Taking On A New Role

Dec 26, 2014 - 3:37 PM
Katy Groesbeck's transition from student to coach is going smoothly.

There are some changes in life that are abrupt; even when anticipated, they knock you on your butt and it can take a while before you’re standing squarely again and ready for the next challenge.  That was my move to the East Coast last year—even though I knew it was coming and I was as prepared for it as I would ever be, it was a huge adjustment and took a period of several months before I really felt at ease with the new pace and direction of my life.          

My move to central Ohio, however, has been one of those changes that seem so natural you can’t even describe the transition. Of course there was a specific sequence of events that brought me out here, but there was no remarkable period during which I felt out of place or that I look back on as a “rough patch.”  I fell into my new routine quickly things seemed to fall into place naturally without undue strain or effort.

The same is true, too, of my transition from rider to coach—for Wort, that is. If you had asked me a year ago (heck, three months ago!) if I would hand over the reins of my long-time friend and partner, a horse who watched me get on the school bus every morning from his field; a horse whose mane caught my tears after my first big heartbreak; a horse who was the only thing familiar in my life when I moved from a small farming town to Los Angeles for college; a horse who took me from novice to CCI*** over a span of 12 years—well, let’s just say I entertained the idea but it wasn’t without a lot of emotional turmoil.

Wort has literally been THE staple in my life for over a decade and although as professionals we have to remove emotions from all business decisions, I wasn’t entirely sure that anything regarding Wort WAS a business decision. It was—and is—a part of my life that I have decided remains in the “personal” sphere and I am allowed to be selfish and greedy and hysterical and ultimately downright irrational when it comes to any big decision regarding that horse.…and I dare you to tell me otherwise!

But then one day a quiet, wide-eyed young woman came out to the farm. She had been without a horse of her own to compete for too long and was looking for a solid partner to help her get to Young Rider championships before she went off to college in the fall.

She had been looking for “the one” for a while but there always seemed to be one roadblock or another. It only seemed natural to introduce her to Wort, and it was clear from the minute she saw him that she was going to be the most overprotective, gushing, cossetting stepmother a horse could want. Watching Wort take Anna around the cross-country course that day, eyes bright and tail high, I was well reminded of my journey with him.

Anna and Wort!

Without realizing, watching them together that afternoon, I had already accepted and welcomed the fact that my relationship with Wort would be different from there on out. People ask me a lot if it’s weird to see someone else ride him, and I can honestly say that I don’t ever even think about it; and I really thought I would. My boyfriend says it’s strange to see someone else on him, and my parents would probably say the same, but for me it has been one of those natural changes to now be the person on the ground.  

And although I can and do provide insight on his many quirks, on his strengths and weaknesses, I try not to impose my own relationship with Wort over the one he is developing with Anna. I of course can predict problem areas and try to head them off based on my own ample experience with this particular horse, but for the most part I try to stay impartial and let them find their own two feet (six feet?) to stand on before I intervene with my own interpretation of what she’s feeling or experiencing with him.

To tell you the truth, being able to coach someone else on my own horse has brought all of the many lessons I had with Buck over the last year into crystal-clear focus. Concepts that I struggled to feel as a rider are sometimes PAINFULLY obvious now as a coach, but at least I now have full appreciation for the knowledge Buck was trying to impart to me. It’s satisfying to have quiet little “aha” moments of my own as I teach Anna. “OK, so THAT’S why he kept yelling at me. It makes perfect sense now!” 

It’s doubly gratifying because Anna is a Mini-Me and falls into many of the same bad habits as I do; when I am helping her I find myself reliving many moments of my own from my days with BDJ, and I have caught myself more than once repeating familiar phrases of his. And the great thing is that because I have had his world class eyes on me, helping me correct my flaws and strengthen my weakness, I can relay it directly to Anna who—riding the exact same horse, no less—struggles with many of the same things.

Not surprisingly, the more I teach the better (I think) I ride. As I ride and school my horses, I try to keep in mind what I would be telling my students; I try to catch any discontinuities or keep in mind the things I did to problem solve so I can use it in the future. When I ride in front of my students, especially, I push myself to set a shining example for them, but I TRY to ride all the time as if they are there. When all else fails, “Do as I say, not as I do!” is a great catch-all to gloss over any number of riding sins!

Teaching has also helped me to become a better student. When you are taking lessons, especially from a person of considerable esteem and talent, it is very easy (for me, I’ll refrain from speaking for everyone) to be embarrassed about making mistakes. And the more you worry about embarrassing yourself, the stiffer you get in your riding and, invariably, you do extra embarrassing things. Ask me how I know.

But I digress. The POINT is that embarrassment, although natural and understandable, is a totally ridiculous reaction to making mistakes. And not for the obvious reason, which is that we have to make mistakes to get better, and if our coaches didn’t see us mess it up now and then, they’d be out of a job with nothing to teach us. I’m saying it’s a ridiculous reaction because any coach who’s truly invested in your success doesn’t give two lumps of coal that you’ve made a mistake or goofed it up; your coach is already (or has already been) pinpointing the error, recalculating, thinking about what the next step is to correct the mistake and help you to do it better and BE better. 

When I go home and unwind from the day, which typically includes a debriefing of the day’s events with my boyfriend, I don’t EVER think or say, “Oh man, you should have seen this kid today—what a disaster!” Instead, I’m brainstorming new exercises or new ways of presenting a concept to help bring clarity and understanding to my students; I’m looking back at lessons I’ve taken, reading books, and looking through articles.

Personally, I find that when it doesn’t go quite right during a lesson, I’m the one who takes it hard because I want to make sure I’m setting up my pupils up fpr success. I try to take careful stock of what works, what doesn’t work, what phrases are more understandable than others, and so on.  When I’m able, I jot down a few notes after each lesson to leave myself a reminder of what I’d like to try or accomplish in the next lesson.

Of course, there is also the glaring fact that almost any coach has been in his or her students’ shoes at one point or another. They can completely empathize with you when you make a total mess of things because they’ve done it too. Maybe they did it 50 years ago or maybe they did it yesterday, but I guarantee they’ve done it.

After all, we coaches are human too. 

After uprooting her life on the West Coast for a chance to work with Buck Davidson and BDJ Equestrian, blogger Katy Groesbeck is now stepping out on her own and setting up shop in Ohio. Follow her adventures along with her trusty steeds, Wort and Ruler, as she gets KG Eventing off the ground and makes her way into the world as a self-employed professional horsewoman in 2015!

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