I found my lesson barn in late February, about a month after I started riding again. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s an absolute gem. It’s only eight minutes away from work, I like all of the people in the lesson program, the horses are well trained without being dead broke, and my instructor takes a personal interest in my growth as a rider. Most importantly, I never feel like my instructor is counting the minutes during my lesson or my lease time. They truly care about all of my accomplishments!
Before I found my barn, though, I went through The Search. I tried out no less than four other lesson programs, most of which were good (but not great) and some of which were, well… disastrous. One of the better barns taught me the basics of English over the course of a few months, but then kept putting me in the same formulaic walk-trot-canter-reverse-walk-trot-canter lessons, without any planned course of progression or consideration for my abilities. I turned down another barn because they started me, a rider in my twenties, out on a lunge line. Worse yet, one lesson barn’s trainer made me very uncomfortable—he spent three-quarters of the time lecturing me while I sat on the horse and then physically moved me into the right position (without consent and in a very creepy, almost suggestive way).
Needless to say, I feel pretty lucky to have found my barn.
Looking back on how I got my start after a five year hiatus has made me think about what sort of things I look for in a lesson program. The search for a good lesson barn is a common topic among both new and returning riders (I see posts about it all the time on websites like The Horse Forum, My Horse Forum, and The Chronicle Forums). Everyone wants to know what they should be looking for in a lesson barn and whether or not the negative parts of their lesson experience are just inconveniences or actual deal breakers.
When I went looking for a lesson barn, I knew from past experience what sort of environment I would thrive in. I placed a lot of faith in the first impression I had of each lesson barn, and I was careful about the values I placed on the people and the lesson content versus the facilities that the program was working with. (Luckily I ended up with both an awesome facility and a great lesson program, but you can’t discount a wonderful teacher just because the barn itself isn’t decked out to the hilt with brand new fixtures.)
Here’s a list of the big things that I was looking for:
- Good atmosphere and friendly people. I knew that I would end up spending a lot of time there, so it was imperative that the general attitude at the barn was one of good will and kindness. My barn is a great mix of curious but not nosy, helpful but not suffocating, and competitive but not stiflingly serious.
- An instructor that was both knowledgeable and relatable. It seems like every instructor I’ve encountered has been in their fifties or sixties. It’s very refreshing to be taught by someone in their late twenties who not only teaches lessons, but also routinely rides and trains horses. She’s the only instructor I’ve had that I’ve actually seen in the saddle more than a handful of times—and she is, without a doubt, an amazing rider. She’s a true role model for me.
- A lesson program that was tailored to my experience and goals. My instructor asks me what sort of things I want to work on. She takes note of any goals I might have. When I have a lesson with her, she sets up exercises that are designed to help me make improvements in areas where I’m struggling. She teaches me not only how to ride, but how to cleanly and accurately correct my horse—how to consistently promote good habits and reduce incorrect reactions to my aids. She’s my instructor, but she’s also a trainer, too, which really shows in how she teaches and how I’ve grown as a rider.
- Horses that were safe, but not trained to the point of being opinionless. I like to ride a horse that knows what she’s doing, but also knows when to question me. Belle’s just the right mix of reliable and challenging.
There are some very small things I would change about my lesson barn (if anyone reading this is from management and would be willing to install some Instagram-friendly lighting in the ready room instead of the bright yellow bulbs we have now, that’d be swell!), but I’m 100% satisfied with how my equestrian education is being handled by my instructor. I can’t be thankful enough for all of the fantastic, horse-loving people that have entered my life since I stumbled upon the right lesson barn.
If you’re out there looking for a lesson barn right now, remember not to settle for anything less than awesome!