What makes an instructor of beginning students really good? Her winning personality? How soon she gets her students jumping, running barrels, or out on the trail? Is it the fact that she has a clean safety record (no serious accidents), or that the advanced instructors and coaches love getting students from her because they have good basics? Lets go with "clean safety record" and "good basics" Here’s why.

For example, let’s take a hypothetical instructor who has riding and teaching experience, yet her students seem to progress slowly. Or maybe they progress quickly to other levels, but they still seem stiff and posed. What could be the problem? This could be a western or English situation.

How many times have you watched a beginner lesson and heard the following?: "Put your heel down, Eyes up. Use your legs; really kick him. put your leg forward (or bring it back). Keep your hand(s) low. Watch those heels; they’re coming up; now turn your toes in" etc., etc.

Sound familiar? Now think about it, how likely is it that a beginner who is taught with this "scatter-gun" approach is really going to learn solid basics? Yet the "start, stop and steer" method followed by a barrage of loosely related instructions for where the students needs to put those body parts is the way many beginners – western and English – are taught in many camps, riding schools and even training barns.

Wouldn’t it be easier if the instructor had focus and was intent on building a correct seat from the beginning? Wouldn’t it be better if the instructor used related exercises to teach the necessary skills on and off the horse. Then maybe the next instructor would not have to take this student who can start, stop, and steer and teach him/her a position from which he/she can ride. The instructor could simply build on a good foundation.

This happy scenario would require that the instructor of beginners understand how to "build" a seat in a systematic and organized fashion – something that usually only advanced instructors seem to know how to do.

From a safety standpoint it can be a bit of a problem when the least experienced, most at risk riders are in the hands of our least trained, least experienced instructors.

Which beginners are safer? Which instructors are less likely to be involved in a lawsuit?

Does this mean that all beginners should be taught by the most experienced instructors? Maybe taught by the coaches and trainers themselves so that they can be really safe? Of course not, it simply means that those who teach beginners should be better trained, both in teaching and in negligence law, so that they will better understand their responsibility and have more modern tools with which to educate their beginners safely.

What makes a riding instructor good? Safety considerations top the list. Training is important, especially formal training. Varied riding experience is also a plus. But what makes a really successful lesson? Maybe organization and planning, but they won’t help if the instructor has no experience to organize.

Contributed By: Jan Dawson (President, AAHS)

Reprinted with permission of the copyright holder and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.  P.O. Box 39, Fentress, TX 78622.