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What to do with a student who is emotionally unstable UPDATE PAGE 7

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  • What to do with a student who is emotionally unstable UPDATE PAGE 7

    I am posting this under an alter in the off chance the the student in question is a lurker.

    I have a student I have been teaching for about a year and a half. In that time, and with the help of a very special pony, she has progressed from a very tense, and anxious rider, to garnering ribbons at the Novice level in eventing. This student is in her late teens/early 20s and has, shall we say, an unusual family situation. (The point of this statement being, it's not shocking that she is perhaps, a little off).

    Other local professionals who have worked with her before me have all praised me for the positive changes in her riding, and her attitude, and I am flattered and very proud of how the three of us (she, I, and her pony) have come. However, there are some serious emotional, bordering on mental health type issues with this student, and I am beginning to feel a bit out of my depth and am hoping for some good advice.

    To start with, she is hyper sensitive about anything percieved as criticism--a perfectionist to the extreme. At any given moment in a lesson a simple correction such as "Put your hands down" or "Drop your heel" may result in a complete hysterical breakdwon, complete with tears, sobbing, "i can't" and storming off. If she doesn't break down in to hysterics, any correction or suggestion is invariably met with some long winded justification of why she wasn't doing it in the first place.

    Second, her language is atrocious. I mean bordering on Tourette's Syndrome atrocious. I'm not exactly "gosh golly gee" in the language department, but she uses the f-word almost reflexiviely, as though a sentence can't be compelted without it. I have corrected her on it, kindly at first, but recently more sharpley when she dropped the f-bomb twice in the span of 5 minutes in front of prospective clients with small children. These corrections are met with, you guessed it, hysterical sobbing breakdowns.

    Third, when at shows, she gets something in to her head, and refuses to believe anybody. At a recent competition we watched a previous competiitor who had no business in the ring nearly fall off at every fence, causing the crowd to gasp and the officials to speak with her after her round. When my student went, she had a generally good, though certainly not perfect, round with one rail down. She broke down outside the ring, screaming that she looked just like the other competitor, and refused to be persuaded otherwise and cried about it for three hours.

    Finally, she does just freak out and cry sometimes with no apprent trigger at all. I'm talking about seeing her grooming, and just crying. She also has no concept of boundaries or personal space. I cannot tell you the number of times I have literally knocked her over, because I have turned around quickly and she was standing an inch behind me.

    I know from a previous instructor of hers that in high school she was forced by one of her parents to go for psychiatric care, and was put on some kind of medication that left her so blissed out she routinely showed up for lessons missing key pieces of tack such as the saddle. That expereince clearly spooked her, because now you can't even get her to take a tylenol.

    This came to a head for me yesterday, as I've arrangd for her to get some extra lessons on our semi-reitred CCI** horse. I thought it would be a nice treat for her to ride something so schooled, and work on her aids and position and get a feel for some of "the tricks". He's a big guy, and a pretty scopey mover, and thus requires more athleticism to sit than her current mount. Instead of rising to the challenge, she compeltely lost it, berated herself, sobbed, screamed (to the point that my assistant came out to check on me) and generally stated, in an accustaory tone, than we she sat the way I suggested "it felt like sh--".

    I will admit, not proudly so, that that was the straw the broke the camel's back. I took the reins from her, told her to get off, and that if she didn't appreciate what a gift this opportunity was, then she sure as hell could get out of the way of someone else who would appreciate the gift.

    She departed, in tears, screaming, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

    So. Now what. She has apologized, which I have accepted. But I'm just about out of patience. I think there is a good person in there, and I AM proud of the good things we've accomplished. I suspect strongly that there is a component of mental illness there, but as she is an adult I don't know that it matters what I think. But I don't want her public hysterics reflecting on my program. The irony is, the locals that know her, that fact that I have her doing the things we are doing successfully relfects GREAT on my program, LOL, but to newbies, I suspect it's not the best image.

    Since everytime I try to talk to her about anything remotely negative, she loses it completely, I doubt I can have a meaningful conversation with her about her problems. I feel sorry for her, and want to help her, but am not sure exactly how much of this I can do anything about. I don't feel that she is dangerous to me or my place, and I have never seen her take any of this out on a horse (the first time I saw something like that it would be the last--that is a line that I would never allow to be crossed).

