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In the equestrian world there are many people offering lessons, some describe themselves as instructors, others as trainers and some as coaches. But how do you decide who is right for you? And does what someone calls themselves really matter?

If we took a straw poll of the industry we’d likely get the following general definitions:

Instructor Someone who focuses predominantly on the rider and developing their riding skills and technique by passing on facts and knowledge. Often has British Horse Society (BHS) or Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) qualifications and will often work in a riding school, college or Pony Club setting. May have a more “do as I say” rather than a collaborative approach which is great when you are starting out and need clear and concise instructions

Trainer - Someone who focuses predominantly on the horse perhaps using their own system for producing horses. Often perceived as having ‘hands on’ experience through competing / producing horses for sale. May have a more ‘guided practice’ approach – this is what I do in this situation / this is how I train my horses.

Coach - Someone who focuses predominantly on competition riders / teams and preparing them to win. Often have competed at the highest level themselves and are now sharing their insight into what it takes to be the best. May have a more ‘eyes on the ground’ approach providing feedback on the performance of both horse and rider and how that relates to competition success.

Interestingly in other sports anybody involved with helping participants to improve in their chosen sport, whether competition or leisure is referred to as a coach. However, it is recognised that there are many different approaches to coaching and this is maybe what we as riders need to think about when deciding who is best placed to help us to achieve our goals.
Do you want someone who focuses on your growth and development as a rider and can provide regular training sessions that progressively build on each other? In this case, the coach is likely to be the main driver of these sessions suggesting suitable exercises, explaining skills and techniques and telling you at the start of each session what you will be working on that day. If this sounds right for you, you probably need to look for someone who is located close to you, holds regular local clinics or is prepared to travel to you on a regular basis.
Would you prefer someone who focuses on your all round development as a rider and horse person? In this case, the coach is likely to be more collaborative in their approach discussing with you what areas you want to focus on and encouraging self awareness and self reflection to provide insights that can be used to enhance your overall performance.
Your goals as a rider take precedence over those of your coach whose role is to encourage you to analyse, think and make the decisions about your own learning and aspirations. If this sounds right for you, you probably need to look for someone who coaches because they love working with horses and riders of all levels and is not focused on building their reputation as a coach through the results/successes of their students or focuses predominantly on competing or training for competitions.
If however, you are driven by winning and want help to compete successfully then you are probably looking for the right person to help you tweak what you are already doing and suggest useful strategies for getting the best performance out of you and your horse in competition. In this case you may need to go to several coaches to work on different elements of your performance. Clinics run by top competitors / coaches are often the places to get this type of insight particularly if you go to a variety of coaches as each will have their own take on how to improve your performance and this will give you many options to try.
For me, whatever your level or aspiration, I think the overriding principles of any coach should be:
- Success is not the same as winning. Success should not be dependent on the outcome of an event. Progress, learning and effort are much healthier indicators of success.
- Winning isn’t everything, it can be an important goal but it is not the most important goal. The welfare of both horse and rider and the partnership is paramount.
- Satisfaction comes from improving and enjoying yourself in a supportive yet challenging environment.
Above all, choose someone who makes you feel good about yourself, your horse and the work that you do together. If you leave any lesson feeling down, upset, despondent, unhappy, dispirited or if the coach is in any way rude, disparaging or unpleasant about you or your horse please don’t go back. Riding and being coached should be a joy and should leave you with a renewed sense of optimism, motivation and a clear understanding of what to work on next. 


Alison Lincoln
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 25-05-2022
With an Equine Science Degree, Alison has taught on higher education courses in colleges across the UK. Her book “Equine Sports Coaching” was published in 2008 and remains on the BHS recommended reading list for their coaching qualifications. She has trained and ridden her own horses to medium level dressage, novice eventing, and foxhunter show jumping.