I'm the parent of a child who rides in a group lesson with three other girls. I have always been satisfied with the instructor. She seems to be knowledgeable and the kids have always been safe. My concern is that recently she has switched my daughter to a different horse. A horse that seems more difficult. So now it seems like she is struggling, and a little discouraged about riding, whereas before, she couldn't wait to go! I'm not sure what to do. Should I say something to the instructor about it?
Dear Concerned Barn Parent,
That is a great question and one that I hear all the time from concerned parents. As instructors, we know that when you signed your child up for lessons, you did it because they were horse-crazy, and you thought it would be a fun activity for them. As instructors, we know that. We always want the kids to look forward to coming for lessons and we, of course, want it to be fun for them.
I certainly understand your concern about the fact that your child isn't as enthusiastic and seems to be frustrated. I can understand that you may be concerned that they will get frustrated and want to give up. Those are all valid concerns.
I will start by saying that horseback riding is one of the most challenging activities your child could have picked. The thing is, I do not think that most children go into it realizing how challenging it can be.
When children are in group lessons, we, as instructors, always have the challenge of deciding which horse each student should ride. Each horse plays its own role in the program. Some are confidence builders for timid or brand new riders, while others are more intermediate-level horses that are safe but provide a bit more of a challenge.
In order to progress in riding, and once you get confident on the quietest tempered lesson horse, it is time to move on to something more challenging to learn new skills and gain even greater confidence.
My guess is that your instructor sees that your child is doing well and seems confident and thought that it was time for her to move on to something more challenging. So what your child might see as the instructor being mean or unfair is actually a compliment. It means she thinks your daughter's skill set has improved and she is ready to move on to the next level.
Your instructor would not want to think your daughter is frustrated. She may not know. In group lessons especially, when there are multiple horse and rider pairs for the instructor to watch, there is a good chance your instructor may not know unless your child speaks up and says she is nervous or frustrated. In the instructor's mind, she is probably excited for your rider and proud of her being ready to move on to a more challenging horse.
I would suggest that you express your concern to your child's instructor. I'm sure she will be glad to talk about it with you. Once she knows how your child feels, she'll hopefully make an effort to explain why she is putting her on the harder horses. It's probably because she is progressing so well and she is ready for a challenge.
As a barn parent, your instructor will need you to back them up on this. It is just a little bump in the road that almost all riders go through at some point. If your child complains about the horse or expresses frustration, try to explain again that their instructor is happy with their progress and that's why she is challenging her.
In most cases, once your child realizes what's going on, they will be able to focus more on what they need to do, and less on their frustration. Then that horse that they really didn't like will become their new favorite. They will be proud that they gained the necessary skills to ride it.
Communicating between you, your instructor and child are so important to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It's also important that everyone understands the plan for how your child will be progressing along their horsemanship journey.
This is just a part of the riding learning curve and your instructor just needs to explain that to the students. That way, they hopefully won't be as frustrated since they have a better understanding of the reasoning behind it. You can help explain it to your child, but it will mean the most coming from the instructor, and that is part of their job. Not just to teach, but to explain why they are doing what they are doing. This is how students not only become great little riders but understand the importance of all-around horsemanship.
Hopefully, this discussion between you, your child, and the instructor will help get your child back on track again with their riding. It is normal that your child may get nervous or frustrated at times. The important thing is that your child is safe, if at any time you feel like your child is not safe, you should talk to your instructor immediately. Safety should be every instructor's number one priority.
Open communication between your instructor, you, and your child should help everyone understand where your child is on their horsemanship journey and what the plan is moving forward.
Talk to your instructor, congratulate your child on their progress and always be open to asking questions when you don't understand what is going on.