Trainer, instructor, coach or teacher…. what’s in a name?

Judith Hubbard and Liz Riley on ChanceYou may be a little confused at the moment about whether you receive help with your riding from a Trainer, Instructor, Coach, Teacher…. or even a Mentor.  And does it matter?  There are teachers at school, sport coaches for football and netball, instructors in riding schools, trainers for race-horses and mentors who help guide and support us through everyday life.  Within the UK Western Equestrian Society we typically use the term “instructor” to refer to those who become formally qualified through the approval process.  But ask any of them, and they’ll tell you they have to be all of the above, plus - at times - a therapist.  The simple fact is that anyone who teaches riding will have to be a combination of all the above, sometimes in the same lesson!  So why is this? Well it’s got a lot to do with the four stages commonly recognised in the development of a skill set. 

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence

At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, this is the stage at which you don’t know what you don’t know.  The rider/client:

  • is completely new to western riding
  • possesses no technical knowledge
  • has no awareness of how little they know.

You could also describe this as the ‘ignorance is bliss’ state!

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence

At this next stage, you’ve progressed to the point at which you do know what you don’t know. The rider/client:

  • has watched some western riding………
  • …….but still can’t work out how the winner of the trail class made it all look so effortless, and
  • starts to realise that there is a steep learning curve ahead.

At this point it’s quite common for the rider to feel a little daunted by the task.

Stage 3: Conscious competence

By now the rider starts to feel they are ‘getting it’.  Typically at this stage:

  • the rider’s confidence increases, together with their sense of achievement;
  • this contributes to greater effort and commitment;
  • they even start to look excitedly at show schedules! 

At this point they will seek out more challenges and are able make educated decisions on their own training.

Stage 4: Unconscious competence

This is what you might call the ‘automatic’ stage. 

  • The rider is now experienced;
  • communication with the horse becomes more effective, instinctive and harmonious;
  • our western rider is successful at schooling their own horse and/or in the show pen. 

But even at this advanced stage, without practice and maintenance of these riding skills it is possible to revert to the previous stage.

So what does it matter?

At the first stage the rider needs a teacher - someone to explain everything step by step.  Primary school children don’t need coaches, they need teachers!  

During the second stage the rider will need a Teacher, Instructor, Trainer (and therapist for when it all seems too difficult!)  

During the third stage the Instructor will wear every hat, including Coach – this is an exciting time for pupil and teacher when the rider becomes more independent and the lessons start to be rider led.  

By the fourth stage the Instructor will almost permanently be in the role of Coach.  At this level the rider may even look for a Mentor, someone who has vast experience in the same discipline and who will be able to offer guidance and support.  

A good instructor will move effortlessly between the different roles of teacher, instructor, trainer and coach finding the best way of communicating at any given time.  

And finally...

Don’t forget to spare a thought for your instructor.  Teaching a horse owner western riding presents considerable challenges. Not only does the rider need to learn new mental and physical skills but usually their horse has to learn a new discipline too.  Be it green youngster or older horse converting to western your instructor is training both of you!  So it really doesn’t matter what title anyone uses as long as you have respect for each other, coupled with good communication and the ability to pass on/absorb all the technical skills necessary for you and your horse to become accomplished performers in the sport of western riding.

© Judith Hubbard Registration No:327062 All rights reserved.