‘Lessons? Naw, I know how to ride’
Horseback-riding instructors are blessed with a wide-range of clientele, all of whom sign up because they care deeply about horses, the sport of riding, their physical and psychological needs, equine interests of other family members, or they want to live a dream.
All ages and both sexes partake in the challenge of sharing communication with a horse and seeing the world from a different perspective.
From an instructor’s point of view, these riders are to be nurtured in fulfilling their hopes and dreams of horse ownership, riding expertise and perhaps competitive riding. Teaching the skills required for correct care and riding of the horse, safety and security of the rider, and an understanding of proper equipment and tack fit can become a time-consuming and daunting task for rider and instructor.
Horses are special. They comply with us, are smart enough to be naughty when they have a green rider on their back, and, if handled properly, are very forgiving. Poor riding and care, even when done innocently, can spoil a horse’s training and disposition, and even ruin their physical being.
One of the problems I’ve encountered over the years is riders who get a horse of their own and then stop taking riding lessons. I encourage riders using a lesson horse to develop their interest and love of horses, including getting a horse of their own. Then, primarily to save money, they drop further riding instruction! They feel they “know enough to get by.”
In some sports, that’s plausible. Many people take swimming lessons, build a pool, then simply enjoy it. You can get away with that. But think about learning to read, buying a book, and assuming that no more school is necessary!
Having a horse of your own is a quantum leap from riding someone else’s trained and trusty steed during a weekly lesson. It’s a new experience, and also a considerable expense. Learning to ride that individual horse properly, to understand and develop its physical condition, to evaluate its training compared to yours, and basically to “get along” with each other under numerous new circumstances, is a vast new challenge. In many respects, it’s not unlike a marriage.
Professionals usually have “ground people” to help with the constant challenges of correct, effective riding and training. They depend heavily on their feed dealers, veterinarians and farriers for backup information.
Failing to budget for continued riding instruction and expert advice may be a grave mistake. All too often, the obstacles faced by cutting corners create an under-confident rider and a confused horse, neither having much fun. Not knowing how horses behave and think often creates dangerous situations. Limited understanding of fitting tack correctly, from bits to saddles, can cause grief for both horse and rider. Most of these situations either would not exist or would improve with continued monitoring and instruction.
The cost of lessons in Nevada County varies, with some upwards of $50 an hour for private instruction. But costs here are a bargain compared to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere.
“But why do lessons cost so much?” is a question we often hear.
Consider for a moment the costs for an independent, self-employed instructor to do business: A good lesson horse will usually cost from $1,000 to $5,000; a nice saddle starts at $500; bridle and bit will run $75 and up; saddle pads are $35 or more; add another $50 for halter, rope and grooming equipment, and then there’s the $80 cost of shoeing the horse every seven weeks.
Facilities required can include pasture, corrals, stables and a good place to ride. Board, including feed, runs $150 a month for just pasture and twice that (or more) for a stall. A horse trailer and truck to pull it are pretty essential for trail riding or shows. In addition, the instructor will have costs of land, insurance, taxes, professional fees, utilities, water, veterinary care, extra feeds and perhaps hired help.
This means that any instructor providing horses knows the steed must be used at least three times a week just to pay the minimum expense, not figuring in any salary or profit.
With that in mind, I think you’ll agree with the tongue-in-cheek statement, “If you want to make a small fortune by teaching riding, you’d better start with a large fortune!”
And yet, I would not trade this lifestyle profession for any other.
Felicia Schaps Tracy is a Certified Horsemanship Association advanced-level certified instructor, an American Riding Association certified instructor, was a founding instructor for the Northern Mines Pony Club, and lead the horsemanship program at Ojai Valley School. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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