Instructor late to lessons and often distracted WWYD

I have my daughter in lessons once a week at the same barn where she started riding almost 4 years ago. I have always been frustrated by late starting lessons (its the one thing in my life I am always early for) and was tolerant of it for a time because usually the lesson would run later if it started late (no lesson scheduled immediately after). In recent years, we’ve had a go at private lessons, lateness and lessons cut short were still issues, and since last fall we’ve gotten back into group lessons. Our lesson time is the first one in the afternoon and although we are often started 15 minutes late, the lesson always ends on time because the next lesson has to start.

And it’s not just the instructor being late, throughout the lesson there is often socializing around the fence lines, people coming into the arena to talk to the instructor, or time texting /talking on the phone. Endless laps at a walk while instructor is distracted. Lessons have sort of turned into a glorified opportunity to just have someone else present while my daughter rides. Mostly at a walk.

We haul our horse in instead of using a school horse yet we pay the same lesson fees. Now that diesel is outrageously expensive, it’s harder to justify hauling in for a mediocre shortened lesson.

The barn is a great community and my daughter enjoyes riding with other kids. No other real options locally for changing instructors, and I don’t want to put off the instructor or burn any bridges… But I’m paying for quality instruction and haven’t been getting it for a while. I’m non confrontational so it’s a real challenge for me to speak up about this. They just notified everyone that they are raising prices, which made me even more frustrating since I’m not getting what I’m paying for as it is.

How would you handle it? Lessons need to start on time and last the full time being paid for, and paying students should have the instructors undivided attention throughout the lesson. This should not feel like too much to ask far but I’m struggling… I know I just need to say something, but how it’s approached feels like a delicate thing…


Regardless of potentially burning bridges, I’d be having a talk with the instructor. I would not tolerate the instructor repeatedly having entire conversations on the phone nor repeated 15 minutes shorting.

Now, as a former lesson instructor for predominantly child up-down riders, I do have some questions. How long are the lessons? Does “most of the lesson is at the walk” refer to warming up and cooling down at the walk? The program I did lessons for had 30 minute privates and that included a warm up/cool down (obviously shortened feom ideal length but that was beyond my control). I had parents who were concerned about the amount of walking until I explained that we had to have the proper warming/cooling period and breaks. Those periods tended to seem very chill as the child was generally just walking and didn’t need a ton of instruction during that time.


Well private lessons are 40mins and group lessons are an hour. We tried private lessons for a time because some of the issue was other students in the lesson being late to the arena or needing help changing tack or having put on the wrong saddle… Etc. Private lessons were marginally better. Now there’s still the issue with half the students in the lesson either arriving late or not having enough time to catch /groom /tack up and get to the arena on time, but I feel like the bigger issue is that our lesson is the first in the afternoon, so instead of the instructor already being out in the arena teaching and ready to go, they’re often in the barn taking care of something or talking or just arriving to the barn themselves. Once in the arena, the instructor is very distracted, and other people at the busy barn make this worse by not respecting the instructor’s need to focus on the kids riding, and then there’s the cell phone. I feel like all of this amounts to a more personal complaint about how the instructor is conducting themselves and it makes it hard to approach without offending.

As far as the walking… I do understand the need for warm up and cool down and taking breaks, for both horse and rider… But I also feel like they’re is so much valuable time there too teach and practice other things WHILE walking… Like stretching and balance exercises, square halts, bending, leg yields, straightness, etc… Instead of just numbly mindlessly walking lap after lap after lap at a walk, it’s just a wasted opportunity in my mind. This I think I’ll have an easier time addressing with the instructor, but the late start without accommodation of extra time at the end of a lesson, and the inattentiveness throughout the lesson… I’m really struggling with a friendly gentle way to approach this without appearing to just complain… It’s been this way for so long and I feel like it’s sort of their “culture” and what my husband calls “standardized deviance.” sigh.


Are there other places for you daughter to take lessons? If yes, then personally I would move. There is nothing I dislike more than paying for a lesson that teaches little to nothing.

You can talk to the instructor but if this has been the norm for the whole time then move. If this is the only barn in town with lessons, then go back to private and explain you expect a full 40 minute lesson with the instructor’s complete attention unless it’s an emergency but don’t be surprised if they say no since this is their norm.


I think I would bring the instructor’s non-alcoholic beverage of choice (Coffee? Tea? Iced or hot?) to a 10 minute meeting, requested in advance, before your daughter’s lesson.

I would acknowledge the difficult economy and the need to raise rates, but also acknowledge that it’s the same situation for you and the other parents. Then, in your own best words, ask that the lesson be for the full time period without interruptions unless a dire emergency. You could use the thought that the distractions from others in the barn and the phone also distract the riders, who need to learn to be focussed on their horses completely while they ride. That attentiveness to schedules is critical with horses, showing and etc. so the students need to learn that, too. You might even ask if a shorter lesson period would work better for her and the students. That’s what I’d throw at the wall. And if it didn’t work I’d move on.


Some really good suggestions there… Maybe the increase in price has opened the door for me to address the issues…

While there is one other lesson barn I could consider… Maybe… In the area… there are other factors that are in play and make it impossible to just completely make a break from our current barn. But I’m also factoring in all the variables and realizing that we could pay an instructor to come to our home and do a private lesson (likely with more focus and technical supervision due to no distractions) for less than what it costs me to haul to the barn for a group lesson. Plus I would save the time of hauling in and back, in addition to the diesel… But there’s no option for a group at home, and I know my daughter finds motivation in the atmosphere of the busy barn and other kids,so that has value to consider as well.

I don’t know…


I don’t know… I get your frustration about the late start to lessons, and I think that (and maybe you’ve done this already) if you can tactfully ask about at least starting the lesson on time that would be good. It does seem that, since you’re trailering in, you could easily make a (tactful!) case to the instructor.

I’d also want to know how your child feels about the situation. Is she frustrated too? You said that she enjoys riding in the company of other kids in the lesson–is that enough of a benefit to justify the expense and overlook the shortcomings?

I think as parents we often put a lot (too much?) value on learning specific lessons–downloading knowledge, as it were. (And I say this with all respect.) But especially in a group lesson for a kid there’s a lot going on that isn’t necessarily about the instructor cuing the correct diagonal, etc.

That learning about being in a group is pretty valuable too, particularly in pandemic times when many kids haven’t had a lot of group interaction.

Good luck with what you decide.


Thanks for the insight, more good points to consider. My daughter is not so much upset by the issues that are really bugging me, but she’s aware of the problems and does feel like the quality of instruction has been an issue, she wants to make progress and not just go through the motions. I totally get what you’re saying, and need to consider how my daughter feels about things… Thanks for pointing that out!


If this is accurate then you need to overcome this:

You are literally just talking to a service person about a provided service. “Hi Trainer, I’ve noticed that you spent between 10 and 25 minutes on your cell phone in the past few lessons, which have also started 15 minutes late but ended on time so the next lesson can start on time. Now that prices are going up, I anticipate this will resolve into less cell phone time in the ring and an on-time start.” Period. No question mark.

Now if there are more options in the area for lessons, maybe try a couple here and there and see if they are a good fit.


Also, if your daughter is willing to assist in this manner, during one of these extended walk breaks, maybe she can start just riding her own horse and doing her own thing. Wear a watch, after say a three-minute walk break, she can start trotting serpentines or working on walk/canter transitions.


That’s a good way to approach it! I like that I have a somewhat more personal relationship with the instructor, but it does change things a bit too… Seeing it as a service provided and addressing it as such seems like a good approach. Thanks for the suggestion! I keep telling myself if I do not say anything, nothing will change, and I either have to grow a pair or accept that this is the way things are going to be…


I’ve tried this approach too, told my daughter if she had made two laps at a walk, either pick up a trot again, or ask the instructor if she can start working on trot again, or asking if she can go over the trot poles, or something… Just to nudge the instructor like hey we’re still here and waiting for our next direction… My daughter is very much “by the books” and I think she sees it as overstepping her instructor, so it hasn’t been as fruitful as I would have liked… I try sooooo hard to stay at a distance during lessons and not interfere, I don’t want to be one of those parents at the rail… But half the time I want to holler out “you ready to get back to work?” :roll_eyes:


Honestly you have not just one issue, but a list … lateness; distracted instructor; lack of lesson focus; possible over-charging; poor use of lesson time; lack of progress in her riding … even the other students are kind of a problem. And for all those reasons, or for other reasons, the overall situation is: poor quality lessons.

Observation: This is likely a barn culture, because the other students seem to reflect the lack of timeliness and lack of attentiveness that the instructor displays. If so, it’s unlikely to change.

IMO time for a new program.

But given that this is a child’s activity, I think much of your decision depends on your own life as well. Doubtless you are juggling drive time and other considerations. So it’s a do-what’s-right-for you decision, just in my opinion.

How serious are you and your daughter about her riding and progress? Is this more of a past-time, or do you both have some ambitions for her riding future? Do what’s best for those goals, if any.

If you and she want her to advance, it doesn’t sound like this is the right program. It’s not going to change in nature to be something that it is clearly not, which is focused on quality and progress. But if noodling around at a walk is ok with both of you, then relaxed expectations for just that are fine – guessing that is what the other students are doing. Just imo. :slight_smile:


OP, you say that you are non-confrontational, but having a conversation with an instructor is not a confrontation. Perhaps how you think of it and what wording/tone you plan to use would help this be an easier conversation.

You aren’t threatening to break the relationship and don’t need to expect that the instructor will see it that way, or want to break it, either. Talks like this are not a winner-takes-all, loser-is-out situation. It’s more of a negotiation. And you can offer face-saving options.

Pick out just 2 issues of most concern. If those improve, is it enough to remain with that program? If change has to be much more comprehensive, it is really better to just move on, as they are unlikely to change everything for just one student, no matter how fair it would be to do so.

In a friendly tone and with a smile, “Suzy has been enjoying her time here. [Insert some happy chat about how sweet the horse is, or something. But do move forward after only a short exchange.] I did want to let you know about some concerns I have, and Suzy does as well. It’s a couple of things that aren’t working so well for us. I know you know that the late start of the lessons mean we aren’t getting our time in. We’ve started at least 10 minutes late the last 5 times we’ve been here, but I know that maybe you didn’t realize that. And I just want to mention that it seems you often are not really focused on Suzy as much as on the other people who just want to talk. So Suzy doesn’t seem to be getting much of your knowledge and support to progress to more trotting and cantering. I just wanted to mention this so you will know what we are thinking.”

The instructor may respond to this with surprise – some people are not very aware of what they are really doing with a habitual activity (teaching a lesson), how it comes across. Give her space and time to gather her thoughts - she hasn’t been thinking about this as you have been - and listen carefully to what she says. She may be defensive. She may have another concern that you don’t know about. If only defensive, give her a chance to say 'ok I can … ’ for a correction. If she has other concerns that interfere with timeliness or focus, be ready to negotiate to work around those realities. Even if they don’t make sense to you, they are real to her.

The longer having this conversation is delayed, the more difficult it becomes. It is unlikely to ever be easier than right now.

I’ve been in this situation twice before and had to have the conversation. It wasn’t the easiest, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Both times the instructor was slightly defensive, but I calmly stood by my very reasonable right to an on-time, full-length lesson with an attentive instructor.

In one case the instructor really hadn’t paid attention to timely lessons, and once it was mentioned she had no problem starting lessons on time.

In the other case the instructor explained that she had to take the cell phone calls during that time frame, because she was getting daily schedule info from her long-term most-advanced students, and that was the only time they could call. She mentioned that the other student that had previously had my lesson time had the same complaint! We decided to move my lesson time and that solved my problem. I did suggest that she would not get complaints from students if she did not schedule lessons during that time, and in fact after that she didn’t! :slight_smile:


This would be the thing-of-it.
What does your daughter want?

Are the other kids in that group lesson school-friends / social friends with your daughter? And riding lessons is just an aside for an organized social gathering?

If your daughter is on-the-cusp of into horse showing/into social horse-ness…Are there ponyclubs in your region? Clubs for people such as your daughter, who has her own horse, that she keeps at home? Maybe going to pony club once a month will give her an opportunity to meet girls she as this in common with?

And if your daughter seems to maybe have aspirations in the horse world, then i would definitely augment her group lessons with a private lesson at home. You can more or less go with a more advance rider person who boards at a close enough barn and keep trying until you get a good one. I would not get too invested on any particular one until you catch the right niche (sort of like babysitting shopping)


The easiest, least confrontational answer is also the most expensive: Let your daughter continue the group lessons to satisfy her desire to ride with other kids and preserve your personal relationship with the current barn without making waves and also pay an instructor to come to your home so that your daughter can learn and progress. It also seems like this is the only way to satisfy the conditions you have set out in your posts - that you can’t/won’t make a complete break from your current barn and that you want your daughter to have better quality lessons.

If you can’t afford both, you have to ask yourself what your priority is. What is more important? That your daughter receive quality instruction to learn and progress in her riding or that she have the opportunity to share a sport with other kids? Both of these are completely valid goals. It sounds like private lessons at home is the best way to achieve the first one and staying where you are is the best way to achieve the second one.

While I agree with the sentiment expressed by those who say you need to talk to the instructor about your issues and ask her to devote her full attention to her students and start lessons on time, my life experience suggests that this will not be well received and not be successful. And if you’re truly unwilling to break with this barn and instructor if necessary, then why risk stirring up trouble?


And this is the essential ‘problem’ (if it is one) in our own heads of having ‘the conversation’ - the idea that ‘the conversation’ has a make-or-break outcome. But that is only in our own mind. It’s not necessarily a reality.

It’s not an ultimatum. It’s not a ‘my way or I’m leaving’ situation. If we can release those ideas and change our attitude to one of just-talking, it becomes much easier to discuss without coming across as demanding.

It doesn’t have to be perfection or nothing. We can signal that we accept some latitude. That we know the other person has their story as well, and we want to hear it. The person initiating can help set a tone that is a non-confrontational, we-are-just-talking spirit. Avoiding any hint of attitude that ‘we are about to leave the program if I don’t get satisfaction’. Since that is not the desired outcome (at this point), there is no need to take that approach.

The person initiating the conversation can also direct and moderate it, through tone, smiles, even side-tracking into a neutral happy topic to release tension and lower anxiety, then come back on course in a casual way. ‘Oh look, it is just so cute to see that precious pony being led by the littlest student Jane!’ [speaker chuckles, instructor looks at pony/Jane and releases some anxiety] ‘Anyway, I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, but I just wanted to let you know that this has kind of bothered me a little bit.’ Then let instructor respond in their own way.

The attitude we take into the conversation is everything. Be ready to not get the desired outcome and also to show we accept that – verbally, in the moment.

What we decide to do later on, after we get home and have time to process everything, is another decision. A decision that doesn’t have to be made right away.

We have a culture that tends to assume that customers will be insistent on having things all our own way, or we are out. I think largely because this is such a consumer lifestyle and economy, retailers and marketers are constantly trying to make everything happier and easier for us, and that thought has worked its way into a general expectation.

If we can approach discussions like this one with an instructor in a more open, it-doesn’t-have-to-be-perfect,way, but hopeful for some improvement, it allows the other person a chance to modify their thinking while maintaining their own positive self-image, which is what it comes down to.

We can do better at negotiating. By not accusing, and by acknowledging that it is a negotiation and we’ll always be living with something a bit less than perfect. And that’s ok.


I agree with you in theory, but I think you vastly overestimate the ability of most people to have rational, adult conversations about things that provoke emotional reactions. The more likely situation is this cascade:

  1. Parent tactfully and kindly (or not) raises concern about lessons getting cut short due to late starts and instructor not devoting full attention to the lesson.
  2. Instructor feels guilty because she knows this is a problem and she should have already addressed it.
  3. Instructor gets angry, because that’s what most people do when you make them feel guilty.
  4. Parent responds in kind or retreats.
  5. Hurt feelings all around, which may, or may not, be overcome moving forward.

How many posts have been made here about interactions that followed this same basic pattern?

My philosophy is the classic “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” And, if the best plan for the worst you can come up with is something you can’t live with, then you best not go down that road in the first place.


OfCourseItsAnAlter, Have to agree with your predicted outcome. OP pointing out Instructor’s deficiencies does make it both personal and confrontational, no matter how it spoken or worded to show Mom’s concerns.

Things not being run lIke a business, poor or very late start times, not getting full attention from instructor, other late students, phone calls and staff disruptions need to stop.

Has OP considered paying for lessons actual full attention, instructed riding time? Maybe 20 minutes worth? Might be a BIG wake up to instructor!!

Wasn’t there a sort of recent post about how to handle the perpetually late students? Many said late student does not get to ride with the group, pays anyway. Might switch to private lessons, so student gets to ride until lesson slot time ends. Being late is their choice, they get what time is left of their scheduled time. Some collected lesson fees ahead because of late cancelations, losing money on no-shows.

Not sure if OP is friendly with other parents. Talking to some might find them also frustrated, willing to put forward ideas for change as a united group. It is not just OP who is unhappy, the whole program needs to change.

Sorry OP, but I would hire the instructor to lesson at your house. Best progress is with individual instruction, on her own horse. I REALLY do not things at the barn will change much. There will be hurt feelings for being called out on unprofessional ways of doing business. It IS personal, because they are running a poor program. As MANY have posted in the past, someone (horse trainer, pro rider, barn manager/owner, instructor) selling their training services, does not mean a person ACTS professionally in all situations. Time to move on, not let this eat at you and PAY for the privilege of being treated poorly! Set the example for you daughter to learn how to leave a place when needed. Daughter is certainly aware of your unhappiness, poor instructor habits.
She learns from what she sees you demonstrate.


This is all such good input, really helpful to hear these outside opinions… I have a few days to stew on it and then need to make a decision on how I’m going to proceed… Keep the advice coming… Please!

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