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Trainer issues - Don't want to feel anxious for lessons anymore

SUMMARY: Newly back in the saddle. Trainer not a hard-ass or overly critical, but she occasionally makes lessons anxiety-inducing and embarrassing. Refuses to accommodate my clearly expressed learning differences, often does not really explain things well, and generally makes me feel stupid/incompetent. Would like to know if this is considered normal. Seeking advice. Not a competitive rider.

So for context, I got back into riding 8 months ago, following a roughly 10 year hiatus which began initially to pursue a different sport. I’m 23 now, and was a decent rider when I quit. I can hold my own with the higher-level teenagers at the riding school I now work and take lessons at, but I’d call myself intermediate. Just doing low jumps and basic dressage stuff. I have no interest whatsoever in showing, I just love horses and enjoy the sport, but I do very much want to continue improving.

My current trainer is really the only one I’ve ever had, outside of a few I worked with briefly at summer camps. Her barn is literally a 60 second walk from my house, and I like her just fine. She’s a bit awkward to be around but for the most part I find her knowledgable and kind (or at least, not mean…)

But today I had a semi-private lesson that I left feeling so stupid and frustrated. Certainly not all my lessons leave me feeling badly about myself, but this was not an isolated incident.

I consider myself an intelligent person, but I have a learning disability called dyscalculia which severely affects my ability to recall numerical data and hinders my spatial and sequential awareness/memory. Long story short, not only it is almost impossible for me to remember the courses my trainer gives us about 5 seconds to memorize, it is especially impossible for me to remember my stride lengths as well. Even when the courses are simple I can usually just barely manage one or the other, considering the fact I also have to remember to ride well.

Today I just could not remember my stride lengths at all. She hasn’t really bothered me about it much in the past, so I haven’t made it a priority to remember, but today she really got on my case about it. I don’t usually feel compelled to explain myself or give excuses, but it got to the point where I just had to tell her that I had memory issues with numbers and that it was very difficult for me while I was trying to remember so many other things. She mockingly laughed, and essentially said there was no excuse, and that I wasn’t so dumb that I couldn’t remember a few numbers for 45 seconds. She didn’t suggest I start saying the numbers out loud until I went around the course two more times, still coming out not being able to recall the numbers. Mind you, she has never explained why the stride numbers were so important to know, and until I looked it up online I really had no idea. I think part of the problem is that I’m in classes with the upper level teenage students but there’s still lots of gaps in my schooling, because I didn’t come along with them. I would be perfectly fine being moved down, but I don’t really know where I would go. It doesn’t seem there is anyone else at the barn in a similar situation to ride with.

Because of incidents like this, I find myself dreading my lesson days. And I’m slowly remembering that this was part of the reason I quit in the first place. I’m not a nervous rider and the thought of falling off or getting hurt really doesn’t bother me. But it makes me quite anxious to not know if I’m going to be laughed at or made a fool of on any given day. I’m just sincerely trying to learn, and I do my best every time.

On one hand, this woman employs me, I get to free ride twice a week, and the barn is obviously a super convenient commute. On the other, there are no other women my age there, and I’m obviously having some issues. Staying there would be ideal, and maybe I just need to grow a thicker skin, but does anyone have any advice? This just doesn’t feel constructive.

Just off the top of my head I can think of many different ways to limit the amount of things you need to remember and still have a productive lesson. If I wanted you to work on strides in a line I would do it over one line so you just need to remember which line to jump and the number of strides to get. If I wanted you to work on jumping a course I would give you time to memorize it and shout out the course to you as you went. Maybe after you’ve done a course a few times we could add in strides and I could shout them out too.

There are a few different ways of memorizing a course. Some use the colors or types of jumps to remember, some prefer to think of the course in shapes (line to rollback, etc), some need to make a whole plan for their course in order to remember the jumps. If none of those work for you then there’s no reason she can’t call out directions, especially since showing isn’t a goal of yours.

