cool down, but good instructors consider their students’ needs and design activities to specifically address their needs.  Similarly, good instructors take their students’ learning styles into account.  Some kids need demonstration, some kids need full explanation, some kids need their instructors to come up with great metaphors to help them understand; a good instructor has lots of tricks.

9. Explain why we do the things we do.  Students are so much more likely to take what they are doing seriously when they understand why they are doing it.  When I was teaching yesterday, a very new student was able to explain to me the reason behind a skill, using the metaphor I had given her several weeks ago. It connected the horse’s experience to her experience and made the lesson memorable.

10.  Always have a smile on their face!  I try never to forget that horseback riding, serious as it is, is something that we do for fun.  I might have to work a little harder at it when I’m teaching at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, but if I’m not having fun, how on earth are my students going to?

What are your guiding principles?

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