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The BIG question: Is your trainer right for you and your horse?

As the horses begin to shed their winter coats with spring shining its sunny rays down on us, the warmth tends to give fellow horsemen the extra boost to get motivated for the upcoming riding season. I find myself inundated with “Ask the Trainer” questions, calls and emails from riders deciding to “finally” get back into the swing of things, and both horses and owners finding themselves having to think, communicate and learn the ongoing process of quality horsemanship.

Having come from the “mainstream” riding world many years ago- it is sometimes hard for me “keep it in perspective” of what the general public experiences in “regular lessons.” For me personally as an instructor I feel it is my job to assess where the horse and person/rider are HERE and NOW on this specific day, rather than assuming that we’ll “pick up” where we left off in the last session.

I’m always amazed as I hear stories of the services people actually pay for and the lack of manners and respect both them and their horse are treated with. And yet, if the student doesn’t know otherwise, they keep going back.

For me, I feel that my student must have a trust and respect for what I’m offering them in order for them to truly be mentally available and get the most out of what I’m trying to share. This is no different than how I see people working with horses, the same trust and clarity must be present so that “growth” is possible.

I overheard a few other “instructors” talking about how “draining” it can be to teach. For me, I find an excitement that comes from me having to assess, think and communicate in “real time” in order to offer the student prudent information. They then have to translate from their brain, to their body, to their horse in order to influence a desired change.

Most scenarios in today’s society allow for a delay, gap or lacking in quality in communication and clarity. With horses, my philosophy is to ride or “work with them” EVERY SINGLE STEP. And trust me; there are a lot “steps” (literally) in a ride.

Many students don’t even realize the “process” it takes for me to subtly create a working relationship with them in order for them to literally understand what it is that I’m saying. Just as with a horse, if the person is unwilling to hear and understand the concepts I am offering, then what is the point of teaching them?

I never have a predetermined “we must accomplish this” agenda before we begin a session. Wherever the student is mentally and emotionally on that give day will cause me to gauge how much information I can offer and how well they can digest and experiment with it and their horse.

My main goal is fun and safety. The more the student can participate, the more I can offer. Too many times though even the word “lesson” has a negative association because of the one-way communication between instructor and horse. I can’t recall how many occasions I’ve sat on the fence watching lesson after lesson with the instructor literally repeating the same five sayings, (“head up, heals down, more, push him, good, etc.”) and always responding AFTER the student performed.

The other part that I’m always shocked at is how much the horse is IGNORED during the session. I know that sounds funny but really, they tend to be when the instructor’s goals are so “set in stone” that there is no consideration that their lesson agenda may not be appropriate for that horse at that moment in time.

I think there is a lot of pressure that people feel from a society full of “instant gratification” and therefore feel that they must offer a gigantic change with each lesson. But really, if the goal of the rider/student is quality, what’s the rush? We spend a minimum of 12 years between elementary, middle and high school on just the basics of educating, never mind all of the time the parents at home are continuously teaching “real life” information. Why would we expect both us and our horses to “know it all” within a short period of time? The famous “X” days of training, starting a horse, etc. always makes me smile. I can’t imagine someone enrolling their child in school and being told that in “X” number of days, their child will know this, this and that. The fun and pleasure I get from working with both students and horses is the continual ongoing process and journey, not just the end result.

I truly believe more students would enjoy the “process” of educating themselves and their horse if they understand what, how and why they were doing what they were doing. But too many times they have become “handicapped” for relying (literally) on the instructor for every part of the ride and have lost all ability to think their way through a ride.

So the next time you are about to take a lesson, audit a clinic, read an article in a magazine or watch a “quick fix” DVD on horse training, take a moment to really assess the quality of the information being provided. Is it clear? Is it appropriate for where you and your horse are at in your learning process? Did you both come away with a warm “fuzzy feel” after the experience or was there a “blank” feeling of “never going to get it?”

Even if you don’t have years of experience with horses, trust your gut. Take care of you and your horse- he’s relying on you to make the best decisions for the BOTH of you! It’s okay to try different instructors, ideas or philosophies to experiment with. Your top priority is to do what is best for you and your horse, even if it means stepping away from that “world class trainer” or proven Olympian- trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and my horses are better for having had the ability to say “no.”

Good luck, Sam

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