Maybe suggest those to her and if she’s unwilling to help then I suggest you find a new trainer. It’s not an especially difficult situation to work around.


You might take this as an opportunity to practice how to productively confront someone. This does not need to be a hostile experience. The results may surprise you. 10 years ago my trainer confronted me about something, I explained to the best of my ability, and to this day we are friends.

Other than that, no need to be so hard on yourself. There are days I am lucky to remember what the jump order even is.


A good riding instructor can be tough, but always needs to be constructive. This one sounds deeply flawed.

If you last were in a lesson program at age 13, you have a lot of basics to recover. I’d sacrifice the convenience for a better program and one with some age peers. You should not be leaving a lesson feeling broken hurt and damaged.

Best wishes to you and keep on in your quest for riding happiness. Don’t settle.


I would meet with her outside of lessons. I would print off some internet resources on your learning disability. I would come prepared with some anecdotes about how this affects other aspects of my life. I would explain that this is a real disability and that mocking me in lessons made me so anxious that I was considering stopping lessons. Etc.

Some things about riding instructors. They get no education in teaching and most of their students are fairly athletic and able bodied. Also many of them have no post secondary education and may be entirely unaware of complex learning disabilities or even physical illnesses.

Also importantly riding instructiors and indeed many sports teachers that work with groups of children become horrible about thinking they can shame or chivvy lazy, nervous, silly, or distracted groups of children to perform well. It doesn’t work on many children and is a disaster for adults

I had an experience like that in my 20s when I went back to learn how to properly swim. I had a great adults class and a nice teacher who let us take our time easing ourselves into the water and I learned how to do a proper crawl. But one day we had a substitute teacher from the kids program. The sub was rushing us to get our faces wet, do this, do that. I had a really strong reaction against the sub, actually a lot of anger. I almost left the pool.

Then I realized a few things. First that was what all sports instruction was like when I was a child and that’s why I hated sports. Second I was now an adult. I could choose not to be bothered by the sub and continue learning. Third, I was and always had been a very self directed leather but public shaming never worked on me.

In other words you are in a not uncommon position of adults in a program geared for children.

As far as gaps in learning, I was a good but self taught rider as a teen. When I returned to riding in my 40s I needed to relearn a lot of skills. But also I had never heard the term “20 metre circle” or ride a diagonal across the arena etc. Things my coach would assume every beginner would have heard.

The nice thing about being an adult is that we have the skill and motivation to self educate. Get yourself some good foundational books in jumping and dressage, and read up on what you’re being asked to do.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, the first thing I’d do to approach this situation is to schedule a time to speak with your instructor in private and explain to them about your disability and how this does affect your riding. Mabye your instructor is simply uneducated on the topic and can’t fully understand how it affects you and your riding. If your instructor is willing to help, make a plan about how your instructor can adapt to your learning in the future. Perhaps, write down some methods that have worked for you in the past or research ones that might. If not, see number 2 …

  2. if the above doesn’t work, then I would think that this instructor’s teaching method/ style/ personality just may not work for you and that’s OKAY. It may take some trial and error, but search for an instructor that DOES work for you and at least attempts to be encouraging for you. When you meet with prospective instructors, be upfront about how your disability affects you and what your instructor can expect and do to help you. There are SEVERAL different styles of teaching out there, just as there are different personalities and when you find the right fit for you, I promise you will start to feel better about your riding.

Also, just a bit of a personal story that you may or may not relate to. I think most people here can say that they have been with several instructors over their equestrian journey, as their skills grow. I’ve had quite a few over the years and they all were quite different. Some I clicked with, some I didn’t and some I originally clicked with until I didn’t. One in particular (Instructor A) was great for building rider confidence on the flat for a lot of riders, but also only had access to mostly green horses for lessons. I thrived in the dressage department, but being thrown on (and off) greenies last minute during jumping caused me some pretty bad anxiety over fences and this absolutely influenced my riding/ planning over courses.

