The Big Debate

There was a really energetic debate on the BHS coaches forum a couple of weeks ago about qualified coaches versus unqualified coaches.

There are a lot of BHS qualified coaches in this industry. But there’s also a lot of people teaching without BHS qualifications.

The BHS provides insurance to their coaches, but unqualified coaches can get their own independent insurance based on industry experience. I’m not sure how the two compare in terms of level of cover and cost, but I like the simplicity of having the BHS organise it for me!

So what are the pros and cons of each? Or rather, why is the debate raging hot?

A person who has trained their way up the BHS ladder has invested a lot of time and money into their career. I calculated that in exam fees alone, £2000 has been spent on my getting qualified, either by my college, employer or myself to a level 4 coach or BHS II in old terms. That doesn’t include any resits or training. Or even travel and accommodation in order to take the exam. The letters behind our names is proof of our dedication to our profession.

The BHS exams consist of several modules: ridden, lunging, stable management, coaching principles, theory of riding, and practical assessments. Which means that you know you are getting a well rounded teacher, who can advise on all areas.

Let’s turn our attention to the unqualified coaches. These are often high level professional competition riders, which means their ridden experience and knowledge of training horses far outweighs that of the majority of BHS coaches. However, you can be a good rider but unless you can impart your knowledge in a clear and concise manner you are not a good coach. For these people, the UKCC qualifications is where they can learn how to share their knowledge to students, and this can complement their ridden experience nicely.

There are also non-BHS coaches without the riding CV, which is the concerning area to the majority of the BHS coaches on this forum. A lot of the BHS qualified instructors felt that average horse-people teaching put our industry at risk of a bad reputation. Yes, they can get insurance, but have they been taught how to manage a ride of children, adults or horses so that everyone remains safe? This is an insurance risk which penalises the rest of us as premiums rise due to claims against such dangerous situations.

Another concern was that coaches not on the BHS register do not have the overheads of qualified ones: CPD days, DBS checks, first aid training, APC membership, and child protection training. This means that they can afford to undercut the qualified professionals. Which doesn’t sit well with people who have invested time and money into their training.

The general consensus, after a long debate, was that BHS coaches accept and like the training opportunities offered by the likes of Lucinda Fredericks and William Fox-Pitt, knowing that their riding experience far outweighs that of their own. Some coaches even train with them themselves to help improve their competitive performance. However, these people have a lot of industry experience to support themselves.

What didn’t go down so well was the unqualified coach with decidedly average knowledge and experience. In one of the most dangerous sports, they increase the risk further. They charge less, don’t provide quality knowledge or lesson content, and potentially put riders in dangerous situations.

The general consensus was that the BHS should help us promote the benefits of using qualified coaches, and to encourage riders and parents to do their research and ensure the coaches they use are qualified and insured. Otherwise, what’s the point in training for BHS exams?

Below is a succinct comment from one of the BHS coaches which sums up the debate well, and how we should move forwards with it.

Times are changing – it is a competitive world out there and people will compare costings.
There are some excellent non qualified yet insured coaches out there, but there are also some very poor ones, and some totally uninsured. There are some cracking ‘names’ coaching in our area who do a great job, but also some who, because they find it easy, have absolutely no idea how to coach and which tools to use to draw out the best from those who don’t. Their observations and corrections are distorted by their own ability.
There are Pony Club members who teach, with no training or experience whatsoever, who lobby and coach younger members privately and uninsured.
For me, the safety and welfare element is key. Stakeholders should be using their resources and expertise to lobby INSURANCE companies to tighten up. It would be interesting to know the statistics of claims comparatively, as all insurance is based on risk factor. There should be a minimum safety and risk awareness certification built into existing qualifications (it is) but possibly available as a stand alone in order to gain insurance, alongside safeguarding and first aid qualifications. Mandatory. Period.
I am actively involved in PC, and we circulate to our memberships the dangers of using uninsured, unqualified coaches, but it falls on deaf ears – surprisingly often with intelligent, affluent people, not those who want to save money!
If insurance is cheaper and more easily available elsewhere, as it is and without jumping through the hoops, then why wouldn’t people go down that route? All we can do is promote and practice with excellence, we do not have control of other people’s actions. We must also be open minded in some areas.
BHS are doing a great job, but need to escalate this in conjunction with other bodies…

All in all, my advice is to research your instructor to ensure they are insured, have sufficient industry experience, and the ability to impart their knowledge – proved by either the UKCC or BHS qualifications.

