Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Remembering Your First Teacher

Be grateful and considerate, or you may end up in the jar marked “ashes of ex-students.”

Being a riding instructor is certainly a labor of love. Consider the working conditions in every kind of
weather from icy winds to burning sun, in dust and rain, mud and snow. Even if you have an indoor arena to work in, it can be damp and cold and dark.
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Be grateful and considerate, or you may end up in the jar marked “ashes of ex-students.”

Being a riding instructor is certainly a labor of love. Consider the working conditions in every kind of
weather from icy winds to burning sun, in dust and rain, mud and snow. Even if you have an indoor arena to work in, it can be damp and cold and dark.

Be aware of the absence of job security in most cases, the lack of insurance, the cancelled lessons and the risk of injury. Riding is far from a risk-free enterprise, and many of the worst accidents occur on the ground, while working with a horse.

And yet every one of us had someone who was willing to spend the time to help us take the first steps toward becoming comfortable and familiar with a horse. Your first teacher is often like your first love…unforgettable.

Some of us started in a riding school situation, others had private instruction at home, but whatever the case, without that initial help, we never would have been riding and showing and training and perhaps even helping others learn today.

As with my horses, the students I’m most proud of are not only the ones I polished and guided to glory as one of their many teachers, but also the ones I started from “scratch.” And the students who tickle me the most are those who had to struggle to overcome fear or lack of coordination and still went on to be successful as riders and trainers.

The first teacher, no doubt, has the toughest job of all. But there’s a certain satisfaction in starting a student from the beginning. With a “tabula rasa,” you’re working with a virgin project undestroyed by preconceptions. Whatever you produce is your responsibility, and, if it’s good, all the credit is yours.

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The opportunity to work with a bright-eyed youngster or enthusiastic adult when they’re complete beginners can be most inspiring. Usually the student is incredibly motivated to learn, which is a perk for any teacher.

The mutual love of horses creates a bond between student and teacher from the start. The joy of igniting the first sparks of understanding, and the satisfaction of creating that basic platform for the student to fall back on in all his riding life is a high.

In general, the first teacher is seldom the instructor who stands by the gate when the student rides in the national finals or goes into the Olympic arena. By that time, several other trainers have most probably added to the pot of knowledge.

But instead of feeling left behind when the student moves on, the true educators feel part of that process, and she knows that laying the foundation is the true mission in the chain of events.

Even so, starting over isn’t always fun, especially when there’s a breakthrough, the student has a fit of hubris and feels it’s time to seek more sophisticated help.

Interestingly, these two events often dovetail, since the student, as he improves, is suddenly “discovered” by others and therefore is instantly impressed by himself.

The mature and confident person who enjoys the position as the original teacher will realize and take pride in his role in bringing recognition to his student, but also understand the urge to move on, which comes with the territory. The mature student, who can see beyond his own ambition, will give notice, thanks and credit to his first teacher. The student who cuts out without any warning or sign of gratitude belongs in the jar on your desk named: “Ashes of ex-students.”

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Having a competent first teacher often means having a mentor for life if you handle the transition when you move on correctly. And as time goes by, the student may find opportunity to go back and seek advice and support from the original source.

Sometimes, even when that source is gone, it will seep knowledge from the back of your mind. As you become more knowledgeable you may discover that the old wisdom comes forth in a whole new light.
Remember how stupid your parents were when you were 15 and how nicely they had matured when you turned 30? It works the same on horseback.

My very first teacher was my grandfather. Being a cavalryman all his life, he was rather demanding. The horse material was perhaps not the most suitable for a rank beginner, since what lived in his fields were usually young remounts who were barely broke.

Grandpa would lovingly pick me off the ground each time the horse delivered me to mother earth, make me catch the horse and then put me back on board. Bareback, with the sweat of the horse burning my legs and that warm horse fragrance in my nose, I was in heaven.

Eventually, I got a proper outfit and moved on to a regular riding school, but I never will forget the pleasure and pain of those summer days in southern Sweden and the voice of my first instructor patiently repeating the basic rules of riding, which still ring true today.

If you get pointed in the right direction from the very beginning, you’ll forever have a solid foundation to build on, which makes your entire riding experience a journey forward. It’s then safe to go on and experiment with clinics and try all kinds of horses without losing your direction or having to backtrack.
Lots of interesting and expensive experiences can be bought using MasterCard, but when you’re in trouble and have a solid basic education to fall back on . . . priceless!

Anne Gribbons

Swedish-born Anne Gribbons moved to the United States in 1972 and has trained 12 horses to Grand Prix. Her trainers have included: Col. Bengt Ljungquist, Harry Boldt, Herbert Rehbein, Dr. Volker Moritz and Klaus Balkenhol. As an instructor, she’s coached four riders to U.S. Dressage Federation gold medals and seven to silver. She began writing Between Rounds columns in 1995.

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