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Starting to teach riding

From: Patty

Dear Jessica, I have been approached (o.k., begged) by an aquaintance to give her teenage daughter lessons. I am not a professional instructor, nor do I have the desire or time to teach more than a couple of people. I think I would enjoy teaching, from what little I have done on a "please help me" basis.

I have several concerns, however. My first question is about liability insurance. This girl keeps her horse at a boarding facility with many kids around. What kind of liability do I face for accepting payment for instruction and what is the best (and cheapest) way to cover myself?

My second concern (it's kind of silly, actually) is about stepping on the toes of the "barn's" instructors. It may be just fine with them for a boarder to bring in an outside instructor initially, but what should I expect from them if kids start wanting to switch from them to me? (not that I would have the time....they should be able to figure THAT one out.) Did you face this problem when you first started teaching?

In short, what are the major pitfalls of giving lessons and are they outweighed by the pleasures???

Thank you! (and thanks for the autograph in my copy of your book! It joins my collection of autographed books by Nuno Oliveira, Bengt Ljungquist, Jan Dickerson and a video of Hilda Gurney's, so you are in excellent company) Patty

Hi Patty! Thanks for the kind words, you're welcome for the autograph, and I'm delighted to know that I'm in such good company -- that's nice to know! ;-)

When it comes to teaching, you are right to worry about the pitfalls -- and the expenses.

Years ago, the first thing you would need to think about is whether you know enough about horses, kids, riding, and teaching to be a good riding teacher. Those things are still important, but nowadays, the very first thing you need to think of is how to protect yourself in the event of anything going wrong. Liability insurance -- a personal policy for ANYONE teaching riding -- is a MUST-HAVE item. Many stables (very sensibly) insist on getting a photocopy of an instructor's liability policy before he/she is allowed to teach at that stable - - even if he/she is teaching one lesson every two weeks.

If you're only teaching a few lessons here and there, the teaching income may not even be enough to offset the cost of your liability insurance, which for an uncertified instructor will probably cost you in the region of $900 - $1200 a year. Many people prefer NOT to teach a few "casual" lessons, because of this. Some are disappointed -- others welcome this information, because it gives them an inarguable "out" if the neighbor or friend is pushy, and it's an easy way to say "Gee, I'd love to, but I just can't." ;-)

There are other expenses associated with teaching! Many stables charge fees to outside instructors. And the social cost, as you point out, may be high -- if the barn's instructors feel that you are attempting to "poach" their students, your time at that barn could become less than enjoyable. Instructors who feel threatened can be very creative. ;-)

More useful expenses -- but essential -- are those that you invest in your professional qualifications.

If you're going to teach at all, I HIGHLY recommend that you get certification. Contact the American Riding Instructor Certification Program (ARICP) for details.

American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA)
28801 Trenton Court
Bonita Springs, FL 34134-3337
Tel: 239 948-3232
Fax: 239 948-5053

On the Web:

It does cost money to take the exams, but once you are certified, you have proof that you were judged to be competent and safety-oriented, which means a lot. And certified instructors can get a discount on their liability insurance -- so the certification process will pay for itself in a year or two.

Again, if you are only considering teaching because neighbors and friends are pushing you to give their children lessons, lack of certification can be a good "out," especially if you mention safety, and point out that they wouldn't want their child taking swimming lessons with someone just because that person had a pond and liked to swim. They would look for someone with certified safety training and teaching qualifications! Riding is every bit as risky as swimming, and students should have the reassurance that their choice of instructor is likely to DECREASE the risk rather than INCREASE it. ;-)

Don't think for a minute that you don't need coverage if you're just teaching a few local lessons to a few local kids, no matter how close a friendship you have with their parents. In the legal sense, you are either teaching or you are not teaching. There's no such thing as "just teaching a few lessons to a neighbor's kid" -- it's like boarding horses; in terms of legality and liability, you are either boarding or you are not boarding; there's no such thing as "just keeping the neighbor's pony for $50 a month". And if you're teaching, or boarding, at ANY level, you need to be covered.

The pitfalls of teaching can be minimized if you are willing to invest in your education, your certification, and your insurance coverage; they can be further minimized if you teach ONLY in safe surroundings, on reliable horses, and insist that riders learn and observe all basic safety precautions. Of course there will still be accidents -- but they will be genuine ACCIDENTS and not the results of carelessness or ignorance.

There was a time when it would have been perfectly reasonable to offer some lessons to the child of a neighbor or friend -- but not now. We live in a litigation-happy society, and if you don't arm yourself with knowledge and protect yourself (as far as possible) with insurance, you could find yourself in a very bad position. Many people are completely ignorant about horses and safety, and this includes the people who make up juries!

I get quite a few telephone calls from lawyers who are either involved with a case or are trying to decide whether a particular case is worth pursuing. They want to know whether this or that behaviour was "normal" for a horse, or whether an instructor "should have" or "shouldn't have" used a particular piece of equipment or a particular school horse. Some of these suits are quite obviously frivolous and foolish, and it seems clear that the person bringing suit is simply hoping to collect a settlement! But what is obvious to ME, or to the rest of you who are reading this, is not necessarily obvious to people people who have never seen a horse up close, and never seen any horse that didn't have a jockey or a policeman on top of it. A child with a broken arm is unlikely to blame the horse or the instructor, or to think in terms of lawsuits -- a parent, especially a non-horsey one, is likely to think in exactly those terms. Quite often, a parent who seems to accept the accident at the time, will bring suit later, after some persuasion by friends and relatives. I've seen it happen too often -- it's not pleasant.

You have to be careful. If teaching riding is what you do full-time, and you are experienced, certified, and insured, then the pleasures will outweigh the risks. If it's something that you are considering doing occasionally, just for fun or to help out the local kids, and the cost of certification and insurance sounds like FAR too much money to put into this activity, then think long and hard before you do any teaching at all. The potential pitfalls may, in fact, outweigh the pleasures.

If you don't have any burning desire to get instructor certification, or even to do formal teaching, but you DO enjoy spending time with horses and helping other people enjoy them, you might do well (and it would cost you less!) to volunteer your help in a Riding for the Handicapped program. Most of these programs are in need of more help than they have, and the work is very rewarding.

You asked about my own experiences -- they were quite different, but this was at another time. When I began teaching, close to twenty years ago, I wasn't certified, I wasn't insured, and I was blissfully ignorant of the possible pitfalls. And I was lucky -- there were no accidents, and in any case both my students and their parents were horse-people, and had a good perpsective.

But when I started teaching, times were different -- there WAS no meaningful certification program in the USA (the ARICP didn't exist yet),and, as a nation, we were not nearly so litigation-happy. We were also much less safety conscious -- we didn't realize that head injuries were so prevalent among riders. In those days, there WERE no safety helmets like the ones we have today -- there were just hard shells for jockeys and lighter-weight, thinner hard shells for huntseat riders. And there were still rental stables where anyone who wanted could pay for an hour's riding time and take a horse out -- when the insurance rates went sky-high for this sort of establishment (and sensibly, because there were so many, many lawsuits resulting from injuries), most of them couldn't afford the increased rates, and simply shut down.

If I were just starting out today, I would get insurance before I taught ANY lessons on my own, and I would get certification. EVERY instructor should have both. I hope this isn't too discouraging -- I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but you need to go into this, if you DO go into this, with your eyes wide open. It just isn't simple anymore.


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