    So, sage cothers, any advice? Giver her her walking papers? Any methods to help her get better? Keep going like I am? Give up?
    Last edited by TeachingAlter; Apr. 21, 2008, 03:51 PM.

  • #2
    Around what age is she? Perhaps she's having her first experiences with mood swings, etc? That's kind of what it sounds like to me. Puberty strikes again!

    EDIT; Missed the part where you said her age, sorry!!!!!
    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


    • #3
      Do you know if she has a specific condition?
      A troubled homelife, imho, is not an excuse for an adult to act this way. If she can show horses, she can control her emotions. This would be my usual response, but it's really hard to tell without the details.
      It sounds like she has major control issues.


      • #4
        Cut her loose, as gently and kindly as you can. It sounds to me like you've bent over backwards trying to help this young woman. It also sounds to me like her problems are far beyond your scope as an equestrian professional. You have been kind beyond measure to attempt to help her to the extent that you have. But, problems or not, psychiatric issues or not, one cannot behave the way she has around any horse, and expect to be successful, or even safe. She is a liability to herself and the people around her, and I don't think you can afford her any longer.

        Good luck. It's a tough situation.
        In loving memory of Laura Jahnke.
        A life lived by example, done too soon.


        • #5
          Said very kindly.. I think you probably let this go on wayyyy too long before you corrected it.

          I agree w/ESG. Cut her loose, this relationship probably cannot be healed. It wasn't whole in the first place.
          "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
          The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


          • #6
            I'd tell her that she has some emotional issues that are interfering with her riding and making you feel that until she gets help, you are no longer comfortable trying to teach her. Maybe that will encourage her to get the help she obviously needs. If not, she's no longer your problem.


            • #7
              Sounds like she has some serious problems that need to be taken care of by a Dr. and not you. Depression, bipolar to name a few. These type of things you or her cannot fix on your own. They make good medications for these. I wish you the best.


              • #8
                I'm feeling some sympathy for her. And you. And I think you have every reason to feel proud of what you have accomplished together. Clearly, she wouldn't be like she was if she had her way...and maybe some good counseling / medication would help her. It would be great if you two could talk about it without her flying into hysterics. But it seems like she DOES appreciate riding with you and the progress she's making. She may not be the easiest student to work with, but she's made great strides. If you can find a way to work with her and maybe make some minor corrections to the behaviors that bother you the most (the swearing?) and then work on the riding issues as a longer term, talked through, journey, this could still be a very valuable experience for you both. It seems like fast change and stressful showing events make things more difficult for her and may need to be worked through differently.

                Maybe it's because I recently watched Seabiscuit again, but I come back to "You don't throw away a whole life just 'cuz it's banged up some." (or something close to that)



                • #9

                  I realize that from a business standpoint, it's pretty easy to take the "cut and run" approach--because frankly, this ISN'T your problem and you don't OWE anyone.

                  That said, as a human being, I applaud your attitude. If it is indeed mental illness (and it sure sounds like the gal might have a few things going on there--like anxiety, codependence, anyone? anyone?)--then the thing to remember is that you have to set good boundaries and not get sucked in. You are not equipped to counsel her--she needs professional help.

                  If she is indeed a young adult (ie: not a minor), I guess I would sit her down and say, "Student, I care about you. Not only as your coach, but as a friend. I need to tell you some things and I need you to listen to me.....and then I would say essentially what you've said here. Just tell her what you are seeing. And tell her that you will support whatever decision she makes with regards to getting help but that you cannot/will not permit her behavior to compromise your horses, your students or your business.

                  It is not your job or anyone elses to "fix" this for her. She has to do it. And she may well know there's something wrong but doesn't know where to start. Having one bad experience with psychiatry, counseling etc can really delay people getting the help they need later.

                  I certainly feel for you.

                  And her.
                  A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

                  Might be a reason, never an excuse...


                  • #10
                    First- I would keep her around as long as you dare stand it , Honestly horses and per say you may be all she has that "holds her together"|.Im almost certain that she looks up to you and is quite thankful that you have given her a chance and continue to stick by her.

                    Second- I havent a clue how to approach someone with such a sensitive mental state. But I would think that her being in her 20's should know that shes just not quite right and possibly has no idea how to handle it or get it fixed. Shes been babied far to long. If she needs to put her heels down tell her to put her damn heels down. Shes not learning.

