The title is a tongue in cheek version of this post at A Enter Spooking.
I’ve been looking for a good instructor for Katai and I for a while now. Unfortunately I’m limited in both budget and in the fact that without a trailer I really need to find a good place to board that also has a good instructor. For a while when I was first starting Katai I was trying to have a local dressage trainer that travels come to me and teach but she can be flaky and, honestly, I’ve studied with her before and just didn’t get that much out of it.
See I may be new at needing and picking out a dressage instructor but I’m not new to this type of instruction (weekly lessons) in general. When I was five years old I started weekly piano lessons and when I was twelve I added cello lessons. For those years (from 12 through 23) I took at least weekly lessons on two instruments from two different teachers. I also went through several teachers sometimes moving on as I advanced, sometimes switching when my previous instructor moved or became unavailable, and sometimes just needing a change. During this time I discovered a few things about me and the way I learn and those are things that I now look for in anyone who will be instructing me.
– I’m an active learner and need to be able to ask questions/sometimes challenge what I’m being told. I rarely get argumentative, I did with J but that was when I realized I needed to move on, but some instructors take questions (especially asking why) as arguments and I don’t tend to do well with that type of person as an instructor.
– Because I don’t have your typical Warmblood, Thoroughbred, Morgan etc. I need an instructor who respects my right to ride what I want to ride and who isn’t constantly trying to talk me into something "better". I learn quickly and while I’m not a beautiful rider or an advanced rider by any means I think that the instructors that I’ve ridden with in the past have seen potential and to them I think that often means that I should get a more competitive horse. Unfortunately for them that is not what I want and I’m extremely stubborn. This doesn’t mean that I need someone to praise Katai or gush over her, I realize she’s not an upper level prospect and doesn’t possess loads of talent but to me dressage is for every horse so I should choose the horse I want to ride every day and the instructor should work with me to help me minimize my horse’s challenges and increase my horse’s strengths. Not spend their time telling me to get a different horse, of course unless I were crippling her or something.
– Flexibility is important to me as well. As an adult amateur I have a full time job and many demands on my time. I’m also not training for the Olympics so there will occasionally be days where I’m sick or have a headache and I’m just not willing to "push through the pain" to ride. I need someone who recognizes that and doesn’t get bent out of shape. (Of course these aren't that often, any more and I’d feel like a flake.)
– I will not EVER put up with someone that yells or swears again. I’ve had music teachers do this and I dealt with it and was sometimes even motivated by it but at the time I was taking those lessons that was going to be my profession. If I was being lazy, doing something wrong, creating a new habit etc. it was directly tied to my livelihood and a kick up the ass was warranted. With dressage instruction though it’s clearly not. As I said earlier, I’m not training for the Olympics and this is supposed to be fun. I will not go to lessons that give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and there’s just no reason to yell or swear when I’m very clearly trying to learn and improve.
– I will also NEVER put up with someone who talks my horse down or insults her. If there is a soundness issue just tell me like a human being and be supportive. I won’t put up with an instructor telling me that my horse is worthless and I should sell her on a meat truck because she’s not who they’d choose to ride.
What I did to choose my current instructor was have someone at the barn recommend her and schedule a lesson with her. That was it. In the future I’ll plan on auditing first probably but I had done that with J and it didn’t help. At the time that I was having L recommended to me I was actually considering a different instructor that is fairly well known in the area. She does more classical dressage and has an almost cult-like following. I had audited two lessons with her and was impressed enough that I planned on working with her. When I mentioned this to one of the more advanced dressage riders at the barn though she gave me sort of a soft warning, a "maybe you should consider L instead" sort of warning and since L charges half of what that instructor charges I figured I’d go ahead and try a lesson with her. I’m so glad I did!
I think it just goes to show that there’s no "right" way to find an instructor. It maybe also shows that I have no idea what I’m looking for yet but that’s a different story.