Need Advice re: Adult Starting Lessons - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 25 Old 08-15-2011, 05:50 PM Thread Starter
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Need Advice re: Adult Starting Lessons

Hi, This is my first post here. I've been lurking for a while, trying to learn what I can. Seems like lots of knowledgeable people here. Hope I can participate in the forum in general, and specifically get some opinions on picking a riding school/instructor.

I'm currently a non-rider/non-horse owner, but want to try riding again. Just to give my background briefly, I had 3 lessons when I was 15 and about 3 when I was 21. I'm now 34. My previous attempts didn't work out - first place was completely unprofessional and unsafe for a beginner. Second place was better, but I felt they weren't giving me the individual attention that I wanted (too hot horse, cantering third lesson) and I wasn't learning or having fun. And at that age I was pressed for time and money, so I stopped. Maybe if I'd kept going things would have improved, but that was a long time ago. I can't remember all the reasons I quit but basically felt I wasn't getting my money and time's worth.

So here I am now. I'm quite a different person than what I was then. I've done so many things in between then and now. And I'm at a place in my life where I actually have time AND money and minimal other commitments. I want to give riding another shot. I feel that I never got the opportunity to get past the beginner stage and be able to make a definite decision whether I want to continue with riding or not. That's what I want to do now. But because I had trouble with going to the wrong places I'm extra cautious about trying to pick a good place now.

I need whatever advice you can give about picking a place to try and how long it takes to feel like you're starting to "get it".

This is what I'm looking for:
- recreational style lessons to just improve my skills, but still with lots of details, including why things are done. I don't have big show ambitions, but want to leave my options open and learn basics that would relate to anything I might want to do in the future
- to feel like there's an actual curriculum and planned progression, not haphazard
- lots of work on basics - walking, trotting, balancing, before worrying about cantering, lead changes, etc
- theory and groundwork and horse husbandry info

Based on location and info from their websites I've picked out 4 potential places. I know websites don't always give the full story, but since I have 4 that look good I don't really want to start hunting for more places to consider. I've asked a couple people if they have any recommendations, but don't know any horsey people who are actively involved in riding in this city.

Does my list sound reasonable? Is there anything else I should be querying them about?

Other questions for you, to help with my investigation:
- does it matter if classes are with kids? Do you find much of a benefit to adult only classes?
- does it matter if there is consistency in what horse you use? I feel like I'd prefer to not always be switching horses, but I do want to get used to different horses as well.
- start with private or group lessons? One place has a 8 week intro package for a reduced rate that includes tack-up instruction/theory plus riding, but it's 4-6 people, which is more than a normal lesson around here (2-4 generally). It sounds good though to just ease back into riding in a group situation before having an instructor pick me apart in a 1 or 2 person lesson. On the other hand, another place insists on 4 private lessons before taking group lessons. This way I'd really be able to concentrate on my form without other horses around. This was one of my issues with the previous lesson place. Always having to worry about my horse in relation to another horse.

My plan is to start with calling or emailing my list of places with a few basic questions. I'd like to narrow it down a little as meeting new people is pretty stressful for me. Then I'd like to go out to see the facilities and ideally watch that instructor give a beginner lesson. If I can't watch that particular instructor, I might cross them off my list.

What are red flags I should watch for - in email and/or in person? Any other advice?

Sorry this is so long. But I'd love some encouragement from horse loving people. I'm overly nervous about trying this out, but that's a topic for another thread.
Kestra is offline  
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post #2 of 25 Old 08-15-2011, 05:57 PM
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The only advice I can give is to ask at your local tack shop. The people there can usually give you the inside scoop on which are good barns. Bear in mind personal disagreements too. One tack shop here dislikes my BO, one loves her. Since I like her and the facility I chose to go against the ones advice but hearing their opinions on different barns helped me narrow my search.

Hopefully some folks more knowledgable about instructor shopping will chime in :) oh and welcome!
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Dresden is offline  
post #3 of 25 Old 08-15-2011, 07:31 PM
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First of all, Welcome to the Forum! :)

I never took lessons till I became an adult (different reasons). So far I tried different ones and that's what worked for me:

1) Look for the trainer with recommendations, bunch of successful students, and patient/encouraging(!) to the beginner (last one is very important in fact, you'll go nowhere if trainer won't believe in you and make you to believe in yourself). First thing my current trainer suggested to me when I contacted her was to sit at couple of her lessons of different levels to see how I like them (before spending money on my own lesson).

2) Private lessons give me WAY more than group ones. Trainer is looking at me every moment giving directions on my posture, aids, etc. In group it's usually cheaper but I didn't get nearly as much out of them.

3) With the good trainer you start to "get it" really fast. You don't perfect it fast, but you'll get an idea and will have a purpose.

4) You have to be entertained the whole lesson. I never look at the watch during my lessons, and I (and my horse) am all wet when we are done.

Good luck!

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass: it's about learning to dance in the rain..."

"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves."

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours."
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post #4 of 25 Old 08-15-2011, 07:45 PM
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As someone who was in the same boat as you, I would definitely recommend starting out with private lessons, you'll learn so much faster and get the extra attention necessary to develop you into a good and safe rider. You can always transfer into group lessons at some point, but I think private lessons are the way to go. I'm 27 and started riding earlier this year, taking two private lessons a week. My intentions are to compete some day, but I feel that if I took group lessons I wouldn't have progressed this far.

Riding the same horse at the start would be preferred, you'll get an understanding of how that specific horse works. I was bumped around from horse to horse for a while and every time I started on a new horse it kind of felt like I was starting back at zero. You want to limit the frustrations or riding won't be as enjoyable starting out. I would ask to ride the same horse until you get the basics down and you're comfortable, then give another horse a try. :)

When/if you go into group lessons, don't worry about riding with the kids. You will all be working on the same thing and the interaction will be minimal. The funny thing is, kids tend to learn faster so you may actually be the one who holds the class up! Don't feel bad though, everyone's there to learn and have fun. If you had a choice, obviously riding with people your age is better for the social/chit chat aspect but I wouldn't worry if you can only ride with kids.


Things to ask / look for in a lesson barn:

- Certified instructors!
- Will they let you watch a lesson or two?
- How happy do the horses look?
- Get recommendations from local riders.

I wouldn't put too much effort into asking local tack shops, they are usually pretty biased based on where they ride themselves. I put up messages on Kijiji / Craigslist instead looking for opinions on specific barns and then sorted through the responses. Where I live, there's a lot of barn bashing... so you always gotta take what people say with a grain of salt and look into things yourself.

Red flags that come to mind:

- Cantering on the third (!) lesson.
- Not asking your experience before letting you mount.
- Not asking your intentions of what you want to do in the long run.
- Tack and garbage all over the aisles.
- Lack of helmets being used.

I think the main thing is that you want the instructor to be interested in what you're trying to accomplish. An instructor who doesn't ask too many questions about yourself probably is only interested in collecting the payment, whereas an instructor who wants to understand your goals, fears and you as a person will probably be a better match.
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post #5 of 25 Old 08-15-2011, 09:42 PM
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I didn't start riding as an adult until I was 28. When I did, I actually enjoyed the group lessons more. It gave me a breather when the other women were taking their turns, and we could all empathize with being a little more cautious about riding than when we were kids. A good instructor would initially do a few private lessons first to assess your riding skills and what group would be a good fit for you if you decide to go the group route. I would stay away from kids in your group simply because they are much more fearless riders, are usually strong riders, and overall can make an older adult feel not so great as a rider during the initial get your muscles back period.

As for what to look for, anyone can promise you the moon and stars. Also as others have said, gossip is just that. Everybody has different opinions about what constitutes a good instructor or barn, so take any opinions with a grain of salt. I would go and watch lessons at each place you are considering. Instructors have very different teaching styles. Watching them teach is the only way to know if the person will be a good fit for you.

Deal breakers for me would be:

Not asking you what your goals are or your experience on the first lesson.
No helmets being used
Horse's already tacked and ready to go when you get there.
Snooty people/bratty kids...just run the other way. Life's too short.

Your checklist sounds good to me. Good luck and have fun getting back into riding!

You just have to see your don't have to like it.
MyBoyPuck is offline  
post #6 of 25 Old 08-16-2011, 08:38 AM
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Based on the things you're looking for, I'd recommend private lessons if you can afford it.
When you're in a group, the instructor has to balance the things they're working on across all the students. Some students move faster, some move slower - and depending on where you fall, you might be held back or pushed too quickly.
A friend of mine was in that situation, where she wanted to work a lot more on basic flatwork and balance, and the instructor was pushing everyone to jump higher and higher. As a result, lessons were no longer fun for her, and she even started becoming afraid.
Some instructors are better than others at managing students at different levels, but even if they're good at it, it will never be the same as personalized attention.
And for the theory you're interested in, most group lessons don't seem to include much of that. You might be lucky and find someone who will, but with the instructor's attention split among so many students, often they don't have time to step back and explain all the hows and whys.

A good instructor giving private lessons will be able to judge what you can handle. They will "pick apart" as much as they think you can understand, and they will let the rest go until you're advanced enough for it. It doesn't do them or you any good to overwhelm you at any point in a lesson.

