Expanding your Experience- Breaking the boundaries of invisible barriers

As I’m winding down in my last week of teaching here in the quickly warming Arizona desert and prepare for my trek to the north where cooler temperatures and greener pastures await (think rain and wet), I have had several conversations with students whose initial reaction to my leaving is a state of semi panic.  But as I try to continually remind people my goal is to empower them with the awareness, ability to assess and interpret their horse’s behavior, and then offer them tools to effectively communicate with their horse in order to achieve the desired mental and physical changes. 

With the ending of each lesson we always review a few of the key points we addressed in that session, so that the student is able to literally think through and then communicate verbally what, why and how they did what they did, so that when they are on their own, they are able to address behaviors, issues, etc. without having to rely on me “watching” them. 

Several new students this winter have started to really “take the ball and roll with it.”  What I mean by this is that at the beginning of each lesson we discuss the rides that occurred between lessons; as the students are able to vocalize observations (of themselves and their horse), report on experimenting with various “tools” to achieve desired results, and have a more “tuned-in” perspective in how they approach working with their horses, their confidence increases tremendously, which of course is a rewarding and encouraging feeling to both the rider and horse.  This is the “path” that allows the rider to not feel “needy” towards the riding instructor and still allows a forward progression with a clear direction.

Most of all my clients find me through word of mouth recommendation and over the last few days, without my initiating, several have mentioned that what they are learning, how I approach teaching them, and the “issues” I help them address, were not “at all” similar to what our mutual acquaintance had mentioned in suggesting they work with me.  I find humor in this because it is completely true. 

I believe the challenge in being a quality instructor is assessing what either the human student or horse need me to address and we go from there.  Even if I have two students with similar “problems”, I may have to approach teaching them in completely different ways. 

So when a current student is asked about how or what I teach, their answer may be appropriate for them, but their friend might not have the same experience with me.  And yet, they all can arrive at the same end goals.  The downside to this, is that I often find what I do to be very “clear and simple”, and yet to even the most supportive students, when asked to “summarize” riding with me, they can’t.  For the student’s self-growth, their horse’s contentment and their goal achievement, I believe retaining flexibility in our “curriculum” helps both the rider and horse maintain a positive mental and emotional experience in their journey.  The downside is that this approach often can be a bit difficult for them to summarize to someone who hasn’t experienced a “Sam lesson.” 

Business wise the “vagueness” of my services not being “easily defined” often frustrates people when they attempt to “pinpoint” my style.  But blending the boundaries of “what I offer” allows no restrictions, no reservations and no judgments… I often find riders don’t experiment enough with their horses because none of their riding peers are “doing it.”  From things as simple as the “type of clothes” one wears (usually defining what discipline they ride) to the type of horse ridden, to the equipment used.  Take a ranch horse and jump that log?  Take a Thoroughbred and herd cows?  Take a Dressage mount and ride it in a western saddle through an obstacle course?  Why not?  Who created the “boundaries” and why are people so concerned with what others think?  (Obviously prioritizing the safety factor in any scenario.)

So my point is wherever you are at in your riding situation and experience, you just may not know what you’re missing out on by not keeping an open mind. Not to sign up for a lesson ever week and have to be committed for the rest of your riding days, but rather for some insights and new directions for you to work on…

Sadly the thought of working with someone new, especially when “nothing is wrong” can be scary as many horse folks have had a less than positive experience with perhaps a new instructor or clinician.  So before you commit to something “new” go and audit a lesson to find out “what you’re getting” as far as the horse professional’s teaching style, ability to communicate, etc.  Notice if the instructor seems to have a predetermined focus for the lesson or do they assess the student and horse’s current “needs.”  Look for communication between instructor and student, often people teach, and theories can be clear in their head, but that does not always mean the student on the receiving end is as clear in what is being taught.  Look for the mental availability and physical participation of the horse; as the lesson progresses does the horse seem “happier” or does it get stressed the more “stuff” is being worked on?

Go “break the boundaries” and watch what wonders in can do for your relationship with your horse!

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