                    I feel bad for you for being in this situation and I dont think its fair, But I do think she looks up to you and in some ways needs you more than you may think. I can Imagine it would be pretty hard for a young adult to profusly apologize for the actions you described,And yet she did and obviously realized she was wrong. So at least after awhile she rational.

                    ETA- I agree with BuddyRoo 100%
                    Ride it like you stole it....ohhh sh*t


                    • #11
                      I agree with ESG. It's time to think about how this gal's problems are affecting you as well. Also, cutting her loose may compel her to seek the professional help she needs. Often people don't seek help until they've lost something that is important to them, once they realize it was THEIR behavior that caused their loss.

                      I sure don't envy you. Regardless of her family/emotional problems -- or even if her problem is organic in nature -- you can't enable her either by keeping her on. Her apologize is fine, but it's kind of like an abuser who is sincerely sorry for being abusive...then goes on to abuse again.
                      www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
                      "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
                      Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


                      • #12
                        Her "stuff" is not your problem. It's so sad, I feel for this young woman. You sound like a wonderfully generous, kind, and tolerant soul. It sounds like it's probably best for your sanity to gently, gently let her go.


                        • #13
                          There are some mental conditions such as schizophrenia (sp?) that manifest in late teens to early twenties that progressively get worse without treatment. These can be perfectly "normal" kids/teenagers and then their illness kicks in and whammo--brand new game. I am in no way a professional--just have dealt with this on a familial level. As she is an adult there is not much you can do, unless she is still dependent on her family--then perhaps you could speak to the parents as a previous poster suggested.

                          It sounds like you have done an amazing job thus far and I totally understand you reaching a breaking point. I guess I would do all that I felt comfortable doing (ie speak to parents or even to her about it) and then if no effort is made or if it gets to be too much, I would cut her loose as gently as possible, especially considering her fragile state. My uneducated guess would be that horses could be one of her only refuges.

                          Good luck and don't beat yourself up--you've done more and put up with more than most would have already!
                          Proud Member of Wood Hill Farm who's motto is "I'm not going sober!"


                          • #14
                            Aw, how sad

                            I would sit her down and tell her that you understand some of this is not within her control, but that you can't have her disrupting your program either. Ask her whether she can think of some solutions.

                            Write up a contract, which outlines her expected behavior, and have her sign it.

                            How sad that she's gotten to 20 with such a severe disorder and has no treatment in place I would say to make mental health treatment part of the contract, but that might not be workable.


                            • #15
                              I agree with ESG as well. I'm not envious of your situation. I hope you can detangle yourself sooner rather than later.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by jetsmom View Post
                                I'd tell her that she has some emotional issues that are interfering with her riding and making you feel that until she gets help, you are no longer comfortable trying to teach her. Maybe that will encourage her to get the help she obviously needs. If not, she's no longer your problem.
                                Ditto: your honesty in the situation just may be what she needs. she can either take the opportunity to get help and return a better student or not. That way you are putting the ball in her court.
                                \"A smart lady knows its ok to change her mind, a damn fool never does\"


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Holly'er Than Thou View Post
                                  Her "stuff" is not your problem. It's so sad, I feel for this young woman. You sound like a wonderfully generous, kind, and tolerant soul. It sounds like it's probably best for your sanity to gently, gently let her go.
                                  The only individual I know who rode and had periodic emotional meltdowns -- for example after some family tragedy there were periods where she'd spend five days in bed depressed -- found a very capable shrink.

                                  Not just a talker but a talker who wrote prescriptions that didn't debilitate or make her dysfunctional.

                                  For most of the time when she was in active therapy everything went well.

                                  Before sending the young woman off into the abyss of having been cut loose by the only trainer who ever had made progress with her, why not encourage the student to establish a partnership with such a therapist in your mutual best interest for future progress.

                                  In fact you could make it a condition for your continuing to work together, blazing a pathway to either fork in the road at the same time. Then she can make the choice and you won't be the bad guy if she doesn't like the idea of getting the help she needs.

                                  Not to derail the thread, but how does the horse react to these breakdowns? Like many of the 'better' individuals among companion animals, some critters are as oblivious as rocks and others seem incredibly attuned to the moods of their rider.


