March 2015 - Question Corral
Written by Rebecca Bruce
Monday, 02 March 2015 00:21

Question Corral with Rebecca Bruce

Rebecca Bruce. Photo by Michael Bruce.

Reader: I’m looking for a riding program for my daughter, a beginning rider. What questions can I ask of a trainer or coach and what can I look for to evaluate the program’s safety and quality for myself?

Rebecca: I think the first question to ask yourself as a parent is what am I looking for in a riding program for my child. Obviously, the safety of any riding program should come first. But you also need to think about whether you want your child to just learn the basics of horse care and riding with a few lessons or do you see your child showing her own pony at horse shows a few years down the road?

How much time and money do you want to put towards your child’s equestrian career? What you see in your future with horses will determine what type of program you should choose now.

Does your child’s schedule allow for more than one lesson a week? If you have no interest in your child ever leasing or owning her own pony, then you should pick a program with a strong riding school and lots of lesson horses to choose from. If you can see them showing in the future and she wants to ride more than once a week, then you should probably pick a barn that is geared towards showing and a more customized individual lesson program. I always tell all of my own clients that there is no faster, better way to improve than leasing or owning your own mount.

Once you have determined what you and your child want to get out of her riding lessons, then I would talk to other parents/friends who ride at different barns. This is the best way to learn about the different barns, their safety record and the quality of their horses and the lessons. The good news is that there are a lot of great programs out there, geared for every budget and all levels and types of riding. There is no better advertising than word of mouth from a happy client. And there is nothing that tells it like it really is more than an unhappy client. Even if you don’t have any friends that ride, go and watch a couple of lessons and talk to the clients afterwards.

Look at the websites and brochures of the barns you are interested in. This will give you a feel of what the barn’s mission statement is. My mission statement at Sunnybrook Ranch is “Having fun while striving for excellence.” I came up with this mission statement over 10 years ago, and it is still as true now as it was then.

Compare pricing and different teaching styles. Look to see what current and past students are now doing, both in the ring and outside: in school, for example. By following these guidelines, you should have a clear picture to objectively evaluate the program’s safety and quality and see what program is the best fit for you and your child.

Also, never be afraid to ask for a trial lesson.

Author Rebecca Bruce operates the hunter/jumper training program, Sunnybook Ranch in Santa Barbara. To find out more about her program, visit

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