Sunday, July 19, 2009

I just had a great ride on my horse, Bogart. Of course, all my rides on him are wonderful, but it has been over a month since I have ridden him. I did not take him to Alabama with me when I was teaching at Valley View. A friend/student/fellow instructor of mine leased him for the month while her young horse was in training with another friend/fellow instructor of mine. If it sounds like musical horses, it kind of was...but in a good way!

Franzi has a young horse that was being started under saddle for a couple months by his breeder, and Franzi was just about to bring him home. Sandy's horse is well-started and she has been showing him successfully at training and first levels for the past couple years, and was starting the serious lateral work with him. My horse, Bogart is a great schoolmaster, and knows all the lateral this arrangement worked out very well. Franzi just had a baby (human) 7 months ago, and needed to get back into riding shape before her just-started horse came home. Sandy needed a horse to polish up on her aids for the lateral movements and to feel them on a finished horse. I needed to keep my horse in work for the month that I was giving lessons and clinics in the TAG (Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia) area. So it was a win-win situation for everyone.

It has been a very long time coming in my area, but I am grateful for the network of professionals that I am associated with. Sandy and Franzi are just two of the many fellow professionals that I work with on a freelance sort of relationship, both in Florida and in the TAG area...we cover each others' lessons if/when one of us is out of town; we consult with each other about horse or student challenges and issues; we share triumphs, both personal and professional; and we genuinely like each other. I have been espousing this philosophy for years, and now, more and more trainers/instructors are finally learning that we are all in this together, and it is much better to support each other than to gossip and backbite each other. There is enough work out there for all of us, and most important--the standard of instruction is finally starting to reach a higher level generally. I like to believe that this is all part of the fabric of advancing the quality of riding in general, and dressage specifically. And no matter where you are in your journey of riding, you always need lessons, you always need "eyes on the ground" at least part of the time, no matter how "good" or experienced a rider/trainer/instructor you are.

Fading (though not gone) are the days when one took lessons from the teenager next door because she had a horse and had won some ribbons at the local show. I hope that the economy doesn't allow this progress to be lost. It is very easy to "give lessons for some extra money" just because you own a horse, and the general public (read: moms and dads of little girls and boys who are clamoring for a pony) doesn't have a clue about how to go about finding a qualified instructor.

author's edit: Here is one way to find a qualified riding instructor-click on this link- and click on the link on the left of the page that says "find an instructor"--this is the American Riding Instructor Associations official website and list of certified riding instructors. Be sure to also click on the top tab that says "instructor certification" and then click on "certification levels", so that you get a clear picture of what you are getting in your potential instructor.
When you contact your potential instructor, be sure to ask lots of questions to make sure that they offer what you (your son or daughter) are looking for, and ask for the instructor's resume. Then set up an appointment to watch this instructor teach a lesson comparable to what you are looking for (beginner on school horse, beginner on own horse, inermediate on school horse, intermediate on own horse, etc.).

The biggest reason for that is that there is no licensing or certification requirement for "horse trainers" or "riding instructors" (although how this has escaped the claws of government has totally baffled me when almost everything else requires licensing and certification, if only for the revenue it generates for the various government agencies). The only basis of education proof we have is voluntary certification through many different entities. A few of the ones that I know of are the United States Dressage Federation, the American Riding Instructor Association, the Certified Horsemanship Association, and the Horsemanship Safety Association. I know there are many others, and it would be difficult at best for the parent who knows nothing about horses to even find out information about these entities, never mind wading through and deciphering the validity and scope of the certification.

I am certified in dressage through the highest level of the American Riding Instructor Association (ARIA), and in my opinion (and many others') it is the best general instructor certification that is available in the USA, and is recognized by many countries internationally as well. But how is the layperson supposed to know that? It sounds good, for sure, and it is! But again, how does the person that has no basis of knowledge know? It is a leap of faith, for sure.

But bottom line, certification IS A GOOD THING. It benefits the general public, and it benefits the instructor. It does give a certain level of confidence to the potential student/parent that the instructor has at least demonstrated a standard level of knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to their students.

Next blog will be about competition vs. riding for "fun". Try to guess why I put it in quotation marks. :-)


  1. Hello!Thank you for your comment on my blog :) Once my exam is over and done with I will have a proper read here too!
    All the best,

  2. I'm looking forward to following your blog, Mary! Great post. I agree with you 100% in regards to instructor certification. This is something that I would like to go for in the future. Whilst I have my BS and have taught in the public school system, certification would be a good thing.