How to evaluate the quality of a barn for lessons?
To make a long story short, I tried out for my college's equestrian team and didn't make it. Now, to satisfy my need to ride again and to see if I can make the team next semester, I want to take riding lessons independent of the team, at a nearby barn. But I haven't taken lessons in a while. So how do I evaluate the quality of a barn where they give lessons?
Do you mean the quality of the lessons or the facilities itself?
If you mean the lessons than - when I use to try out barns to ride lesson horses and have lessons I would ask to watch a lesson(s). This way, I got to see how the coaches taught - did they teach in a way which I worked well with? Are the lesson horses nice (or are they rather old and becoming sluggish and not really 'quality')?.
Watching the lessons is a great way to get heaps of insight into coaching methods and what other students are like. There is also the option of trying a lesson yourself, some places offer single trial lessons and that has always been one of the ways I have decided if I want to take regular lessons at a barn or not. Also the facilities are a key thing - do the horses have tack which is kept clean and in good condition. If you plan on jumping - do they have good and safe jumping facilities? If your in a place where it rains a lot or is very hot - is there a covered arena?
Also, now that we have all this technology. Google the coaches/trainers. Here we have EFA registered coaches, where you simply type in the coaches name and you have what they are certified for (Dressage, Eventers, Show Jumping..) and you can see a list of their show records and show horses. It's a great way to see if your looking into a recognized trainer or not.
Chinga said it all already. I just want to add sometime you have to try several trainers before you find the one you are happy with. What works for one person, doesn't work for another.
Chinga and Kitten got it.
Ask around for recommendations. Then visit places. Keep your ears and eyes open for the good and the bad while you are visiting.
Good advice given so far.
Also ask for references of current and more importantly past students. If they aren't willing that should send up a red flag.
I am not sure how one would give a reference for a past student. This would not be a red flag for me. The horse industry is very fluid. People change trainers. Not always because one was truly bad or such. Very few people simply stop riding and say to their trainer after their last lesson, "feel free to have people call me for a reference for your".
I can see it being appropriate if the trainer you are looking at is advertised as a beginner level instructor who then passes their kids along to a higher level trainer when they get to that point.
I can see it working for the college coach too. As those students go back home or move to other areas when they are done with school. But the OP is looking outside the college program.
True AB, people do change trainers a lot. I don't think asking for references from others at the same riding level is a bad thing and generally those that did move on would be a good gauge of progression & how things ran in general without feeling like they have to talk up their trainer.
I have a lot of people ask for references. I always ask permission from current/past students before giving their info to a prospective client however. I even include one that the relationship didn't end so well (pushy mother that made her daughter fall apart when she insisted she do something she wasn't ready for...she made her quit because she was too scared to try. It was horrible) I think for me it's kind of a norm because I do both training & instruction. I expect people to want to check me out thoroughly and make sure it's a good match for both of us.
Things I would look into:
- What is the facility geared towards? (Show, pleasure, dressage, H/J)?
- How many school horses are there and what size are they (do they suit you?)
- How do they decide who rides which horse?
- Do the horses get turnout?
- Are the stables relatively clean?
- Does each horse have its own saddle?
There have been great suggestions made here! I might add, since you're trying to get on a college team, find out which trainers are winning at shows in your area, and check them out. You want to learn from the best possible trainer in your discipline. A barn can be clean and have good school horses and a nice trainer that suits your learning style, but if they're not also technically good, it won't help you much.
This may seem obvious but don't choose on price alone.
In addition to the sound advice offered above, I would be very clear with the coach about what your goals are and ask if that is something they can accomodate. Then as your goals change, see if they are willing to help you reach for new accomplishments.
Also, in my experience beginner coaches are easy to find but the ones that really help you progress are really hard to find! I became very frustrated with the last two place I rode at in Arizona. I tried talking to the second coach and I really felt like she wasn't invested in teaching me. Perhaps it was because I wasn't one of her high-paying clients. I didn't have my own horse and I wasn't willing to travel for shows due to the $$$. But the fact is that I love to compete (I have a stack of running and triathlon race numbers) so eventually I would have wanted to compete if she had made it more accessible and support me more. And now that I will be buying a horse and needing a place to board and take lessons she has lost my future business. If I had stuck with her I'd still be jumping 2'6". Now? See my avatar :)
Oh, and BTW, the coach I am describing was the local university equestrian team coach! So maybe not making the team was a blessing in disguise :)
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