How Long Should a Horseback Riding Lesson Last?

As a riding instructor, it is your job to ensure that your students receive enough value in their lessons to justify the cost of those lessons. Although time is not the only determining factor, it certainly makes a difference. When you set out into the arena with a group of students, how long should they be mounted and under your instruction? The length of time that a riding lesson lasts is a point of major contention among riding instructors.

Unfortunately, this is a question that is not easily answered when I don’t have a specific situation to consider. How many riders are involved in each lesson? How many lessons do you intend to teach in a day? What equestrian discipline are you teaching? And at what level are your students riding? Since every riding instructor teaches differently, it is impossible to give a definitive answer about how long a riding lesson should last. However, this insight should give you some insight into your own situation, thereby helping you make the decision that is right for you.

The Concept of Value

Many riding instructors seem to forget that they are running a business. In exchange for their services (riding instruction), they are paid money by their customers (students). It is no different from buying a hamburger at McDonald’s or paying a home improvement company to install your new hardwood floors. Since riding instruction is a service, and since you are selling your services to the public, it is important that you understand the concept of value. Otherwise, you’re just running pony rides for a bunch of squirmy horse-crazy girls who will never understand what it means to really ride.

Frequently, however, riding instructors the concept of value interchangeably with words like longevity. The length of time that a riding lesson lasts is not necessarily indicative of the value the student received for that lesson. You can spend an hour-long lesson going over in-depth concepts with your students and teaching them the fundamentals of their chosen sport, or you can spend it sitting on the fence as you watch your students ride ’round and ’round. Each lesson includes the same amount of mounted time, but which group receives the most value?

This is something that all service providers who charge hourly encounter with their professions. For example, a friend of mine once hired a contractor to paint her walls a beautiful shade of robin’s egg blue. They were compensated by the hour, and consequently they did as little as they could each day they worked, attempting to stretch out the number of hours they would rack up for the same amount of work. When she told them she would pay a flat fee for the rest of the job, however, they really got their butts in gear.

The Strict Approach

Now that you understand that you need to be providing value during your riding lessons, let’s get down to the question of time. How long should a riding lesson last, and when do you know to call it quits? There are two basic ways to structure horseback riding lessons, the first of which is the strict approach. This simply means that each riding lesson you teach lasts a specific amount of time, and never varies from that schedule. If you decide that all of your students will ride for an hour, they mount up at three o’clock and are dismounted promptly at four. No variation; no hassles.

This is arguably the simplest approach to teaching horseback riding lessons, and often raises the fewest concerns. Human beings are naturally comforted by schedules and conformity, and they respond well to limits. If your students know that they will be mounting and dismounting at specific times, the riding instructor receives no complaints when it comes time to quit. The problem with the strict approach, however, is that riding instruction is not easily controlled. Since you’re dealing with human beings and animals, it is impossible to predict those things that can throw off schedule at a moment’s notice. For example, what if one of your students gets hurt in the middle of the lesson, and must go to the emergency room for treatment? Obviously, the lesson will be thrown off track, and so will every subsequent lesson scheduled that day.

Furthermore, the strict approach lends itself to less value than the other one (which I will discuss in a moment). It can sometimes leave the riding instructor glancing constantly at her watch, counting the minutes until she can bring her riders in and call it quits for the day. Furthermore, if you discover that you need more time to accomplish a goal, you have no options except to put the lesson on hold until next week. However, the strict approach to riding lessons is usually most convenient, especially when you have students who just show up for their lessons at their scheduled times, then leave immediately when it’s over.

The Flexible Approach

The second approach to scheduling riding lessons is the one that I use most frequently, but only when I’m working with advanced riders who own their own horses. The flexible approach means simply that lessons last as long as they need to. A goal is set for the day, and I end the lesson as soon as we’ve met that goal. In other words, if we accomplish our goals in twenty minutes, the lesson ends after twenty minutes; if it takes an hour and a half, we devote that much time to getting there.

The problems with this approach to riding lessons are obvious, even if they do promote more value during class. When you have students who are picked up and dropped off by their parents on their lesson days, it is important that you respect their schedules and keep to the one you’ve set for your classes. For example, Susie might have horseback riding at 4pm, but have to rush off to piano lessons at 5:30. Letting the 3:00 lesson run over for fifteen minutes screws up Susie’s entire day.

However, when your riding lessons last as long as you need them to, you’ll find that you get more done and accomplish goals much more quickly.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re teaching an advanced jumping lesson every Tuesday at 3:00. You decide one day that you’re going to work on lead changes in courses, so you set up a complicated, twisty-turny course and ask each of your riders to jump it. You originally thought that they might have trouble with the concept, but you’re surprised to discover that they have it down pat after jumping the course two times each. It’s only thirty minutes into the lesson, but you’ve accomplished your goal.

Now, let’s say that you operate on a strict riding lesson, so you have to find something with which to fill the next thirty minutes. You send them around the course again one more time each, and this time they all fall apart because they’ve gotten too cocky about their prior success. Now their horses have learned that they can get away with doing the wrong thing, and you have to squeeze more instruction into the next fifteen minutes or so.

Counter-productive? I think so.

If you’re going to use the flexible riding lesson approach, however, it’s important to make sure your students are fully aware of the arrangement. Eventually, it all works out concerning time, because you’ll go over your time just as often as you’ll finish early, but this can be difficult for clients to understand.

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