From what you are describing, I would point you toward Silver Bit and Spur. It is one of the few facilities in the area that rents out horses for trails, so you can do that also if you like.
Most larger, well known and respected barns with lesson programs also have significant show programs. To quote a potential employer from an interview, "I need someone who can get them into the show ring as soon as possible."
Learning can be complicated by the barn's desire to get you involved in showing ASAP. That's how they make their $. Shows, selling clients well schooled horses they can show, coaching at shows and many lessons to prepare for 'finals,' circuit awards, etc.
A lot really depends on your personality. If you are more of a 'do it yourselfer' who wants to proceed at your own pace, then someplace less show motivated will likely be a better fit. But if you want a lot of attention (and are willing to pay for it...) then the bigger show barns will be happy to have you.
Really I recommend you go to different farms and try them out. Often it is more of a personality fit than anything else.
Thanks for the reply. I'm asking for a coworker who took her 2nd lifetime lesson recently and the instructor had her cantering. I was a little concerned by her description, especially since she says she experiences nervousness.
So, I'd prioritize good horsemanship/sensible instruction geared to the student above price.
Well that's just it. "Good instruction" is a matter of opinion. Plenty of people would be happy to be moving along as quickly as they can. Others, not so much. If your coworker was just nervous, I might suggest she go back to the same place and ask for another instructor, and/or watch some lessons.
She is simply at such a novice level that she "doesn't know what she doesn't know." And probably cannot judge whether or not her nervousness was justified, or if adrenaline combined with the unknown were getting the better of her.
The best recommendation is to continue to try. Go watch more lessons. Ride with the same instructor but have a talk about her nervousness first. Try a different instructor at the same facility. I don't think that just because she was 'nervous' means she should ditch the current instructor/facility.
Can you go with her? Watch/video? Can she get instructor to take some quick video during the lesson for you to look at?
Go and meet Torri Dragos at True Heart Stables in Califon, NJ. She is a very down to earth, honest, ethical, experienced, "old school" horsewoman/trainer. She is great with adults, especially beginners. The barn is beautiful (brand new), gorgeous indoor, brand new outdoor, great big stalls and beautiful turn-out. The entire group there is nice, nurturing, and low-key. Check out her website too...trueheartstables.com. Good luck! PM me if you want names of places in central and northern NJ to stay away from!!!
OP - I feel your confusion! I came back to the horse world just over 3 years ago and had no idea where to turn - who was good, who was bad, who was great, and who was HORRIBLE. Unfortunately, I found the horrible before the good and spent my first year in a love-hate relationship with the whole equestrian thing.
Personally, if I had to do it again, I would look around and take lessons at several places before making a decision. Don't be intimidated into thinking you need to go with a certain discipline or with a certain trainer if you are not completely comfortable. Also, trust your instincts!
A couple of things you can look out for regardless of your level of knowledge:
- stay away from facilities that don't seem to be well taken care of. There are diamonds in the rough so to speak, but, for the most part, if the barn managers/owners can't be bothered to take care of the place they probably aren't taking care of the horses.
- look for professionalism. Does the trainer pay attention to you? Are they up front about how much they are charging? If you answer no to either of these things, then I would steer clear.
- Safety first. Do you see people appropriately dressed with closed toe shoes? Are the students all wearing helmets? Are the horses secured and being handled appropriately or are people running around?
- Are you comfortable at the facility and with the trainer? This is important as this person is going to be giving you all kinds of guidance and if you don't have a rapport that becomes difficult.
I love Briarwood. They have a large school string, are safety oriented, friendly, have a decent facility, and lots of on premises shows that are affordable should you decide to pursue it. I neverfelt pressure to show, but did eveventually after at least 15 years away from the show ring.
I think most folks would agree they have a good reputation.
There are many wonderful barns in the central Jersey area. My suggestions is that your friend should visit facilities. She should meet the trainer and watch some lessons both at and above her level. This will help give her an idea of where she'd be headed if she stayed at any place. What is the "feel" at each barn? Is there good rapport between the trainer and students? Do the clients seem happy and friendly? What is the string of school horses like assuming your friend does not have her own? Are there horses that would be appropriate for her now and as she advances? What are her goals long term? Is she interested in showing, trail riding, group lessons? Are there other riders in her age range at her level? What opportunities does each facility offer?
I agree with another poster that it often depends on personality who would be the best fit. Every trainer has a different style and your friend can only determine who is the best fit for her by getting out there and visiting barns/taking trial lessons. Good luck to her!
Thanks everyone, for the replies. I'm moving to Jersey myself, so I may check out some of these barns. Am not h/j inclined -- want to event -- but it looks like the depth of choice is great.
I agree, completely, re: finding the right fit. I started riding just over 5 years ago, and stumbled on a great first teacher. But, I was only in that area for 2+ months, then it was back to the greater NYC area. I have probably tried 10 or more instructors between then and now.
I was leery of my coworker's description of her 2nd lesson (2nd lifetime lesson). Her first lesson was 2 years ago, or more. I'd estimate that, in her life, she's been on a horse less than 15 times. So when I heard that she was cantering, I went... hmmm... Make no mistake, she's fit, she has an excellent sense of balance, but I flashed back to the instructor, who, after 6 months in the saddle (and having seen me ride for maybe 3 months, if I was lucky 2x/week) had me cantering 3-foot courses on a rather opinionated mare. (Mare's goal in life was to make it back to the end of the arena with the gate as fast as she possibly could). Make no mistake, it was FUN and I got around the courses without falling or even pulling many rails. But a little voice in the back of my head was going "you don't know what the eff you're doing and maybe you need another instructor." I finally listened to that voice, and eventually found someone that I stuck with for 2 years.
But I know that my foundation got very short shrift. My sitting trot still SUCKS for example. So, as I garner helpful hints for my friend, I'm thinking back to my own "if only's." ;-) More of a foundation is always a good thing, IMO.