Finding the Right Riding Coach

There comes a time in every rider’s career when they are in the market for a new coach. This might be due to changing circumstances away from the barn, something totally out of your control like the current barn is closing or maybe the current coach is no longer meeting the riders need. I’ve put together some tips and things to consider when you’re on the search for a new coach. This will focus on specifically looking for coaching even though sometimes this includes new boarding arrangements too.

Once the decision has been made to move it is important to do some soul searching. Doing this with a trusted friend (preferably a fellow equestrian) who is removed from the situation is a good idea. This will give you a different perspective and they may see things you don’t or offer options you hadn’t considered. Once you have this support system in place, write down your must-have’s and don’t-want’s. 

Start with logistics: Is this going to be coaching alone or is it boarding too? If you don’t own your own horse, will the coach need to provide something for you to ride or do to have access to part board options?

If you own your own horse, how far are you willing to travel? Do you prefer a coach that would travel to you? How much are you willing to spend? How often do you want to take lessons? Does the coach need to offer show coaching or coaching to a certain level? The important aspect of each of these points to consider is what you’re willing to be flexible with. Maybe you’ve found the perfect coach but they’re more than you’re willing to spend: do you reduce the number to lessons or keep looking for something more affordable? 

In knowing what you’re looking for, also know your deal breakers. This is also the time to consider what you look for in a coach’s personality. Do you prefer someone who is super bubbly and friendly, allows chatting and discussion during lessons or are you the type that wants the hour of lessoning to be one directional, they talk – you ride. Do you want someone who can book a lesson a day or two ahead and is super flexible or is weekly scheduled lesson time what you’re looking for? Are there any issues that you have that a coach should be aware of? Anxiety? Nerves? Your horse’s limitations? Your schedule constraints? Do you need a high-performance level coach year round? Do you want to winter in Florida to continue competing year round or will a local coach who has contacts with upper level riders and offer opportunities to clinic with them the ideal balance for you?  Make notes about your personal needs for when it comes time to have a discussion with your potential coach.

Next, it’s time to do some research. Perform a search on Google or even a social media site and search by area and discipline. This will narrow your focus from all English coaches of all levels, to something more focused in just your area. Depending on your location, your preferred discipline may be hard to find.  Are you willing to travel farther or will you choose to have a coach for each phase that’s within your region? In an area where eventing is prominent, don’t necessarily rule out an eventing barn if you only ride dressage or jumpers.

Check out websites and social media accounts of your narrowed list of coaches. Almost everyone has an online presence these days. Search by coach’s name, barn name, or even look up some of their students. Do you have friends in common with them? It might be a good idea to reach out to that in common friend and ask about the coach. What have they featured on their social media? You have to consider if this is someone you want to be involved with. Again, it comes down to your expectations and what you want out of a coach.

Now that you’ve narrowed down your search to a few candidates it’s time to reach out to them. 

I suggest starting with an email introducing yourself, ask if they’re taking in new clients and what their preferred method of communication is. If further chatting over text is better for them, you will probably have a better response time. Make it easy for them to get your questions answered. I like to ask outright if they’re taking on new clients (or if there is a stall available if it’s a board and coaching situation), that way no one’s time is getting wasted. Don’t discount a waiting list for them too if you do decide this is the one for you. 

If you have a few people to contact I suggest sending them all the same email so they all have the same information and questions and you can compare like to like. If there is only one you’re eager to put to the next round, get the ball rolling but keep looking just in case. 

I suggest give them a few days to respond if you start with an email. While your schedule seems immediate to you if you are emailing during the peak show season, new clients may not be a top priority. However, should they refer you to someone else within their program to contact, don’t be offended. Some trainers have people that deal with schedules and bookings. If they get back to you right away, then make note of this! Consider if their response time and form of contact is something you can live with. 

Say you found someone or a few someone’s who tick all the boxes, now it’s time to book a trial lesson. Even if you only have one coach on your list who meets your requirements, it’s still a good idea to book a trial lesson. You may need to review your wants and needs if the coach you have your heart set on is not available, or if you dislike how they coach once you’ve met them. 

Call them to book a lesson to follow up from your email if they handle things on the phone. Text if they like to text and that works for you. Now is the time to assess it how they do things will work for you going forward. 

Don’t be afraid to call! Speaking to a person on the phone may sound archaic, however it looks professional on your part and it gives both sides a chance to set the tone, and actually speak to each other. While you’re setting up a trial lesson now is the time to ask a few of those questions that came up earlier in the process. Save some of your questions for the in-person meeting, however this would be the time to bring up your paralyzing fear of hacking out and find out if they are suitable for a nervous rider. Maybe explain that you’re comfortable jumping .80m but get heart palpitations once the jumps become higher. If they don’t sound sympathetic or willing to negotiate around your mental hang ups, this may not be the coach for you. A high performance, upper level coach might not have the need or desire to take on a client who may require a bit more hand holding, despite this they may have a student who is an up and coming coach who would be willing to take on and develop a less confident student. If your horse has a major physical or training issue this is also the time to discuss this. 

Ask about lesson scheduling. If having last minute bookings around your hectic schedule is imperative it’s best to find out how they work right away so that you aren’t disappointed later. Ask about what they expect in lessons. It seems simple, but it’s always nice to know if they expect a certain turn out, for example polo shirts and tall boots for a lesson. They may want you on and warmed up for when they arrive or they may want to ride your warm up with you. Don’t forget to explain that you’re looking for a long term relationship and what your goals are. 

Please, please, don’t overestimate your riding ability. You’re looking for a professional to help you improve, you don’t need to have the coach bask in your glory of amazing ability and be falling over impressed at your resume. No matter what your level, your coach is there to help you improve. In your phone call also explain that you want this to be a trial lesson to see if you fit well together. This shows you’re respectful of their time and it is a chance for them to get to know you as well.

Time for the test lesson. Arrive early and follow the expectations as discussed in your phone call/emails. Do you like how the barn looks? Is it up to your standards? Remember, this is a place where you will ideally spend much of your time! Would this trial lesson be a normal time that you would lesson at or is it a quieter/busier atmosphere than you would normally ride in? Be willing to go back to the basics with the new coach while they conduct their own assessment of your riding. Tell them what your goals are and be willing to put in the work to achieve your long term goals.

If you enjoyed your lesson, let them know. If you have other coaches you are trialing with, tell them you will be in touch. If you have made up your mind that they are the one, let them know! Move on to the financial conversation, what are their payment expectations? Is it pay per lesson or a monthly package? If you have decided that they are not the coach for you, thank them for their time and let them know that you don’t think the situation is the best fit for you. Don’t waste their time and say you’ll be in touch for more lessons when you know you won’t be. They won’t be waiting by the phone for you, but don’t string them along when they could take on a different client instead.

Hopefully the tips mentioned will help you find a coach and barn that is the right fit for you! Keep in mind that every situation and rider are different. Although you may not be fortunate enough to have a variety of coaches to choose from you can find the appropriate coach for you by asking the right questions. With any luck this will lead you to a successful partnership and ultimately put you on track to achieving your goals. 

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