Finding A Good Instructor And Barn (Part 1)

So you want to start riding horses, possibly leasing a horse, and then maybe buying a horse? I’m here to help you walk through all the stuff so that you have the best experience. Whether you are looking for your child or for yourself.

I will walk you through from beginning to end and then you decide which goal is yours.  Whether you just want to be the weekend warrior or your end goal is to own your first horse – I will go through all of the steps to get to each point and the questions to ask and common obstacles you will face. I am also available for help over the phone along the way click here for more info on one on one help.

First thing to do if you are brand new to the horse world is find a barn near you.  How do you do that?  I find that most of my clients drive anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes to get to me for once a week lesson- if you think that this is something you want to do more than once a week I suggest finding some place closer to you as the drive will get long and boring and you’ll find yourself in the difficult place starting over finding someplace else to ride.

Some good resources are as simple as a Google search.  Just know that a lot of the horse world is fairly computer illiterate and might not even have a web page. I feel that the bigger and better programs generally do have a website though.

Facebook groups for your area have great of resources in them.  Here in North Carolina we have Triangle Area Equestrians Facebook group and it has almost 20,000 members! You can search previous posts and you can find a lot about recommended trainers in there. If you don’t find anything you like you can make your own post as well looking for recommendations.

Horse community websites like The Chronicle of the Horse forums. Which is a great resource where people go to find out information about a prospective area they don’t know about. Search to find out if you question has been answered first.

Things to know ahead of time that can help your search: One thing that helps is if you have a type of riding in mind whether you want to do Western or English riding. From that point there are lots of sub-categories within those types of riding.

If you’re just looking for English riding lessons you’ll probably end up at a Hunter/Jumper Barn since a lot of those barns cater to the new rider. But if you know you want to ride in a specific discipline then you should have that in mind when you are looking. (Generally speaking those barns are smaller can offer more individual attention and are not for the once a week rider, but not always).

There’s some questions that you should ask any new barn before you even step foot on the property. (Keep in mind that a lot of places are busy taking care of horses so sometimes you might have to reach out several times to get a hold of someone. It’s not the best business practice and I’m sure lots of people do lose customers because they don’t get back to them in a timely fashion but if there’s a place that you really like and you haven’t heard back make sure you try several times to reach out to them)

Most of your due diligence will be done on site by visiting the farms and watching lessons. 

The things to ask potential instructor are:

How long have you owned and ridden horses? (This will give you an idea of their horse experience- horse experience does not equate to teaching experience which leads us to the next question)

How long have you been teaching others to ride? (This will give you an idea if they have had time to perfect the art of teaching and have seen enough to help you overcome obstacles in your learning)

Do you carry insurance? (All professionals should)

Do you compete in any shows? (Not 100% necessary for them to say yes since someone who can ride well cannot always teach well. Look for programs that have proven show records for their students)

Do you take students to shows? (Important if this is something you want to do in the future)

What is your specialty? (See if this is something that sounds appealing to you- if you are talking to a non-jumping trainer but really want to jump then that won’t work long term)

Are you first aid and CPR certified?

Do you have any certifications or credentials? (Not a lot of people ask this one, but anyone can say they are a “horse trainer/instructor”, and they really don’t know what they are doing.  Some good instructors haven’t gone through the hassle of getting certified, but it helps to weed out those are not good.  Certification is not a deal breaker but it certainly helps!)

How many other students do you have? (This helps to determine if they are just starting out, have a high turnover of clients, or will be too busy for you. This is a personal preference on how many is too many)

How long have you had your lesson horses and how old are they? (Helps to determine the longevity of the program. Horses don’t last forever but you want a place that many trusty, proven, and safe steeds)

Do you have for group or private lessons? (Good info- group lessons are a cost saver but I recommend private lessons for the beginner, the one on one is crucial in the beginning to help correct bad habits before they start)

How long are the lessons and how much do they cost? (Lesson prices vary from location to location and depends on a lot of factors. Generally speaking $50 for an hour is an industry average)

What items do I need to purchase before the first lesson? (Some barns provide boots and helmets, others require you purchase your own before the first lesson.  I recommend having your own good fitting helmet (fit by a tack shop like Dover Saddlery if you can) and boots with a low heel)

If those answers are satisfactory. Then move onto a farm visit…

Second step is to pick a couple barns in your area and ask to come out and check out the place and watch a lesson if possible. You’ll gain a lot of insight on how lessons are done by just hanging out for an hour and asking questions. Do understand that a lot of barn owners and instructors are busy, but they will be happy to take some time out of their day to impress a new client.

Things to look for when visiting a stable:

What does the farm look like? Is the barn neat and in good repair? (A broken board here or there is not a big deal, but if the place looks like a dump then run the other way, they probably are not inspecting their tack or equipment regularly or taking care of the horses either)

Is there an enclosed riding arena? (Very important for beginner riders to have an enclose space to learn)

What’s the farm safety record? (If they have a lot of falls or ambulance rides run the other way, people are going to fall off and get hurt around horses but it shouldn’t be often)

As you watch a few lessons ask yourself if the horses are well-behaved? (Lesson horses can be stubborn and we all have bad days but make sure that ultimately the lesson is on the whole a success for the student)

Do the horses look healthy? (Who wants to ride a neglected horse?!)

Are you able to learn how to tack up your horse and groom the horse in the lesson or does someone do that for you? (I always recommend going somewhere that teaches the horsemanship and care along with the riding)

Do all the riders wear helmets? (Some places don’t enforce helmets, but I recommend everyone wear one)

Is the instructor patient and good at what they do?

What type of tone do they use in their lessons? (It’s supposed to be a learning environment. Is the instructor encouraging in their tone to promote that?)

Are people having fun? (This is huge! I have seen instructors yell and degrade students until it’s not fun anymore)

How does the instructor handle challenges or problems? (This is a good indicator if their teaching style will suit you)

Are there opportunities to become involved with horses other than riding at that farm? (Can someone help you learn how to feed and care for the horses outside of riding? If you are looking for more time around horses but are lacking funds this is a great way to exchange work for rides.)

Things to ask yourself:

Are you financially and physically able to commit to one lesson per week or even more? Horseback riding is expensive and physically difficult.  It will take time and consistency to learn the balance, coordination, and strength required to ride well (just like any sport). Time in the saddle is the best for riding but being strong, fit, and flexible can certainly help.  A lot of riders find greater gains in the saddle if they have a workout routine to supplement as well.


Are you willing to put in the time, effort, and financial commitment for horseback riding? Is the farm you want to ride at a good fit? Are their safety standards high, instructors good at what they do, and are people having fun? If so, jump right in! Horseback riding is like no other sport and it’s so much fun!

In part two of this series we discuss the riding lesson and how you will progress, what to do to keep progressing, and how to meet your goals for consistency through leasing.

Happy Riding!