Then, it really made me feel horrible when my instructor later told someone I knew, in front of me, that I didn’t know how to ride jumps and couldn’t, yet my instructor continued to expect me to jump over 3 ft fences on a green horse I had ridden MABYE twice on the flat with this ever growing anxiety. This, as you can imagine, made me feel like a really terrible rider and crashed my confidence. All this and I was trying to pass the jumping portion of my rider level given a green horse I had barely ridden. Well, I was so anxious that I blacked out and fell off… yup :yes:. I don’t think the evaluator ever told my instructor that, but I generally told the evaluator afterwards my dilemma and they basically told me what I knew. They gave me a few suggestions of places I could go with more experienced jumpers.

So, I did probably the opposite of what would work for a lot of people with anxiety. I picked the advanced hunter/ jumper coach that was notorious for being mean and really pushing people for improvement. I talked with this instructor and he happened to have the perfect school master for me to learn on, plus I knew he was very knowledgeable from seeing him teach others before . In the span of months, this instructor took me from a fail on my jumping test to full marks. I had to work through a lot of anxiety, to get there (and oh did he not ever miss a beat in telling me I had an overactive imagination and that I’d be fine if I just let it go :lol:) but I came to find out that just the difference in teaching (more proactive) and environment really helped me be able to finally THINK between and over jumps, whereas my previous instructor’s more passive teaching method left me to my inner anxiety-inducing thoughts and fed the cycle. I even fell off the day before my test and actually felt CONFIDENT after, which I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I came to find out that my riding instincts over fences really weren’t as bad as instructor A had made me feel and their approach to the situation just didn’t suite me well. They were not bad at instructing, they just didn’t have the right tools to help me.

I know this story is not quite the same as yours, but I hope it gives you some context in that you are NOT a bad rider. Your instructor is accustomed to teaching a certain way and this will work for some, but not everyone. It may just be that she doesn’t know any other way to adapt to teaching you and that has resulted in frustration on her part. However, if she can not communicate this and find a solution for you both, then finding instructor “right” may just be the solution for you.


A good teacher has the eye to see a problem, the brain to analyse the issue and break it down into simple steps, the knowledge and tools to help you, a desire to help you learn and, I think crucial, kindness. We all make mistakes: it is how we learn.

Convenient barn but maybe look for a different style of teaching or a different discipline? Jumping is not compulsory.


Riding should be fun. Lessons should be fun. This doesn’t sound like a good fit for you.


I will start with the given - Not everyone can teach everyone. It does not make that instructor bad, it does not make that student bad, it is just a fact.
Also, what makes one person love an instructor might be the one thing that the next person really hates in an instructor.

I think if everyone was being honest, everyone would agree that they have had at least one lesson in life that they went home wondering why they do this.

Since you work at this barn to pay for your lessons it is probably a good idea to see if this was just a misunderstanding and see if you can move forward from here.
Like was mentioned above, take something printed out about your disability. Help your trainer understand it. This will help them be able to not only teach you but others they encounter with a different learning style.

If your trainer is not willing to see that this is not a case of you just not trying then it is time to look for a new instructor.


Is this your full-time job?

If not, then, try this:

You: Trainer, do you have five minutes? I wanted to check in with your about our lessons.
Trainer: I am very busy.
You: Do you have five minutes?
Trainer: (Heavy sigh).
You: [Wait pleasantly]
Trainer: Sure. What’s up?
You: I’m frustrated with our communication in lessons sometimes. Yesterday, for instance, was hard because with my learning disability, it’s difficult for me to process instructions, the way they were being given. I do want to improve my riding. Do you have time in your lesson program to accommodate teaching me in a different style, or is this just not feasible?
Her: Of course we can work together. Tell me what would be a better approach. (or) You’re being too sensitive. I know you can do better. I think you’re not concentrating enough.
You: Thank you, and maybe we could do it this way… (or) Thank you for being honest with me. I’ll think about what you’ve just said. [And then you calmly and without drama start researching other barns]

FYI, my trainer never, in 10 years, made me feel the way your trainer is making you feel. And I was certainly one of, if not the, worst, frumpiest, most inconsistent riders in the barn. The trainer still consistently made every lesson the best part of my day/week. Your current barn being next door is not enough reason to stay there. However, if you need this job, you may have to suck it up until you can find a better job. This job doesn’t sound like it is going to take you anyplace you want to go.


