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July 31, 2013

It's Time To Train The Trainers

Winyamaro won the Grand Prix on 71 percent at Hawk Hollow Ranch in Bedminster, N.J., last week. He's back! Photo by WhoTookThat.net

Dear Rita,

New Jersey’s heat wave has finally broken, and we are blessed with breezy days in the mid 70s. While the horses find their energy again and my riders feel like they can breathe and think, our daily work continues at our base, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone. Winyamaro and I won a Grand Prix last week. Hotmail (extraordinaire!) continues his onward storm toward his Grand Prix debut with me in August. All is good in New Joisie.

Except for a few small shows, my summer has thus far been largely devoted to teaching. Not only have I had a rush of students at home, but I also have been traveling far and wide to fill clinic requests. As always, I have a list of observations about teaching, learning and riding in general. But my biggest revelation of late is this: We need to train our trainers… in more than just riding.

After half of year of involvement in U.S. Equestrian Federation committees, the American dressage scene in general, and several venues for teaching, it has become apparent to me that our trainers must work together to further their knowledge about training both horses and riders. While a lot of lip service is paid to this concept, most of us are typically American in that we remain stubbornly independent—content to pursue our own thing and be happy with our own personal progress without regard for the state of dressage in our region, our country and the world.

Sadly, we are not strong at home alone. We need to meet, train, discuss and discover. Otherwise, we can’t catch up with Europe. And yes, this should be our nationwide goal.

I am often hired by a trainer to do a clinic at his or her stable. The general pattern goes like this: The trainer wants my input. So he/she hires me to teach for a full day even though the trainer rides only once, maybe twice on a somewhat advanced horse, and then watches eight to nine students from rank beginner to talented amateur learn some basics from me at a much lower level.

I realize that these students are paying for the trainer’s opportunity to ride with me. And I know that some of them are there simply in order to say, “I rode with Catherine Haddad Staller.” But this does not honor me, nor is my skill respected. If you are a fan, come by and say hello—stay, audit and learn. If you are a rider who needs help with a throughness issue, come by and get a lesson.

To show up for training with an accomplished rider before you are ready to benefit from his or her knowledge is bad form and disrespectful. I am often taken aback when clinic slots in the United States are filled with riders who can’t even put their horse on the bit.

Now Rita, you probably wonder why I don’t vet the riders before a clinic. The answer is twofold. 1) I don’t have time. 2) Professionals should honestly evaluate their clientele; that is not my job. If you have a rank amateur who really wants the opportunity to learn from me, train that person—kick their butt—until they are good enough. Make them earn the right, not buy it.

What finally irked me into writing this blog is this: Our trainers need more knowledge about how to train the basics—not just for themselves, but for their students as well. And they need to motivate themselves to GET RESULTS. Don’t pass off a basic problem to a visiting clinician—it does not speak well of your own teaching skills!

I work on the basics of EVERY horse and rider combination with fervor, technical focus, and 99.9 percent of the time with visible results. Occasionally I get an advanced pair that can work on the basics in piaffe or passage or pirouettes. Sometimes I get the odd flying change problem to fix. Sadly, a large portion of my days away from home are spent teaching the most rudimentary fundamentals of riding to people who have already been in the saddle for a number of years. Years, Rita! These people are trying like hell to learn the most basic principles of riding and are struggling along at the pace of a rabid garden snail. They need to learn how to develop balance, soft arms and hands, acceptable contact with the bit—how to go, stop and turn.

Even the rankest beginner lacking any smidgeon of talent can learn to sit the trot and hold the reins with proper contact. On the longe line. They need to be taught these basics before showing up in front of me. Sure, I can advance their basic knowledge, but my talent lies in developing Grand Prix horses. And I know that within a 100-mile radius of any clinic I do in the United States, there are more advanced riders who need my help. So, my trainers, don’t wear me out teaching someone how to hold the reins. I did not fly half way across the country to do YOUR job for you. Find me riders who want to learn in order to become better teachers at home, and I will give them all I’ve got.

Let’s train the trainers.

I am finished with all existing clinic commitments in September. October and November are wide open. Wide open, that is, to anyone who can organize a clinic with at least three or more trainers participating on multiple horses. If any slots are left unfilled, an advanced student of any one of the trainers is welcome to join the fray. And as much as I love teaching ANY student who loves to learn, I’m staying home until clinic organizers get smart about this. I have a deep pocket of skills. Let me use them.

