Overwhelmed with Instructor Training

Happy New Year! I haven’t posted lately because we’ve been so busy with traveling, but also because there’s so many things I want to post I don’t know where to start!

However, the other day a reader emailed me asking for advice about feeling overwhelmed by the instructor training process of leaning to teach a lesson. She says she forgets all the things to remember while teaching and doesn’t feel confident, to the point of questioning her skills and abilities. “Does this get easier? Will I eventually start feeling like it’s natural?” she asks.

I feel for her so much, because I was in the same boat! And to be honest, I often step back into that same boat when something happens like a rider falls off or I haven’t taught for a while. Because teaching is a SKILL that must be LEARNED and PRACTICED. Practice until it becomes habit. And practiced to keep it.

So my answer to her, and to you, is that YES, it WILL get easier, but how long that takes depends on the individual, as the learning curve is different for everyone. It took me at least a year to feel comfortable and confident with teaching, and up to a year after that to stop feeling anxious before lessons. The 25 required teaching hours is a minimum, not a guarantee that by then you’ll be set. Most people take more than the minimum to be ready. Remember, instructing a TR lesson is a completely new skill you are learning – it takes years to master any skill.  Also, since it’s a new skill, right now is when you are setting your habits, and it takes being intentional, until it becomes habit and easy. So take the time now to deliberately set good habits.

When I work with ITs, I teach them one step of the lesson at a time and they teach that part each week, adding on as we go. So week 1 we learn the mount, then they do that in their lesson. Week 2 we learn the warmups, so then they teach the mount and warmups. And so on with the skill, practice, progression, and dismount. My point is, if you are feeling overwhelmed, maybe you are attempting too much too soon.

So here are my suggestions for deliberately setting good habits until it’s easy:

  1. Consider taking a step back and asking your mentor if you can teach just part of the lesson at a time, so you can focus on less things. One week just teach the mount and dismount. The next week add warmups, and skill. The next week just do the practice and progression. Then combine them all.
  1. Write a lesson plan and stick with it. It it totally OK to have it on a paper with you in the arena and read off it if you have to. Say each part of the lesson plan when you get to it: “We are going to mount now…” “It’s time for warmups!” “Come into the center so we can talk about our skill” and so on. That way, over and over, you drill into your head: mount, warmups, skill, practice, progression, cool down, dismount. After doing this many times, the order of teaching a lesson will become habit and more natural. Then you will feel more comfortable with jumping in less prepared, or being flexible within the lesson.
  1. Overprepare. When you are teaching a skill, such as sitting trot, research the how what when and why, and write them out on paper. Ride a horse and verbalize what you are feeling and doing with your own body. Write down 5 potential practices/activities, then use 1-2 of them, but if you have extra time, now you have options! The more your learn, the more confident in your own knowledge you will be.
  1. Visualize/Practice outside of lessons. After writing your lesson plan, practice saying the words out loud. Practice your what why and how out loud, imagining the riders in front of you. Practice saying out loud the most common corrections and praises you expect to happen. Find a YouTube video of riders practicing the skill you will be teaching, turn the volume off, and pretend you are teaching them, telling them out loud the corrections and praises with your hows and whys. In other words, find ways to practice outside of teaching lessons, because the more you practice the more it will start to feel natural.
  1. Watch other instructors and take notes using the PATH Intl Observations Sheets (in the online class) or my condensed version here – using these several times will get the right questions in your head to be asking yourself during lessons and get you looking for the right things, until it’s habit and easy.
  1. Imitate. At one barn I did my training at, the instructor set up the same arena and activity for every group, but changed the skill and adaptations. I got to watch her teach the first group, then I taught the second group and would try to imitate her with any parts of the lesson that were the same, such as how she explained the skill and activity. Imitating really helped me learn how to explain games in the minimal words needed, get a rider’s attention, redirect, etc. This may not be applicable to all barns, but if you can do it, take advantage.
  1. Take lessons. Once you learn how to instruct, go back to being a student! You will see how your teacher leads you through a similar lesson structure and why it works. You will also learn the whats hows and whys while physically being asked to do them, which will help you remember and teach them better. When you instruct, you will be able to “channel” your previous instructors, what they did and how they explained it, another way of learning by imitating.

Lastly, a few words on confidence killers:

  • Comparing. Comparing really kills confidence, and it’s completely invalid. Each person starts their certification experience at a different place. Some people are stronger on their riding experience, others on their working with people with disabilities experience. Each person has different things they need to work on and will take a different amount of time to get there. You cannot compare someone who is a retired special ed teacher and needs to learn to ride, with someone who has been instructing riding their whole life and needs to learn to adapt their instruction to riders with disabilities. You just can’t compare yourself to anyone, it’s unfair to yourself. If you take longer than someone to learn, it sucks, but thinking about how much it sucks will only hold you back.
  • Not being certified really kills confidence, because you are in the place of students and questioning everything. Getting certified and teaching on your own really boosts your confidence. So I don’t think you’ll be fully confident in your teaching abilities until you pass. And if you don’t pass the first time, it does make it even harder, but that much sweeter when you do pass. So to some extent it will not feel natural or easy until you’re certified and the process is complete.

Okay, that’s all my advice. I really hope you stick with it and take the time to do what YOU need to do to progress at a speed that’s comfortable for you, but also know when to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself.

It WILL get easier. You just have to do the hard work first. And then when it gets easier, you will find new challenges and more hard work!


Does anyone else have anything to add?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!


7 thoughts on “Overwhelmed with Instructor Training

  1. This is exactly what I needed to hear today! As a recently certified PATH instructor I am struggling to feel fluid and natural.

    Thanks so much.

  2. Great post! This is excellent advice for ITs but also a nice reminder for mentors about how stressful and overwhelming the learning process can be. I also recommend ITs practice self care. Take a day off, go for a hike, get a massage, go riding, etc. to recharge and keep your enthusiasm for this work strong.

  3. Your article really helps me to know what to do as my former Mentor did not do any thing like that and I will be testing again in April. I almost passed the first time, but passed neither test. I have a new mentor and I will be ready when april comes.

    Thank you
    Mary Lou

  4. Excellent points brought up. Also, remember that we are working with horses and people so if something unexpected occurs, it is OK!
    Sometimes things will not happen exactly as planned. That is not a failure, it is a reality. Be over prepared for what you want to teach, but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t all click during the lesson. It becomes a good opportunity to reflect on what could be done better next time. Be ready to adapt when necessary- it might even turn out better than your original plan!

  5. Fantastic article thank you.
    I have been coaching on my own now (in Australia) for a year. On the whole I was very ready. I was very lucky to have wonderful trainers and mentor. Also I had a lot of behind the scenes support when starting and through the year.
    I coach very young kids , so I have to be adaptable and flexible. However I have found being as prepared as possible helps take the stress out of what / when / how. I do a written lesson plan each week and ensure I have time to set up the arena. I also always have a few things in case things dont go to plan. Being able to revert to a favorite game or activity helps out no end.
    Dont be afraid to ask for feedback from your volunteers/ helpers. We discus our lessons after each one. Take the good with the bad.
    But the most important is try and relax and have fun with your coaching. Kids and animals are unpredictable, but dont beat yourself up when things dont go to plan.
    I let myself learn from my students , we have a lot of fun and I absolutley love it.
    Relax , prepare and enjoy. Best of luck.

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