Welcome to part 1 of our series on choosing your first barn. Part 2 (test driving potential barns) and part 3 (preparing for your first lesson) will arrive next week.
Today, set a few expectations for yourself and identify potential barn candidates without leaving your house.
So you (or your child/parent/friend/partner) have succumbed to a serious case of horse fever. After years of pining after Seabiscuit, Black Beauty, and International Velvet, you've decided that this love is real.
From The Comfort Of Your Computer Chair
Before I delve into 3 ways to get closer to your first barn while sitting in front of this computer, here are a few things I'm assuming with this post:
- You've decided English is your discipline of choice
- You want to take lessons with an instructor
- You're ready. You may not know what's in store, but you can't deny your horse-crazy [child, inner child, partner, friend] any longer.
#1 Riddle Me This:
3 questions to ask yourself before finding your best barn
- How much time am I able to dedicate each week?
-Some barns require a long-term or minimum lesson commitment before accepting a new student. Expect to spend about 2 hours at the barn each time you go (more, if you're having lots of fun!) to get a good estimate of the time commitment required. Knowing ahead of time whether you'll be able to ride 4 times a week or 4 times a month will help hone your search.
-If schedules or finances limit you to only one ride a week*, don't despair! Though my students who come out more often may get more 'in the saddle' learning, the students who spend time at home reading, watching, and learning more about the discipline may get the most out of their their rides. There are TONS of ways you can supplement your on-horse education through videos, articles, and forums.
- Do I want to be surrounded by people my age/in my same discipline?
-When I was 8 years old, my family moved houses, I switched schools, and we switched from a fun, kid-filled stable to a more competition-focused barn where I was the only person under 18. A lot of change for a tiny human!
It was a bummer being the only (very shy) kid in adult group lessons or at the barn after school. I was lonely and intimidated, and it was tough on my mom not having a parent support system there. We ended up loving that barn and stuck around for the next decade (xoxo, Irish Day Farm!), but the move made me realize the value of camaraderie in a sport typically labeled ‘individual.’
-Go it alone? Seek out new friends? It's up to personal preference, but take note of the riders when you visit your potential barn (check out my next blog for that!). You may be surprised at how much more fulfilling your time can be surrounded by other students with whom you relate.
- Do I want to compete?
-If your vision of a riding career includes lots of blue ribbons and trophies, you’ll be frustrated at a barn that only offers lessons.
-Barns vary greatly in their emphasis on showing, from spending nearly every weekend of the show season on the road to only attending one or two shows a year. Answering this question for yourself will help you get to the best barn right off the bat, avoiding feeling out of place in your own horsey home away from home.
*Some of my beginning students have asked if they can take lessons less frequently than once a week. Unfortunately, it's hard to gain confidence and learn from these animals without really regular time at the barn. Weekly lessons will be infinitely more rewarding than a sporadic or less frequent schedule. I promise!
#2 What On Earth Do I Google?
Searching for good barns online is a weird challenge. Many wonderful stables don't have the best websites, which makes hunting them down considerably more difficult than yelping your next meal.
Try these keywords:
- Hunter/jumper stable (or dressage stable or eventing stable, etc., whatever floats your horse boat)
- English lesson barn
- Horseback riding lessons
- Riding school or academy
- English riding lessons
Then check for these:
- Clear list of offerings & prices
- Lesson program; beginners welcome; and/or school horses available
- Nothing that says 'boarders only,’ ‘private,’ or ‘show barn’ <- this means that you’ll need your own horse to join the barn and/or need to be at a higher level of horsemanship before joining
Shout out to my barn, Vintage Lane in Portola Valley, whose fantastic website clearly shows what they offer for beginners and advanced riders.
Got a list of barns? Beautiful. Want to go a bit further?...
#3 Taking the next step
So this is technically an 'off-line' activity, but you have to get directions, right?
If you're not finding many barns near you that seem to offer beginning English lessons or if you want to be super thorough, you've got another option.
Attend a horse show!
Check out the United States Equestrian Federation's list of horse shows by state and discipline and prepare for a super fun deep dive into horseland.
- Find your discipline and date of choice,
- Steal a few hours over that weekend, and
- Wear your sleuthing pants. You're going deep-sea barn hunting, and I'm already jealous.
This adventure is more about intelligence gathering than asking questions of specific trainers. Look for enthusiastic riders and their families around the show rings, particularly the 'beginner' rings. What barn are they from? If you're feeling brave, ask some of the spectators about their experiences. They will likely regale you with barn stories; we all love to talk about our barn.
Jot down a few trainer and barn names you hear, then take a stroll around the show grounds to review the barns and locations (usually written on the front of their show set-up).
Any near you? Any calling your name? Nice sleuthing!
remind me again?
Here's a summary of what you'll need to do:
- Ask yourself some hard questions.
Knowing how much time you can commit (3x a week? 4x a month?), how important it is for you to be around your peers at the barn, and whether you have visions of trophies and ribbons dancing in your head will help you refine your barn choices.
- Use Google without judgement.
Get creative with your search terms, and try not to judge the sometimes-mediocre online presence of barns. 'English riding lessons,' 'Riding academy,' and Hunter/Jumper barn' should get you started. Look for 'beginners welcome,' 'all ages,' or 'lesson program offered.' If you see things like 'boarders only,' 'sale barn,' or 'A-circuit show barn,' move on.
- When all else fails.
Use the USEF competition calendar to locate a show in your area and discipline. Set aside a few hours over that weekend and go peruse the barns and trainers on the show grounds. Not a great place to be interviewing potential trainers, but ideal if you can't find names or barns online. Be sure to hover around the beginner rings, not just the Grand Prix!
Now you're ready to reach out to potential trainers and visit their barns. Check back next week for Part 2: a guide on what to ask and what to expect in that first meeting.