An important reminder for all equestrians – Did you thank your coach today?

 

An important reminder for all equestrians – Did you thank your coach today?

What makes a great teacher? Is it someone accomplished at a high level?  Someone who has won blue ribbons, Olympic medals, traveled the world, and has a barnful of expensive horses? Success is surely a plus, but not a guarantee that one individual can improve another. Of all the attributes a teacher can have, communication and dedication are probably the most important.

Great riders have one thing in common: FEEL. They feel things. They sense things.  They have an innate sense of timing and natural instincts that are honed with hours of practice and use. Yet, those very attributes are perhaps the most difficult to translate into a language understood by the common student. People learn by hearing, watching, and doing; but the trouble with horses is that you have a nano-second window to feel, process, and respond to that animal to help him perform. How is someone on the ground supposed to see, and then tell, the student what to do in that allotted timeframe?

It’s tough. The best riders often have had the greatest trainers– horses and human.  What makes a great teacher is this gift of being able to see the problem– feel it from the ground, probably– and find the words instantly to convey the feeling and the correction to the rider in a way that works. The great teachers have a library of word images, novel ideas that help the student grasp a concept or approach the problem from a different direction. What does it mean when the instructor says, “Lift your shoulders?”  Is that affect different from telling the rider, “Imagine a fish-hook under your ribcage, pulling you upwards?”  Similarly, saying “Carry your hands, thumbs on top” may get the student to lift the hands a few inches before they get distracted and fall back down to the saddle pad.  Rephrasing that to, “Imagine carrying a silver tray holding cups of coffee– Don’t spill!” triggers more synapses in the brain to fix a bad habit.

 

 

Basic equitation is a matter of form and function; many intermediate riders can point out heels down, thumbs up, shoulder/hip/heel alignment. Seeing equine faults can be a little more tricky– noticing the shoulder popping out, or haunches swinging through a turn. It gets even more subtle with minor evasions, locking an inside jaw, or lack of forward in a fast-moving horse. A skilled rider can usually feel these things to some degree– but can he or she see them, and help someone else fix it from the saddle?

Riding isn’t easy– if you’ve ever sat on a horse, you probably know that.  But teaching (rather, teaching WELL) is even harder. As an instructor, you must have multiple ways of fixing a problem, multiple ways of phrasing those solutions, and the patience to view situations through your students’ eyes, not just your own. You have to acknowledge fears and limitations that may not make sense to you, but are very real and cause a great effect to your student. You have to manage confidence and conflict in both horse and rider, all while working from a distance. You have to balance brutal honesty and encouragement to ensure safe progress.

Despite all the difficulty, teaching is rewarding. There’s no better way to learn than through teaching– that sounds backward, doesn’t it? Yet relating thoughts, feel, and actions to others reinforce what we already know, making it more solid within ourselves. That’s why teaching is a big part of Pony Club as kids progress up the ratings.  It also gives a sense of pride an accomplishment watching a student conquer their own mountains– whether it’s mastering the posting trot, or watching them finish their first preliminary event. Have you been lucky enough to have some good teachers in your riding life? Thank them, for they were a large part of making you who you are today.

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