Private lessons can also help address your concern about horse consistency. You and your instructor can decide which horse is right for the skills you're working on, and your specific needs, without having to balance the horse across other students' needs.

If you do go with a group, make sure you watch a few group lessons and see how the instructor balances the needs of multiple students. Are those advancing at different rates getting individualized attention? Is the instructor allowing any particularly vocal students to dominate her attention, leaving her to ignore the rest? Is the instructor taking the time to explain the theory?

Good luck finding the right barn. No reason to be nervous - just find an instructor who is willing to work at your pace.
Once you look at a few places, why don't you post here about the good and bad of each, and let people offer suggestions?
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post #7 of 25 Old 08-16-2011, 08:46 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone. That's exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for. I've copied down everyone's responses and will use that to get a good checklist of things to look for. Also you've helped me clarify some things in my head too. It seems that around here the cost difference between group and private lessons isn't that much. So I'm willing to pay a bit more to get a much better experience.

Will post updates when I move along in my search.
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post #8 of 25 Old 08-16-2011, 10:06 AM
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Want to start with saying congratulations on starting to ride (again).

I truly like the way you are going about finding yourself a place to ride. I wish more people put this much thought into it.

A huge thing to remember - just because Barn A works perfectly for someone else does not mean it is the right barn for you.
I see you said you do not know anyone who is riding, but as soon as you start riding I am guessing you will realize there are people all around you that have some foot in the horse experience door. They will all have an opinion. Yes, listen but do not take it as gospel.
We all have our own goals and our own learning styles.

I believe it takes a very different type of instructor to teach a beginner adult than it does to teach beginner kids. This is not saying that just because they teach kids they can not teach adults. You need to find an instructor you teaches to the student, not an instructor who just teaches.

Go to the barns and watch lessons. The instructor who will walk up to one kid and physically put their leg where it is supposed to go and then turn around and explain to the next kid how hand position works (because the first kids learns that way, and the second kid learns that way) is the type of instructor you want/need.
Make sure the instructor is giving the students their attention while they are teaching. Not texting or talking on their cell. Not gabbing with their barn friends.
You also want an instructor who is willing to answer your questions. You are an adult, you are going to ask a boat load of questions. They should be met with reasonable answers.

The one red flag people mentioned I do not really see as that much of a red flag. Fine if they ask you your experience before you mount. What would bug me is if they truly believed you (general you) when you say you have experience. Newbies should be put on a safe horse and judged from there. The vast majority of people over estimate their riding experience. (Not saying you are doing this, that is just why I would not find it a red flag if they did not ask you in detail your riding experience.)

Group lessons or private lessons is a personal decision. Some people like to learn by hearing and seeing what other people are doing as well as what they are doing. That type of person gets the most out of a group lesson. Other people do best if they get more one on one attention. If you are not sure which will work best for you, I would start with private lessons.

Good luck. Can not wait to hear how it goes.
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post #9 of 25 Old 08-16-2011, 01:11 PM
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Just wanted to add more support here; I am in a very similar situation and have just gotten back into riding at age 31. I am so happy to be able to do this as an adult, when I don't need to worry about my parents' approval (or money :)) or all that drama that seemed to matter as a teenager.

I would add two things that I don't think have been mentioned:
1. Is the instructor someone that a) you are open to learning from? and b) can give adult beginners, specifically, clear and meaningful feedback? I've found that I do not do well with people who use a "sing songy" voice that you would use with children, or give very vague "good job" kind of feedback. I need the instructor to be firm, clear, and willing to push. But, that's me. Think about your learning style and what kind of feedback you will respond to, and as others have said, view a couple of lessons to see how the instructor delivers feedback and organizes the lesson.

2. Personally, I would ask for lunge lessons early on so you can focus on your own position, body, and security of your seat. I actually don't think cantering by the third lesson is unheard of for a beginner. My current instructor, who was trained in Europe, has mentioned that in her experience, everyone is on the lunge right when they start, and they experience all the gaits in their first few lessons. I am personally struggling with a huge (irrational) mental block around cantering, and I sincerely wish I had been put on the lunge right from the beginning and saw cantering just like any other gait. In my horse life, cantering has been built up into this huge, unattainable thing that you need months and months to work up to, and as such, I have spent months and months being too afraid to do it. If I could go back and start again, I would have gotten on with it much, much sooner.

Good luck with your decision!
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post #10 of 25 Old 08-16-2011, 01:36 PM
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Egrogan, great thought on the lunge line lessons. I agree that it might be a great way to start out. Worth the OP asking about.
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