Meanwhile, qualified instructors will continue to pressurise the BHS to do more to protect us and give more young people a reason sit exams and train. It’s a tough situation, but as a dangerous sport we need to tighten up on teaching standards so that we make it as safe as possible for all participants.

Paving The Way

Recently I’ve been in quite a reflective mood; one that everyone goes through at some point in their lives. How did I get here? What made me choose this instead of that? Why do I think this?

I was thinking back to when I was eighteen and had just finished school. I was in a quandary; did I want to go to university? Should I go to university? What would I study at university? What job do I want to do?
At the time I was relatively immature for an eighteen year old; financially still very dependent on my parents, unsure of what I wanted to do in life, socially very shy and insecure, and reluctant to move on and away from my known and comfortable lifestyle. We decided on a gap year and I got a job working in an office for a friend of a friend, and through the winter worked at the stables where my horses were kept. By the time spring came and university was once again on the horizon I still didn’t know where to go with my life. I got another job working in a hotel a couple of days a week and kept myself busy in order to put off making any decisions. You can probably tell, I’m not big on making decisions and dislike the unknown. I think that was what put me off university; I didn’t know the city, people, house, university, course or anything. It was too many new variables for me to be confident with. Too much or a risk.

I’m sure you’re now thinking how on earth does this relate to horses? Let me explain.

Towards the end of the summer when I was nineteen a colleague from the office asked if her daughter could come and meet my horses. I agreed and arranged a visit. The little girl was eight years old and had had a few lessons, so I tacked my 14.2hh pony up and let her have a ride. We walked up the lane and then went into the indoor arena where I stepped back slightly and instructed her to walk him round. We were only there about fifteen minutes, but she trotted on both reins without a hiccup. As we walked back to the yard my colleague just looked at me and exclaimed “why on earth aren’t you teaching?! That was brilliant, you are a natural.”

I thought about what she said over the next couple of days and it made sense. I had felt very comfortable teaching, more confident than I felt in any other part of my life. I’d always enjoyed watching and assisting with the lessons, taking as much in board as I could, and I had even taught the young girls with their new ponies while the yard owner was on holiday. I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life.

The next day I enrolled at a nearby equine college and over that academic year studied and passed my BHS Stage 1 and 2, as well as the Advanced National Certificate in equine care. The following summer I started an apprenticeship at a busy riding school and over the next twelve months, with lots of ups and downs and hard work, I passed my Stage 3 and 4 and PTT exams as well as my NVQ Level 3 in horse care. I was very lucky that my first year in college set me up for the harder exams, as much of the Stage 3 and 4 care syllabus had been covered in the college course. I could never have achieved the later exams in college as I lacked the experience in the equine world, but at the same time college taught the basic standards expected in the professional world.

From what I’ve observed recently I was one of the lucky ones. Apprentices now get very little training compared to what I had (I had two hours every week day, whilst some I see are lucky to get four hours over a whole week) and very few opportunities to go to events or competitions. The hard work and long days often cause many new apprentices to lose motivation and that is often before the wet cold winter. I think that this is an age think. Impressionable sixteen year olds, fresh out of school aspire to play with ponies all day, and are physically incapable of performing the manual labour which unfortunately goes hand in hand with horse riding.
Colleges on the other hand, seem to attract teenagers who are at a dead end in life so fall down the equine road. Unless you have a very dedicated and knowledgeable team of lecturers, as I did, it can be difficult to distinguish yourself from the rabble and not to be distracted from your studies. Perhaps it helped I was a bit older, that I went to college to focus on my career, or perhaps it was because my lecturers inspired me, who knows. Whatever it was, I wish more colleges had a higher success rate of equine courses, and retained their students so they taught them to a higher level which would provide them with better opportunities in the equine world. So many able kids leave college after a year with their Stage 1 and a certificate, which they could have achieved within a month of training. These kids are the future of the equine world, but if we allow them to drop off the ledge and waste their talent we will be sorely missing some future professionals.