How to Choose the Right Dressage Coach

Not long ago a follower on Twitter asked me how to find the right Dressage coach. I considered this request and replied to her that I could not adequately respond to the question within the scope of a single tweet. I said that I would write a post on the topic.
This has proven more difficult than I originally expected since there are so many variables in the equation.
So far here is the answer I have arrived at although I expect it will evolve more as time goes on.

The first crucial point,I believe, is to
be very clear about your riding goals,as you set out to find a suitable instructor.By this I mean do you want to ride for pleasure or compete?Do you plan to ride your own horse or a school mount?Where, exactly would you like your riding to be in one year, two years etc.

Most local Dressage Associations are members of a National Federation or Association. Many of these groups have directories listing member coaches/facilities and resources etc.You can ask friends who ride about their experiences with coaches. Once you have selected a group of coaches to choose from you need a plan to begin your interview process. Yes, interview!Take into account the this coach will be spending a substantial amount of time with you. They will come to know a great deal about you. They will be responsible for your safety and development as a rider.This is becoming a very important choice indeed.

You will need to be armed with a number of questions to help you make your choice.
First and foremost I would ask what their thoughts are on safety. What training and plans do they have in place in the unfortunate circumstance of an accident?

If you will be on your own horse are they willing to ride it for you and tell you why or why not it is suitable for Dressage? If you will be on a school horse, can you watch the candidate ride the horse?If you want to compete is the coach willing to accompany you to competitions?What are the coach's credentials? May you see them?Does the coach insist on safe practices in the ring and helmets on all riders taking instruction?
Is the coach comfortable having you audit/view a selection of lessons with different levels of riders?
If possible make an effort to speak to students you have watched in a lesson. How long have they ridden with this coach?What do they feel are strong points and weak points of the coaching approach?

Does the individual you are considering make clear, understandable points in a steady progressive manner you are able to grasp without bullying or minimizing either horse or rider. Do riders feel better about their riding after a lesson or worse?
Are riders encouraged to ask questions or clarification of points they do not understand?

As you can see there is a good deal you need to know in order to make an informed choice. Beyond that I cannot stress enough that you listen to your own inner voice and intution!Are you comfortable around this person? Do you feel confident enough to make mistakes around this person? Do you feel this person has a genuine interest in your progess well beyond their financial gain?Does the coach show up on time if travelling to you or are they ready in the ring when you mount your horse? Do they present themselves in a clean ( not overly fancy) manner with polite language and demeamour?
One of the last questions is "how much do you charge?" It has always been shocking to me how often this is the Only questions people ask when contacting me for lessons.Obviously we cannot all afford Olympic level (nor do we need it!) coaching. Basically you should not pay more than you can comfortably afford since taking fewer lessons to save money will make progress in your riding very difficult.

In my coaching I can say that most of my students have come to me through word of mouth and referrals for which I am very grateful.Safety,integrity, trust, performance and treating every horse and rider as unique individuals are my top priorities as a coach>I do not coach above my riding level. I do not coach riders on horses I won't get on.I will not coach movements I cannot perform.Truly ,one of the best investments you can make in your riding success is to take the time to find the right coach...for You 🙂 Happy Riding.
Libby Keenan

7 Responses

  1. tackandtalk

    Thanks Chloe, I’m glad you found it helpful.Libby

  2. Lovemyponies

    Thank you so much for this post! I have even MORE questions now – if someone is a complete novice, are there any warning signs that the coach wouldn’t be a good choice, especially for your horse?

    BTW – I don’t think asking up front about cost is necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather know right away whether I could afford that particular coach or not. No point in wasting everyone’s time;-)

  3. Libby Keenan

    Hi Lovemyponies:)Very good point about the price. My real concern is if that is ALL people want to know:)
    Regarding the wrong choice for your horse, horses are very perceptive! See how your horse reacts to the coach. Is he/she relaxed and curious or tense and aprehensive? I am always concerned about riders who need to pop up and try to force every fancy move they know out of your horse in the first ride to impress you. When riding someone else’s horse the first time I usually plan on a basic walk/trot and maybe canter depending on the quality of the walk and trot. I am feeling what the horse is saying to me through their response to my aids. Are they sound, how stiff or sided are they? are they forward, lazy etc.I want them to like me but respect me first. I am kind but firm.

    I would definitely beware of someone who is rough with your horse!A good coach and rider should be able to assess your horse’s suitability for basic dressage without being aggressive , intimidating or working it into a later the first time up. Does the person reward whenever possible and correct only when necessary?Are the horses ears pricking back and forth and it’s tail swinging in a J indicating relaxation and an open mind.I would want to see the rider being relaxed and confident but kind and careful .Hope this helps 🙂 libby

  4. Thanks Libby! This came at exactly the right time as I ponder finding an instructor for my boy and I. I appreciate the tips, as they serve as a reminder to what I already know and probably forgot.

  5. Libby Keenan

    Oregon Sunshine, Thx for reading, I’m glad it’s a refresher. It helped me as a coach writing it as well since it reminds me of the importance of clarifying my responsibilites from time to time 🙂

  6. What a great post! I feel that these points are invaluable and ought to be used always, in choosing a coach. Thanks so much for publishing this article for us.

  7. Libby Keenan

    You are very welcome Pat:) Glad you found it useful. Libby

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