I’ve slowly come to realise why so many instructors get themselves a small livery yard and base themselves there to teach.

It’s so that they have a place to call home. Somewhere to make their mark.

As a freelance groom, instructor, dogsbody; you flit between yards. Being welcomed, but not included. Yes, yard politics can be a nightmare, but equally not getting involved can be … isolating. 

I know now how gypsies and nomads feel, hovering on the fringe of society. 

However if you get involved in yard gossip, you make friends but get a reputation for meddling and always having an opinion. But if you keep yourself to yourself, act like a chameleon, then you become known as stand-offish and anti-social.

My conclusion. You can’t please everyone and the best position to be in from a professional point of view is to be as impartial and independent as possible. 

Training Bursaries

My poor bank account has taken a bit of a beating this month. As well as paying HMRC my tax bill, I`ve also just paid for my exam fee and training. Which means I`ve done quite a lot of maths.

As a BHS AI (Assistant Instructor) I`m at the second level of instructor. To get here I had to sit my BHS stages 1-3, PTT exam and then complete a portfolio. After qualifying and having a time in a riding school I went self-employed. Like numerous other instructors.

So when I started looking at taking my next exam, improving my knowledge and qualifications, I had a bit of a shock. I`m not surprised there are so many BHS AIs around, and comparatively few Intermediate Instructors (IIs), because training is out of reach for so many of us.

This exam costs £300, plus £300 if you need to take your stage 4, to complete the II qualification. Then if you look at training with Fellows of the BHS for these exams you are looking at a rate of £45 per hour. Now, if you are a freelance instructor, perhaps working at a riding school, you are looking at an hourly rate of £15 per hour. So for one hour of training you need to teach for three hours. For private lessons, you are looking at £20-25 an hour once you have taken out the expenses of traveling and insurance. Which means you need to teach two private lessons to pay for one hour of training. Never mind the fact that while you are engaged in training you cannot earn any money – either from the riding school or from private clients – is it really surprising that so many capable instructors don`t bother to further their education?

Whilst doing a bit of research, I came across a training bursary offered by the BHS – click here to read. However, in order to qualify you must be associated with, and teach a minimum of 20 hours a month at a BHS approved riding centre. Working at such a centre means that you will already have a network of support and the ability to be trained for a reduced rate (If you are training for your Stage 4 riding exam you can often be a guinea pig for ITT training days or join in with client group lessons of a similar standard). Some centres may even let you attend clinics and lectures on site for free, or to pay for you to attend others at different centres.

The BHS is trying to promote the development of coaches, and to motivate instructors to further their education, but in doing so I feel they isolate the self-employed. The self-employed have to fund their own learning, motivate themselves and have limited contacts within the BHS network to gain support.

I thought I was the only one who thought of this bursary as flawed, and feel that many freelancers would benefit from a similar training grant, but I have just read a paper by Jo Winfield, FBHS – you can read it here – which states that as a freelance instructor she felt “very isolated once I achieved my professional coaching qualifications and had no further opportunity to advance my skills and competency as a self employed coach. The equine industry lacked any support for my own career development.”

Jo Winfield discusses in her article how important self-reflection is for coaches, and I admit that that is my main method of self-training. Teach a lesson, reflect on it, and make notes about how to improve my performance. I hope that this means that I can do the majority of the learning by myself and then use any formal training hours effectively.

Perhaps I have shot myself in the foot by not being associated with a BHS approved riding school? Riding schools usually provide a reliable source of income, but as the rate of pay is substantially lower than private clients surely if you can build a business on purely private clients you are showing better business sense? I`m sure there are also other freelancers who either teach at an unapproved riding school (perhaps an ABRS approved school) or do not teach at a riding school, preferring to work more closely with a Pony Club or their private clients.

With so many freelance instructors, and the BHS Register of Instructors, I would have thought that the BHS could run a similar training bursary for the self-employed. Especially if training can only take place at approved BHS training centres, then they are putting money back into their society. Perhaps I will have to petition it to them!

Things They Don`t Tell You

It is almost a year since I made the decision to go self-employed, and a recent post by Wiola –, made me think about the learning curve that is being self employed.

I totally agreed with Wiola`s observation that sometimes you enjoy your job so much, you feel guilty for charging people. I have lessons like that. I have rides like that too.

When you go self-employed you suddenly gain control over your life. You can book days off when you like, and work your day around any doctors appointments or farriery appointments. It makes it so much easier to organise your social life too. I remember struggling to leave work on time, racing through the house and changing my outfit within seconds, only to arrive at the party ten minutes late. Now, if I have an event to go to I rearrange any lessons, or the general day, so that I can arrive at that party on time.

I`m also benefitting from the fact that I can ride my horses during the day. This makes my leisure time much more enjoyable, and their work is more varied because I can hack more frequently during the week. I`m also not as tired or stressed when I ride them.

I enjoy the variation of being self-employed, but sometimes my life gets turned upside down. I love routine, and it only takes a client to change their lesson day for me to be thrown off track. Around Christmas I was spinning in circles as my weeks didn`t follow their usual plan because clients need to rearrange lessons to fit in with other social activities. There is also the variation in people I meet and horses I see, which makes life much more interesting.

So what are the cons of being self-employed?

If I don`t work a day, I feel like I`m not earning money. This unfortunate feeling often stays with me on the weekend so I throw myself into other activities, such as painting the spare bedroom.

I`m constantly aware of how much money I`m bringing in. Or not. If someone is away or busy one week, I fully understand, but am aware that I`m losing income. It sounds greedy, and most of the time at the end of the week or month I don`t feel hard done by, I just notice the cash flow more now I have sole charge for it.

I don`t have a base, or a captive audience of liveries at my own yard, which makes me very disposable. If someone doesn`t want me to teach them anymore, then BANG! That`s it. No warning, no notice period. Nothing. If a yard doesn`t want me to teach there then BANG! I`m disposed of as easily as a used tissue. This is the point that you hope your clients are loyal, so aim to treat them individually and give them the highest standard of work so that they come back.

As a self-employed individual I have to complete my own tax return, which I`ll be honest, I not looking forwards to doing, but I`m sure it will be fine. I also have fewer rights than an employee. I don`t get sick pay, I`m not entitled to rest breaks or paid holiday, am not protected against discrimination and can have any contracts broken without notice. Furthermore, there is very little representation for self employed people, legally – employees and employers have much more protection. Perhaps this is where I begin to develop my political views?

It is hard to plan for the future because I can`t guarantee what income I will have in two months time, which means you begin to live for the present – immediate gratification we called it in sociology. This goes against my upbringing of deferred gratification, and make saving for a pension seem impossible.

For someone quite reserved it is very difficult to advertise yourself and network positively. I`m rubbish at self-promotion!

So what have I learnt about being self-employed? It`s great fun being my own boss and I love being in control of the majority of my life, but it is full of uncertainty for the future. It`s amazing that as much control that I have, my success lies in the hands of others.