University of Vermont AAHS

HARMONY: Instructor Responsibility

What about the Horse Show?

By Jan Dawson

[reproduced from Summer 2003 Caution:Horses, Volume 8, No. 2]

Where does the instructor's responsibility begin and end?  We are all familiar with the issues at the home barn. We have to provide a safe facility, reasonably safe school horses, well-planned lessons, and we cannot pass the responsibility to anyone else without adequate training. Adequate usually includes documentation of some kind.

The responsibility of the riding instructor or trainer (if that is who does the teaching) does not end at the arena gate or when the school horse is put away. Showing requires skills beyond those needed in the classes being shown. Students need the skills to navigate the whole show situation.

Whether the instructor accompanies the student or the student shows alone or with her parents, the instructor still has some responsibility for teaching the student safe procedures. The procedures used by a competitor to manage what happens at a show outside of the classes entered are infrequently, formally taught.

Who needs these skills?  Is it only the students who are showing alone or with their parents?  Hardly. The instructor or trainer cannot be with all the students all the time if he is hauling several, so those who are not with him at that moment will need specific procedures or protocols to follow. The instructor who is only hauling one student will still be quite busy and will need to rely on the student to do some things on her own. This is especially true if the instructor or trainer is showing in part of the classes himself.

Can the absence of formerly taught safety procedures come back to haunt an instructor later?  Maybe. If the instructor is traveling with the students the need is even higher. There may be some things where the instructor may not have a duty to instruct the student but certainly there is a moral duty for the instructor to have taught the student all the skills that he knows they will need. To later tell the student that, "this will all come with experience," while the student continues to spend more money on show after show is inappropriate when the instructor can teach the student what the student needs to know.

Once you are at the show it is probably too late to reasonably begin to address these problems. Anything you do at this late date will be a stopgap effort. It is too late to properly train people to do things that you need them to do at the time you are teaching them - unless you have built in a lot of time. Usually you do not have that kind of time at a typical show or circuit.

The issues that need to be addressed at a show will be slightly different for youth and adult amateur, but only slightly. Many instructors assume that when they are hauling adults that they can give more responsibility to them. This is not automatically true.

While an adult amateur can sign his own release, it is a mistake to assume that you do not need to teach him skills as carefully as a youth. There is no reason to assume that an explanation how to do something will be clear to him just because he is an adult.

The same is true of the experienced versus the inexperienced rider. You cannot make assumptions about the person's experience unless you have asked them to demonstrate how they would do something. To assume that they would do it the way you would want them to is a big and dangerous assumption. It is best to teach your students from the ground up so that you and they know how you want thing done and you know how you can expect them to perform.

Youth riders present a problem in that they cannot sign their own releases and the releases may not be given much validity in some jurisdictions as the law protects minors to a great degree. The age of the students will make a difference because the older the student the more the instructor can expect to be able to rely the student's ability to follow directions and carry them out dependably.

A frequent statement by instructors, trainers and show management to pass the burden of responsibility is that a minor's "parents were at the show" and somehow should have been responsible for the minor's actions. This line of thinking only works if the parents have received the appropriate training. This means that if you want the child's parents to be somewhat responsible then you need to teach the parents all the procedures as formally as if they were students. Just telling them sort of how you want thing to work at a show will not work. Assuming that they know will not work.

It saves a lot of time to train your students and their parents, and your amateurs and their husbands. It also makes the show safer and more fun for everybody. They will feel more like a team or a group and you will feel less like you are doing all the work.

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