(To those few of you who have already gotten smart about this, THANK YOU. There is nothing more satisfying than leaving a clinic knowing that EVERYONE learned from each other, and my skills were put to good use. We meet, we train, we exchange ideas. We advance.)

Let’s advance this sport nationwide. Open your stables, welcome your neighbors, and learn to learn from each other when another professional comes to your area to teach. Then go home and teach your own students with new information and new inspiration.

Trainers who can do this will gladly receive my help. It’s time to elevate the level of dressage in this country. Let’s get started. catherine@internationaldressage.com

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Gladstone, N.J.

Training Tip of the Day: Good or bad, learn from your colleagues.

InternationalDressage.com

Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago
Stephanie, Was I
Stephanie, Was I disrespectful to the people I taught in the clinic last week? I try to give 100% to every rider who comes in front of me, no matter what level they are riding. Please don't imply... Read More
Stephie
1 year 7 weeks ago
I saw Catherine Haddad at a
I saw Catherine Haddad at a clinic this past week in Michigan and understand why she was writing this article, but still, somewhat of an elitist attitude… .... While I am sure that all international... Read More

Comments

Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago

I does make complete sense to

I does make complete sense to take applications if you are only willing to teach people who can already ride. I am happy to teach anyone of any level who has ADVANCED beyond getting the horse on the bridle. In my world, dressage is about giving up control in order to ride more power. If you are ready to learn that , I will teach you no matter what your level. That is advanced riding.
Lizags
1 year 7 weeks ago

Beyond the Pale of Good Manners

I was saddened and disheartened to read this article. While it is important to remember it is only one small person's opinion, I wonder if it does not reflect a larger issue in Dressage. However, that is not my battle to fight. Being the rank amateur that I am, I will continue to do my level best to work and train my horse. Since this is costing me a great deal of hard earned money I will gladly spend it on trainers who are happy to teach us bothersome beginners and Miss Catherine Haddad Staller can go jump a fence. Oh, by-the-by, I will also never recommend her to anyone that I know, and I suggest as many of us as possible do the same. But that is just my opinion. Sincerely, Liza G. Schneider Green Bay Wisconsin
Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago

Liza, Who said beginners are

Liza, Who said beginners are bothersome? Those are your words, not mine. They would not be beginners for very long if they were being well taught at home. I can't teach them all in two day clinics. It makes more sense for me to improve the teaching of their trainers, don't you think? Their teacher can in turn help many other riders with the basics. Why does this have to be offensive? I have the whole afternoon off, Ladies. Come with it. Catherine
Elfe
1 year 7 weeks ago

Regarding Trainers.

Catherine, your blog hit a spot with me. I no longer ride, but breed horses aimed at dressage. I put a lot of effort and money into this. The difficulty arises when putting these youngsters into training as I realize that a lot of so called trainers sorely lack the basics. Improper use of gadgetry,trying to put horse into a "frame" by yanking on mouth, improper saddle fit and unawareness if it, etc. I am sure you know what I am talking about. So, PLEASE, do train the trainers ! My horses will be grateful !
Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago

It would be my pleasure,

It would be my pleasure, Silvana. Catherine
meupatdoes
1 year 7 weeks ago

duplicate, can't delete sorry

duplicate, can't delete sorry
snicklefritzG
1 year 7 weeks ago

Political savvy

I think Catherine's editor gave her the wrong advice. Although the general sentiments do need to be communicated broadly, the tone is too controversial. The negativity seen in responses not only here but on the COTH forums supports this. Politically savvy people realize that they have to think very carefully about how to get across a difficult message. Those same people also realize that getting in arguments on the internet is unproductive and creates bad press that will not help their image. Peter Wylde was very wise when he said many years ago "I would like to speak out after I've earned my stripes in this industry". Coming back from Europe with a passion for improving the state of dressage in the US is extremely welcome. Using unprofessional communiques to begin getting the message across is not. Can I get my horse on the bit? Yes. Can I do this at all three gaits? Yes. Have I ridden in front of tough judges who have complimented my riding and my horse? Yes. By Catherine's recent comments on this blog, would I be acceptable as a student in her clinic? Yes. Will I attend one even though I live in her neighborhood? No. Why not? Her comments have generated too much controversy and the unproductive arguing with people on COTH and this blog are a turnoff. Spending my hard earned money with her would be too risky. I have no idea what kind of lesson to expect. I will take my hard earned money and go down the street to Heather Mason or Betsy Steiner instead.
Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago

Heather Mason and Betsy Steiner

Heather Mason and Betsy Steiner are both excellent trainers with a good grasp of the basics. You should do well there and I applaud you for seeking further help with your riding. I have never shied away from controversy and being careful and politically correct is absolutely not my gig. I am not afraid of what I believe in or the format in which I express it. Best of luck to you.
mishmash
1 year 7 weeks ago

Amateurs

Although your points are valid, I think you are a little idealistic. You can put a 12 year old on the lunge line and most will learn very quickly. Heck, you can put a 20 something on the lunge line, and they will improve rapidly. But a 40-50-60 year old...not so much. And many of those older riders are either returning to riding after years/decades off, or learning for the first time. Being placed on the line until they develop their seats will, in most cases, result in their giving up, or moving on to the trainer down the road who isn't so demanding. I think most of the older adult amateurs you teach, and who can afford to clinic with you get regular instruction. I would also bet it is pretty decent instruction, as the backyard trainers aren't probably the ones bringing you in for clinics. And I also bet that the things you are telling these older riders re contact, position, etc are the same things their instructors have been telling them, as you put it, for years. Hearing it, knowing it, believing it, does not always translate to DOING it. There are old injuries, arthritic issues, and sometimes most important of all-FEAR-that can keep the older AA from accomplishing what they so desperately want to. Some people will move along like a rabid snail because that is what their minds/bodies are capable of. Many believe USDF needs to be more aggresive in making sure instructors are certified. If this is the case, they need to become better at screening for teaching skills, as the certified instructors in our area aren't very good at teaching. Riding yes, teaching no. The two better trainers/instructors (both of whom have cliniced with you) are not certified. I have also ridden with you, in a clinic setting, and enjoyed my lesson. We did work on basic things re position, better connection, and better gaits. I am still working on my position (and yes, I have done and am currently doing lunge lessons), better gaits, and better connection. I think we all should. But I am realistic to know I will never sit the trot as well as a good pro, or be as quick to figure things out, or as good with my timing. The reflexes just aren't there anymore. But I will keep plugging along, slightly faster than a rabid snail..maybe a non-rabid one??...and will someday, hopefully, get to wear that shadbelly.
michelle
1 year 7 weeks ago

Catherine didn't you teach

Catherine didn't you teach Sandy a 40 year old that had not ridden before and within a few years was I1 champion at regionals?
Stephie
1 year 7 weeks ago

I saw Catherine Haddad at a

I saw Catherine Haddad at a clinic this past week in Michigan and understand why she was writing this article, but still, somewhat of an elitist attitude… .... While I am sure that all international level clinicians would rather work with talented, upper level riders when they travel to town, the local hosts can't always fill up every slot with talented upper level riders... The host is filling up the riding slots with as many appropriate riders as they can in respect to the clinician. ..the local riding community, the 'real world,' is not full of FEI riders who ride full time,with fancy horses ready to work on two tempis, who can take days off from work to attend these clinics or have the finances to do so. So, whomever is available to attend the clinic will. It does not mean that the local trainers can't teach their students or don't aspire to assist them to ride at the best of their ability at that point in their training...it means that these particular riders are the ones available and able to spend the time and money. Either accept the clinic, whatever the riders skill level or don't (or only work with FEI riders, or have certain requirements for riders to take a lesson from you).......I saw Steffens Peters last year at a clinic and one of his riders was a 9 year old girl on her first pony. Maybe she was a last minute stand in for someone else, because I agree that it wasn't the best use of his talent, but no matter that, she paid the high dollar to be there and Steffen was wonderful with her and didn't have a crass attitude towards her.......While I agree with Catherine that we should ‘train the trainers,’ as this will help us all, she is also a trainer of the highest quality, and she should understand that we are all eager to learn, no matter what our skill level is... We are paying her incredible amounts of money to share her experience and wisdom....treat all of us with the same respect we are giving her.
Catherine Haddad
1 year 7 weeks ago

Stephanie, Was I

Stephanie, Was I disrespectful to the people I taught in the clinic last week? I try to give 100% to every rider who comes in front of me, no matter what level they are riding. Please don't imply otherwise. I never blame the rider for their current state. I always try to make it better if it is within my ability. I actually wrote this blog well before I got to MIchigan last week. That clinic was generally speaking... advanced. Do you have a better understanding of my frustration now? Catherine