3.a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.
This post is not for faint hearted. Feel pre-warned.
The aim is for riding school clients to open their eyes, seek quality education and become aware of the fact there are places out there they should avoid and places which can turn their weekly lessons into a life changing experience.
It is no secret to those who know me that my goal in coaching life is to improve the grassroots teaching system for non-horse owners and those new to horse ownership as much as I can. I might be fighting a lost battle but I hope I am not.
Things you don’t hear as a client of a riding school that has no integrity:
“Don’t take his saddle off in front of the client” (because of “unsightly” saddle sores)
“Don’t take her bandages off in front of a client” (because her legs look like chewed by a shark and spat out)
“Walk this one a bit before you take it out to client” (because its legs are so swollen client might start asking questions)
“This one only arrived from a dealer last night, try it with your 8pm lesson today, see how he goes”
“He only lost one shoe, he can work ok on a soft surface for a few hours”
“Don’t keep riders on the lunge, they can learn in groups, we get more income from that. It’s business you know”
So who hears this?
The riding school instructor, of course. You, as a client, are expected to get on, have fun, not ask questions, enjoy the fact you are in the saddle, then go home and tell others what great time you had. You are not allowed to groom your horse before your lesson because he is either working directly prior your slot, has some ailments you should not spot, or you are a health & safety liability on the yard. The latter might be the case because nobody took their time to teach you basics of safe horse handling and how to conduct yourself so you don’t lose a digit or get a bang on the head.
You might be able to have a stable management session if you pay for it or if you are lucky enough to ride in a riding school with a club where stable management is part of riding training. However, in a no-integrity riding school, you are unlikely to learn what to really look for in a sound horse, how to check if he has a sore back, neck or shoulders.
In your lesson, the horse might be reluctant to move. You will be very lucky if you hear this is usually the rider(s) fault and how to develop better posture so the forward motion is more pleasant for a horse. More often than not, you will be told to kick harder and “go after him a bit” or give him a few smacks, show him who’s the boss.
The No – Integrity Places & How to deal with Them
I started teaching riding at 15. Lead rein lessons & lunge lessons for children. It was at a small riding school with poor facilities and even poorer horses but I loved every minute. I was ignorant of what good standards really were but I read a lot and quickly figured out there was more to riding education than I was seeing. I was hooked.
Over the years I’ve met many enthusiastic young instructors like that and with great sadness I watched them entering the “no-integrity world” where there no longer was much passion for horses, for their well being, for bringing the best out in clients. I watched many dropping out and not wanting to have anything to do with the system they found themselves in. I later heard how they were unsuitable as they didn’t know how to work hard. Well, what a bull***t that was. When you are 18-19 and you see “your” beloved horse with its head on the floor tired up his eyeballs after 4 hours of “providing great fun to enthusiastic clients” your spirits drop somehow.
If they don’t and you happen to be so called “tough one” (much liked in the industry) you shut down like many horses you work with and you “get on with it”.
One riding school in the UK I worked for ten years ago offered “experienced riders hacks” and I took those hacks out for 8 hours a day. My lead horse was not changed often…on one of the hacks, one of the horses fell and laid there on the track exhausted. For enjoyment of horse riding.
That was the most shameful day of my life and the day when I realised we are all responsible for what happens in equestrian recreation & small sport.
My answer to beat the lack of integrity is to never lower my teaching standards. I figured that if I educate my riders (from beginner to advanced) so they know their horses, they know when they are in pain, lame or if their tack doesn’t fit them, those very clients will help me keep my own standards up.
Even if one day those clients move on to ride with someone else, perhaps they won’t let anybody teach them rubbish…
Awareness of Quality Tuition/Instruction
In my experience, it takes about 3 months of weekly lessons on the lunge to develop something of a start of an independent seat. It’s not as long as some might think and if the rider is aware of the training plan and is given goals to reach, he or she will enjoy the time on the lunge.
Out of hundreds of riders I came across, I have met 2 who seriously have no interest in putting the necessary work in to improve their posture in the saddle. It might be my fault, perhaps with a different trainer, these 2 riders would have “caught the bug” . This, however, does not distract me from hundreds who have learnt that technical lessons are as fascinating and important as a ride round the fields with wind in their hair.
An independent seat is an absolute basics. It should not be considered as an advanced skill to sit well. Why? Because only from an independent seat come independent actions, pain free ride for the horse and safe experience for the rider. It’s like single letters in an alphabet – you need to know them to put words and later sentences together.
If an instructor skips on basic groundwork & independent seat education, they skip on your safety, on future skill development, on horse’s soundness, and on their own integrity…
The arguments I have heard most often that should justify a riding school’s lack of attention to seat education is that it discourages the rider from riding due to boredom or that it is counter-productive business wise.
It might be true if whoever is teaching in such riding school has either no say in lessons content, is bored herself/himself by basics of classical riding education or has no clue what to actually teach on the lunge so the session turns into going round in circle trying to go “up – and- down” …
If an instructor knows what and how to teach to develop the basic skill of independent seat, the lessons are fascinating to the rider, to the point they don’t realise their time is up and they need to get off the horse.
If, as a client of a riding school, you are not given an option of seat education, I would advise you to walk away and find another school that has such option. It is offensive to you as a client to suggest you don’t need to sit well [as you probably won’t progress anywhere near ever to use such seat well]. It is limiting for you as learning correct seat later after you acquired many bad habits is lengthy and often frustrating (especially for children).
As to it being harmful for business…to me, it’s a false economy and killing of the sport. If we train riders well they will remain in the industry because they will feel safe, comfortable and doing what they love doing with sound, happier horses.
If riding schools teach horsemanship and groundwork well, the parents will see how it empowers their children and helps them understand leadership. See this great education project for children (and not only: www.thinklikeapony.co.uk
), why is there not more of these places?!
Cool? or not?
It is not “cool” to have a jumping lesson after 5 lessons. It’s not brave, it doesn’t indicate talent, it’s not even stupid. It’s ignorant as to what equestrian sport is all about.
It is not cool to learn to ride on a 4 or 5 year old “green” horse (yes, there are plenty of those at many riding schools).
It is not cool to turn up 1 min before your lesson to have your horse brought to you all tacked up waiting. Once, twice maybe, but on regular basis…not cool.
It is sad.
Sport England Initiatives
There are some fabulous new initiatives out there which are aimed at encouraging more riders into the sport. I observe this with interest because I feel passionate about grassroots equestrian sport. I also fully support these actions. I only wish that there was more emphasis on quality rather than quantity (first hand observation) when it comes down to running of those events at riding schools.
Video: Jennie Price Interview – CEO of Sport England
Letting it Happen
In my opinion, if an instructor or a riding school respects their client they will give him/her an opportunity to learn & progress to the best of their abilities. If a client’s biggest ambition is to hack safely around Windsor Great Park he/she still needs a decent, independent seat to keep his/her own and the horse’s back healthy.
Perhaps they just want to get fitter? Lose weight? – perfect, good seat and working on one’s posture couldn’t be a better idea.
They want to go fast? Jump? – Balance and body awareness are of great importance when speed is involved.
If a novice rider is taught to find technical side of riding “cool”, they will, in 99% of the time, willingly focus on it. I am talking from experience of working with hundreds of grassroots riders.
Deep down, we all like to follow our dreams. Equestrian sports make this possible but need both instructors and riding schools that help to open the right door…
And what might increase a participation more than a possibility to achieve a dream…with integrity.
P.S. There is a very interesting discussion on teaching standards on Sylvia Loch’s Classical Riding Club (CRC) page on Facebook. I encourage all instructors and riders to have a look: