Lesson barn policy about students who are consistently late?

Doctors notes, injuries and other unpreventable things don’t count towards these strikes. This is for the people who don’t want to ride when it’s raining (I have an indoor), when its “too cold” (I cancel if its 25f or below, 90f or above) because some people do think that 35f is too cold to ride. These policies really discourage/deter tire kickers from scheduling when they know they won’t keep it.


Just before the mounted activity begins, my instructor habitually asks if girths are ok. I’ve been riding for decades and still appreciate the reminder - though I expect I would have felt a loose girth during warm up!


Yes, I think it’s a generational difference. Back in the Dark Ages when I learned to ride, group lessons were the standard, even for the very greenest of beginners. Even when I was in college, everyone rode in group lessons. I never perceived it as being a problem.

As far as the original post, I think the first question you have to answer is how much do you need the business? Because I think you have to be willing to lose a client or two if you want to get serious about ensuring that students show up on time. People generally only change their behavior when it becomes more painful to not change than it is to change.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell people that if they aren’t there by X time, then they can’t ride. Period, the end. But if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to be prepared for the blowback you’re likely to get from some people.

If you’re not willing to take that hard a line, then the best option is to have an assistant who can supervise the late-comer for tacking up, mounting, and getting into the ring to join the group.


Another option is to tell the late show people that they can always sign up for a private lesson. That way when they are late they are only making their own lesson shorter.


Some barns are very safety minded, and if all the horses in the lesson are schoolies, I wouldn’t find this odd at all. If you’ve been riding for 44 years and owned for 36 and you walk in with your own horse, yeah, that might be kind of weird. But an instructor doing her job by checking girths and instilling that habit in relative beginners? I would find it weird if they didn’t.


I have never ridden at a barn that offered private lessons for beginner kids. That’s just not really done around here - not enough barns, maybe? And definitely not cost effective if they actually want to cover their expenses. Some of the lesson barns only really cater to the after school crowd - there just aren’t enough slots for beginner riders without group lessons.

I’m not a barn owner/trainer, but a parent that did my share of driving kids to the barn and waiting, as well as taking my own lessons. I would hesitate to be so strict that the dedicated kid who is always early and gets stuck behind a snowplow in a snowstorm January ends up at the arena 30 seconds late and can’t ride. But, definitely cannot allow habitual late comers.

So if it is a handful of people and not an epidemic…I might address it first with those individuals. “You are habitually late, and it’s disruptive. If you can’t be on time, I will move you to a private lesson (or to another time slot if that is the issue.)”

But, you would have to really enforce that, which might be harder than a blanket rule. I might try it first and see what happens though.


If there is a competent person on the ground and I am riding in an unfamiliar saddle or on an unfamiliar horse I absolutely will ask them to check the girth.


One important aspect of riding, particularly for children, is the social side. I’ve seen children loose interest when they get a pony and have solo lessons after thriving in a group. The fun element was missing for them.


Just want to say that as a regular lesson taker, I fully appreciate instructors 1) doing whatever is necessary to ensure on time arrivals and prevent last-minute cancelations (including requiring payment in advance); 2) checking my horse’s girth whenever it strikes your fancy (yesterday, instructor asked me about it at beginning and again before we started jumping).

If you lose students when you implement those policies, so be it. You’ll create more room in your program for students who will respect your time and need to earn a living.


Unless its a rampant problem, I’d deal with it one one one. Most barns ask that students be on site 30 or so minutes early to get ready. If a student is habitually late, discuss it with them or the parent. Honestly, non horsey parents simply don’t know enough about the flow of things and how it can be a distraction. (They might see boarders enter the ring and begin to ride without disturbing the lesson and assume that their tardy child is no less a distraction.) Unless it’s a huge issue, I prefer dealing with the frequent offenders rather than instituting a draconian policy that will immediately start being stretched out of shape. The fact is that Mom might be struggling to get child to lesson and another slot might be better. Maybe another student lives near her and might be able to offer a ride? If someone is just one of those always late people, then it might be time to impose a sanction but if it’s a one off, I’d look for solutions first, especially if the kid really like riding.
If it’s a client who is driving themselves (older teen or adult) then an honest chat about the requirement of being on time, disruption of lesson flow etc is called for. One barn where I rode allowed a certain number of boarders in the ring through a lesson and based that number on the number of students in the group. A no show or very late arrival impacted the ability of people ride their own horses as well, something that most lesson riders had no idea about until told.

As for tack checks, I quick scan of saddle, girth, bit etc should be done for the safety of all beginners. Most riding school lessons, on schoolies start out with students walking on the rail, reminders of proper rein holding, foot position, eyes up etc. When I was at a lesson barn, as the last kids were getting a girth check, the first on on was by that time walking in a half seat. When lessons were stacked back to back (one ending at 5, one starting at 5) the last 5 minutes of the first lesson was usually at the walk, cooling out, trainer reminding students about what we learned today, etc as the next group was permitted to assemble near mounting area with instructor eyeing tack etc.


That is a totally fair point!
And how do you balance keeping your customers who tend to be late and also not alienating the ones - as @SadieRidingHorses was saying too - who are on time and inconvenienced by the late comers? (we’ve had a few kids complain that their lesson felt “too short” when we’ve had late comers - and I believe it’s due to the interruption and the pace of the lesson being changed).

We’ve tried talking to the students who are late (and their parents) but so far no real change. We’ll probably implement “consequences” - and the option to move to a different lesson time or a private lesson if it’s easier for their families/commute, etc.
Though to be honest the “repeat offenders” are usually in the barn in plenty of time to tack up - they just procrastinate while chatting to their teenage friends/petting the other horses, etc. They are there - just not staying “on track”. We’ll try the clearly stated “mounting period” and the "if you’re more than 5 minutes late to the start of the lesson, you don’t ride and see if it “motivates” them to be a little more efficient.
Thanks everyone!


IME, the chronically late won’t change their behavior until they are directly impacted. That’s easy enough with a private lesson, as the OP noted. If the instructor must help ensure the horse is safely tacked, stirrups correctly adjusted, etc., the best policy I’ve found for semi-private or group lessons is to require that any latecomer present themselves at the arena gate, unmounted, and await the next break from the instructor. (I’m assuming there are periodic walk breaks in each lesson.

At that point, the student requests permission to enter, and the instructor can help with tack checks and mounting while other students walk. The late student also may need to go through a more basic warmup for the horse’s sake and so miss out on some exercises until you are satisified that the horse is ready.

When I taught, I had great luck with this approach.


When my kid was a beginner, she lessoned with another girl who was always late. It sucked because it meant that my kid couldn’t start riding because the instructor had to help the late kid get the horse and tack up (small program and young kids). I started getting the horse and tacking it up so it was ready for the other kid because I was tired of wasting money on shortened lesson. I liked the kid and I liked her parents so I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

The problem with being overly strict about the time is the kids will short cut the grooming and picking of feet. I’ve seen it plenty of times- some kids will barely groom at all to tack up as quickly as possible.


That is a very valid point as well! Right now we send them back to the barn to “re-groom” if their horse isn’t clean (straw in the tail, etc) when we do the safety check but we definitely should factor this in - along with the disruption factor of sending them back…

@coloredhorse, thanks! Your solution - having them wait for a walk break - may be a good compromise! It’s a “consequence” but not so harsh as if you’re not here at 5pm, you’re not riding at all.

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The lesson barn I worked at doesn’t allow late students after a certain point (~10 minutes into a jump class or ~15 minutes into a normal lesson). That first part of the lesson is generally the warm-up period or the group is working on trotting. Clients aren’t allowed to join a group lesson if they can’t independently walk and trot around, so the instructor can assist the late arrival (they are also expected to have checked their own girth and stirrup length, which is then quickly checked by the instructor).


In our lesson program students pay for their weekly or bi-weekly slot. All payments are auto billed monthly; if you show up more than 15 minutes late, you forfeit your spot but it is all ready paid for.

At least 24 hours notice to cancel a lesson unless there are extenuating circumstances.

  • no call, or less than 24hrs, full lesson fee is charged.

More than 5 minutes late getting mounted in the arena - you do not ride, you are allowed to stay & audit the lesson should you choose, either way full lesson fee is charged. (we have had people who show up to the barn “on time” but dink around so much they are late for the actual lesson.

For private lessons - more than 20min late full lesson fee, no lesson. Less than 20min late, abbreviated lesson, full lesson fee. If it is a very beginner lesson where we are teaching tacking, grooming, etc as part of it, the “shortened” portion will be taken out of the riding portion, not the horse care portion.

“On time” means tacked & ready to go, if you have a 3pm lesson, you don’t show up at the barn at 3, you show up w/ time enough to get your horse ready. If you are an advanced rider on your own horse, you can choose to show up a little early so you are actually warmed up & ready to work on whatever specific things we are addressing.


Is anyone else (mature adult who’s ridden forever) getting anxious reading this? :laughing: I was late for a private lesson a few months ago and I still feel guilty!!


Blugal, this is really not meant for riders who still feel guilty months later about being late once! :wink: Life happens, we get it.
What we’re mostly struggling with are the teenagers who are dropped off in time by their parents and then are still late for the lesson as they’re “dinking around” like @appendix100 was saying - playing on their phone, doing lord knows what for Tik Tok and gossiping about “friends” from school and the boy who is “oh so pretty”…

Yes! This is me, @Blugal. I’m CONSTANTLY worried about not being ready for a lesson. And, I love having the grooming/tacking time to connect with the horse. Not possible if you’re rushing. But, I’m an adult, and it’s my precious time and money, so that makes it different.

@Kirikou, one thought - sometimes arriving half an hour early (the standard recommendation) is not enough. Sometimes I’m figuring out the tack for a different horse, or horse is turned out, or I’m processing whatever happened at work that day. I move at a pretty good clip, but regardless, 30 minutes sometimes feels like JUST enough time. And I’m not chatting about boys.

So tell them they need to be there an hour beforehand. Worst case, they are ready early and can warm up.