Monday, May. 27, 2024

Let Us Now Praise Unknown Teachers

Anyone who has spent a summer, or even an afternoon, holding a longe line while repeating, “up, down, up, down,” can attest that there’s little glamour in helping equestrians learn the basics of the sport. 

Let’s face it: teaching beginners is boring, repetitive and requires patience beyond the reach of most saints. But unless she’s lucky enough to be born into a horsey family, every Olympic rider starts out on the far end of that longe line and needs an enthusiastic, educated and motivated teacher holding on to it.

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Anyone who has spent a summer, or even an afternoon, holding a longe line while repeating, “up, down, up, down,” can attest that there’s little glamour in helping equestrians learn the basics of the sport. 

Let’s face it: teaching beginners is boring, repetitive and requires patience beyond the reach of most saints. But unless she’s lucky enough to be born into a horsey family, every Olympic rider starts out on the far end of that longe line and needs an enthusiastic, educated and motivated teacher holding on to it.

As Shelby French points out this week in her Between Rounds column, “We Are The Base Of The Hunter/Jumper Pyramid,” despite their vital role in the equestrian community, grassroots instructors rarely receive much recognition for their efforts. For every rider who eventually finds his way to a U.S. Equestrian Federation show, dozens of his peers drift away from the sport, but not before a caring instructor toiled away to help them establish strong, confident seats.

The best elementary instructors inspire passion in their students, both to gallop into a demanding lifestyle sport and to convince their parents to write the accompanying checks. And though a rider will occasionally find a coach to take her from leadline through her entire competitive career, by and large the trainers who find their names in the Chronicle for their students’ accomplishments rely on top elementary instructors to provide a stream of serious students with strong fundamentals.

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Anyone who has rifled through old photos can attest that, for better or worse, the riding position we establish in the beginning of our riding career will largely stay with us throughout our lives.
 
In a culture that increasingly values quick results over hard work, beginning instructors must work harder than ever to impart enthusiasm, work ethic and good horsemanship onto the iPod generation.

But they’re finding solutions and wholeheartedly throwing their hearts into the often-thankless task of nurturing the widest base of the equestrian pyramid.

Janet Salem, for example, of Patchwork Farm in Canton, Ga., compiled equestrian-oriented reading lists for her students (ranging from beginners up to show ring veterans) and offers a free day’s worth of training to those who write book reports on a fiction and training book. This incentive doesn’t help Salem’s pocketbook, but it does bequeath a few more better-educated and well-rounded equestrians to the sport.

Even when riders do hang up their riding helmets after a few months or years, the sport still benefits. Elementary instructors’ hard work pays off in the form of an educated public that supports equestrians with issues such as animal welfare and land use, and as spectators and volunteers during competitions.
 
So the next time you leave a competition with a ribbon or depart the hunt field unscathed, take a moment to remember your earliest instructors, because you couldn’t have done it without them.

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