I agree with everyone who says schedule a time to speak with your instructor privately. The timing of your explanation to your instructor most likely is why you got the reaction you did.

Explain why you are struggling. You also may benefit more from private lessons. Group lessons can be challenging if all the riders aren’t on the same level be it learning or skill.

I also agree with not every instructor can teach every student. I’ve ridden with some good instructors but they didn’t work for me because of their teaching style or the way they explain things. It doesn’t make them bad, just not good for me.

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I agree that you need to speak with this instructor privately. I wouldnt give her printouts etc, though. I would simply explain what your disability means and that you cannot make it go away through force of will. It would be useful to have suggestions on how to work around your disability and still get to where you want to go. (She is not a trained educator and likely doesnt understand or have the tools) So instead of asking her “not to” you try to tell her what you need. If she is at all receptive, I think that private lessons would be a great idea so that neither of you are comparing with others and you dont feel embarrassed in front of others.

In my case it was a fancy Irish BNT clinician who fawned over Ms Moneypants & her pig of a horse, then actually called my TB “stupid”.
TB went on to get me an offer of $45K from Diane Carney - in another clinic - as an AA horse (this back in 1992-ish)
So long ago, I don’t recall the details, just remember thinking “And I paid for this?”

I learned the most from a German-educated guy with zero ego who never told us what we could or couldn’t do, just set us up for success.
From him I leaned Vaulting, Dressage and how to ride Cross Country.

I can sympathize with your inabiility to remember a course.
When I first started showing Hunters (as a 30-something adult) it amazed me how the Jrs would walk up, peek at the course plan, rattle off the course - ex.: “Outside, Diagonal, Diagonal, Outside” , while I looked at the 8 fences & wondered how the heck I was going to get it done.
Practice made it easier, but I still remember thinking how brilliant they were & how stupid I must be. :frowning:

OP. this trainer needs to understand your disability is real.
I second & third the idea of having private conversation & basing your future lessons on the outcome.
Good Luck!
And do come back here to let us know how it worked out for you.


Thank you so much for all the advice, ideas and encouragement!! It is really greatly appreciated. I will try talking to her privately, outside of lesson, and go from there. If it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work…

To the person that asked, it’s not my full time job but it does help pay the bills. I don’t think having a conversation with her will put my position in jeopardy, though.

Also, should mention that privates are unfortunately not an option with my working plan. I have inquired about this before.

Thanks again everyone.


And I will definitely come back to update!!


I have had a couple trainers in my life, some incredible and some not so much, but one of the things I realized along the way was that it was so important to find someone who respected and treated you like a person. I don’t mean I need them to agree with me all the time or tell me I’m doing something well when I’m not (I’m an adult amateur, I know there are lots of things to improve lol) but I do expect that they give feedback in a consistent, constructive manner. Definitely agree with what others have said about having a private conversation with the trainer and making a decision based on the outcome.

There are lots of ways your trainer could work with you. One of the things my current trainer does now is he adds on as we go. So once we start jumping, we will start over maybe 3 fences, and then he’ll add on 2 more, and if that’s going well, maybe another. Slowly but surely we have a little course. But it’s easier to memorize than if he had just said “go jump these 6 fences”


I feel that others have made good suggestions. I do also feel, though, that a trainer who laughs at you and implies you are stupid if you can’t remember a course (with or without a learning disability) is not a good trainer. I would not continue with this trainer, personally. A trainer should consider your learning disability a healthy challenge to his/her training techniques. He or she can think outside the box, for instance, we are not counting today, we are working on pace and straightness and on our quality of canter, things like that. I wish you luck. This is supposed to be fun. I hate that you are dreading lessons. I think you should look elsewhere if possible. It may even mean getting another job either in or out of a barn, and/or pay for lessons from another job.



Honestly the only time I have come out of a lesson feeling this way was with a trainer who was a horrible fit.

I personally would not feel that laughing at me over a learning disorder is close to being acceptable. I would immediately give my two weeks and find another barn. I wouldn’t want to be around someone who behaves like that.


You’ve gotten great advice. I would add that when you speak to her, you let the trainer know that you are aware in some gaps in your learning and ask her how you might close them. Ask if a private lesson on occasion might help her get you up to speed and help her learn how to teach you. She could simply call out the jumps as you go and count strides aloud for/with you. If trainer sees that you are aware of your shortfalls and are trying to make them up, she might be more willing to change some of her teaching methods to meet you in the middle.

My former instructor who was also a good friend struggled with my lesson because she had a “difficult” student who had been tossed into the small group. Lesson was me on my older schoolmaster who mainly did 2’6/2’9, barnmate on her pleasant but tricky OTTB and very frightened middle aged lady who had just bought one of the schoolies who could be a real devil when he wanted to be. (Why she bought him, I don’t know!) BO had struggled to teach her and foisted her off onto her employee. :rolleyes: Trainer was setting up Xrail courses for her, watching her horse slow to a walk on course, etc…

After a few months, trainer sat down, outside the ring with the woman and asked her “What do you want and how can I help you get it?” She sent her home to stew on it and a few days later, the woman admitted that she was made more anxious knowing that she was in with stronger and more able riders and feared that we were mocking her. We weren’t, in fact we felt awful for her, she really wanted to do this, even over Xrails. Trainer switched her to a private lesson for a bit at a time when no one was around to even watch her ride. She did get her to a point where she could canter a little course of X’s. After trainer and I left that barn, she and I often wondered what happened to that woman. She was very nice but so “delicate” in how she had to be taught that I feared for her when that trainer left the barn.:no:

Yes I totally get that thin-skinned people can be very difficult, if not impossible to teach. It’s not the criticism itself that bothers me - obviously remembering my course and strides is going to be important if I want to keep improving with jumping. I don’t mind being told I’m doing something wrong, or badly. It’s just difficult to have an instructor whose approach is to try to shame you into doing something that your brain simply isn’t allowing you to do, when I’m already genuinely trying my best (not being silly, lazy, distracted, etc).

Beyond this specific difficulty, my schooling gaps largely constitute a lack of knowledge, as opposed to issues with physical/athletic ability. (ie, I didn’t know what a turn on the forehand was 8 months ago, but I could execute it almost as soon as it was explained to me). I have a good memory when it comes to anything non-reliant on spatial awareness or number sense — I can remember my aids and recall verbally-imparted information just fine, once it’s actually been taught. So in the general sense I’d say I’m at least a halfway decent student to have. But I’ll give just a few real-life examples of how dyscalculia causes problems: I cannot even remotely accurately calculate a distance or measurement just by eyeballing it, fractions make no sense to me and I can’t read an analog clock to save my life. I still have to use GPS to get anywhere I haven’t already driven to at least 10 to 20 times, even if it’s in my own town. I am very much capable of getting lost in in small homes. My friends know to point with their fingers instead of saying “go left” or “go right” when they’re in the passenger seat… Riding depends on the kind of spatial awareness I lack much more than most probably have to think about. I think I can overcome it, just need someone willing to at least try to help me find the tools to do so.

I don’t need cuddly, feel-good, sugar-coated empathy, I just need “we’re going to make this work” empathy. I’m hoping communicating with her, as people have suggested, will make classes fun and productive again.