Some people say that a coach can do only so much.
The argument goes like this: after a certain point, there is only so much a riding instructor can say to change a rider's skills. Most of the results come from the rider. After all - if the rider chooses not to (or simply cannot) do what the instructor says, then how much can one person do?
Although it is true that most riders go through difficult learning moments at some point in their riding career, and they might be faced with frustration in a different way than in other sports simply due to the nature of riding a horse, it cannot be said that across the board, riders don't want to put in the effort it takes to improve.
Most of us are riding because of our lifelong passion for horses. Most of us want to serve our horses by being the best rider we can be. Most of us are internally motivated in the first place just because we want to do well and love the feeling of good movement.
Most of us want to do the right thing.
So, assuming that the rider is in fact interested in performing well, how much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?
When Good Instruction Becomes Great
Great instructors repeatedly show characteristics that make positive effects on their students. They are the ones that make a difference in their riders in one single ride. They are able to send the student home with concrete feedback that can then be used to continue developing independently.
What are these traits?
1. Great instruction begins at the student's level.
Great instructors quickly recognize the rider's skill level; then, they meet the student with instruction that works to that level. If the student is more of a beginner, the skills being taught might be simplified so that the rider doesn't become too overwhelmed and can achieve success.
The instructor might focus on one or two main points that need to be developed during that ride. For more advanced students, the instructor may come across as more demanding, more particular, more exacting. In each case (and all those in-between), the instructor assumes a different teaching approach that meets the student's needs.
2. Great instructors can explain the basics of the basics exceptionally well.
There is nothing more difficult than trying to explain the most fundamental skills to a rider. The experience of the rider is irrelevant - if there is something that needs to be addressed, then there is no point in going onwards until the basics are addressed. The learning might be the rider's or the horse's - and great instructors will know what to do in each case. Even the most advanced movements are rooted in the basics.
3. Great instructors have an excellent command of the language.
Communication is key, especially for someone who must stand in the middle (or at the side) of a ring while the student is in perpetual motion. The great instructor can change the rider's behavior with only words - well, ok - maybe in conjunction with sounds, energy, gestures and weight shifts to the left and right! But there can be no replacement for a varied and rich vocabulary that can effectively pass on feels and ideas.
4. Great instructors have relevant personal experience.
"There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path," Morpheus explained to Neo in The Matrix. The truth to that statement cannot be overestimated especially when the instructor is trying to teach something new to a rider. Having a good feeling of what the rider is going through can make the great instructor relate to the stumbling blocks and find a way around them.
5. Great instructors are great problem-solvers.
Many top level trainers speak of the tools we need to collect on our mental toolboxes to solve problems. But toolboxes are not critical to just riders - great instructors have superior problem-solving tools that they have used in different conditions with different riders. Experience is key - not from just a riding perspective, but from a teaching point of view as well.
6. Great instructors help the student set goals but know when to break them.
There is a certain amount of flexibility involved in great instruction. Although both instructor and rider should be in perpetual evaluation mode, setting new goals and changing them as they are met, the biggest key to meeting goals is the willingness to break from the beaten path when the necessity arises. Despite having a plan for the day, if during the ride, a completely off-topic situation arises, the great instructor will meet that event head-on without any pre-planning.
7. Great instructors are willing to wait.
They are patient - not only with the rider, but also with the horse. Additionally, they teach their students how to have the same patience when it comes to training the horse.
8. Great instructors are ethical.
They maintain the highest standards of care and welfare for the horse and they teach their students to do the same.
I'm sure that I am missing many other ways good instructors become great. Can you add to the list? Please comment below.
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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also enjoy:
To Lesson or Not To Lesson? That shouldn’t even be a question!
Stepping “Forward” in Horse Riding: The term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.
A Cautionary Horse Tale: Once you decide to ride horses, you put into place a domino effect of consequences, which will occur whether you are conscious of them or not. It’s like a rule of nature.
The Truth About Balance: We all strive for balance – in our position, our seat, our movement with the horse.
When Do You Start Riding Your Horse? This question was being posed to me by a very respected and horse-wise mentor one day long ago, early in my riding development.