                                  • #18
                                    Thank you everyone for your kind and useful responses. And the support.

                                    EqTrainer, no offense taken, and you are absolutely right--I didn't lay down the boundaries early enough. I'm especaiily irritated at myself about this because I do have experience with mental illness (it's in my family) and I DO know better. In my defense, I misinterpreted some of the early behavior as baggae from a previous mount that is so infamously terrible that I have complete strangers approach me to ask about it ("I see you're teaching so and so. Does she still have that black mare? No? Thank god because [person then launches in to a hair raising story of some death defying behvaior the horse once exhibited in their presence] ). As an aside, I never saw or dealt with this horse, it was gone before this person came to me for lessons and looking for a new horse.

                                    You guys pretty much have solidifed what I have been feeling--I need to draw a line in the sand so to speak, with maybe some wiggle room should she decide to seek help/treatment.

                                    Let me toss another wrinkle out there for advice. My husband is also involved in the business, and he is kind and empathetic, and totally inexpereinced with any sort of mental illness. He has a very old fashioned view of these sorts of things, and distrusts medications and psychiatric care. He thinks I'm over reacting, and that if we just give her time, her continued positive expereinces will fix her right up. He would definately be an enabler--he has a resucers personality. But he just doesn't get that mental illness is just that, illness, that needs treatment. If I draw the line, I know he'll back me up . . . but it would be easier if I could get him to see what I see and support the decision 100%.

                                    Thanks again everybody.


                                    • #19
                                      You have a very clear picture of the situation. You are doing good and you know it but are wondering how much damage your reputation takes when she is recognized **by those who do not understand** as being part of your program. Very tough call. The other issue is whether you are burning out. I spent many years working with clients like this woman. The amount of patience required can be infinite. Even trained therapists will get burned out on patients like this and switch to other specialties for a break or "fire" patients.
                                      If you really believe that your program is being adversely affected, then you need to let her go. You just cannot have your living jeopardized.
                                      As far as patience, I feel for you both. It is sooooo hard for people like her to find people who can understand and work with them. At the same time, you must take care of yourself. And really, you aren't being paid to be a therapist, are you? They make a lot more per hour than you do! Really, you are being a saint, and doing a service that not a lot of people could do. It's like horse rescue. You do it because you can, and they need you. Sounds like she needs you, too. Will she be the little piece of the world that you save, or is the cost, both personal and business, too high? If it's too high, cut her loose. If not, well, what are sainthoods going for these days?
                                      "The mighty oak is a nut who stood its ground"

                                      "...you'll never win Olympic gold by shaking a carrot stick at a warmblood..." see u at x


                                      • #20
                                        Going to don my flame suit here and give some thoughts and suggestions....
                                        Is an ultimatum along the lines of "behave or else" going to work, or will it be another trigger?
                                        I agree that she DOES need help - does she have a compassionate parent/guardian/caregiver who might be able to shed some light, or help this young lady arrange help?
                                        There are some things you could incorporate into your lessons....
                                        -sit down over coffee with her in a quiet way and maybe just address the language to start with. Ask HER what she feels a consequence should be if she swears.....it could be something as seemingly silly as having to post without stirrups - something that might make her monitor what she is saying. If it IS Tourette's, you might need to find out how (or if) it can be controlled.
                                        -could video be your friend? Tape her ride, and see if SHE can critique what she is doing well, and what she needs to fix. She could watch videos of good and not so good riders, and learn how to critique by watching. Ask her what she would say to the rider to get them to improve (role playing even....and it might give you some insight on to what to say when she needs input. Even start out by having her tape YOU riding and see if together you can see strengths and weaknesses. That way it's not focussing only on HER, but on RIDING. Maybe even visualization exercises would work.
                                        -at the end of the lesson, focus on something positive. What did she do best? How has she progressed? SHE can be the one to identify it, and you can give her a boost by affirming that. When you feel like everything you do is a screw-up, being caught doing RIGHT can really provide a lift.
                                        I realize that you have a TOUGH deal here, and maybe these ideas are just super-optimistic. But, regardless - bravo to you.
                                        Last edited by DeeThbd; Apr. 15, 2008, 05:12 PM. Reason: more bright ideas!
                                        Founder of the I LOFF my worrywart TB clique!
                                        Official member of the "I Sing Silly Songs to My Animals!" Clique