The Perfect Fit

Four essential elements of a great youth riding instructor.

Devin Warren, of Franktown, Colorado’s Warren Performance Horses, has more than 20 years of experience as a trainer, breeder, and showman. He coaches non-pros and kids and tailors his program to bring out the best in each horse and rider.


Find a trainer who focuses on keeping riding fun so your kid enjoys the time she gets to spend at the barn with her horse.
Nichole Chirico

Fun First

You see it in all sports, whether it’s baseball, which my kids play, or anything else: a lot of coaches and parents who are living their dreams through kids. That sucks the fun out of it for the kids, and they don’t learn. They’re just berated into doing whatever they’re asked to do. So for me, keeping it fun needs to be a big part of it.

Horsemanship Focus

I want somebody who will teach kids horsemanship, not just the basics of riding a horse. Instructors should ask their students to think about why the horse wants to do what he’s doing. Instead of just pulling and kicking, kids need to learn to create the desire in the horse to do what they want him to do. Instructors have to teach students what’s wrong for the horse and why, then show them how to fix it. There will be times when the horse takes the punishment for the rider—especially the old campaigner—because the horse will take more reps than he needs to for the kid to learn. You need an instructor who will be patient, but who will also say, “OK, that’s enough. That’s not his fault; it’s yours.” It’s a mix of encouragement and discipline and putting the horse first.

Beyond the Arena

Any sport, at any level, should be about more than blue ribbons. Sports—horses, baseball, it doesn’t matter—should teach kids how to be good people and should create leaders for the future. If a kid, who instinctively leans away from pressure, can learn to communicate with a horse, who leans into pressure, and find a middle ground, imagine how much easier life will be for that kid?


If a kid doesn’t have the natural ability with a horse, an instructor might cast them aside instead of encouraging them and helping them find the success they’re capable of. An instructor shouldn’t push every kid, no matter their skill level, to go to a national show, making their parents pay for a show they’re not ready for. Each student should go where they can be successful, rather than pushing a kid without the skills to go to big shows just to pay the trainer’s bills.

Warren’s Rules for Youth Riders

1. Respect Your Parents. Parents are paying a ton of money to have their kids play at any level of the horse industry. It’s a lot of investment, and they deserve respect.

2. Do Your Best in School. I don’t expect every student to have a 4.0 or be on the dean’s list. But I do expect every student to do their work to the best of their abilities.

3. Give Me 110%. I don’t care what a student’s abilities are. Some will go to Europe to show in the FEI. Some will win the World. Others won’t go past the 4-H level. As an instructor, I want to bring out the best in every student to make them a better person down the road, and that requires 110% effort. 

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