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what makes a good riding teacher?

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  • what makes a good riding teacher?

    I'm writing my next column about teaching and why riders take lessons forever. My husband thinks after 40 years of riding I should already know what I'm doing. He doesn't get why I still take lessons (or more to the point,why I still pay for lessons He hasn't yet tallied up all the money I've spent on trainers, but I know he's thinking about it.

    I'll also be writing about what makes a good teacher and what makes a bad teacher, having just returned from a clinic with a brilliant horseman but terrible teacher made even worse by far too many riders he was attempting to teach

    So my questions to my fellow riders are:
    Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?
    What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
    Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?

    And any other thoughts you have about teaching and riding.

    Thanks
    Jody Jaffe

  • #2
    I keep taking lessons because a) I want to continue to progress in my riding, not stay at the same level or backslide and b) so that I get experienced eyes on the ground to avoid me getting into bad habits or inadvertently teaching my horses any. Lessons also give me a goal and something to work on, which again helps both me and my horses progress.

    Clinics are useful because a different trainer will sometimes phrase a concept differently and in such a way that you just get it. It's also an excuse to take a young horse somewhere and see how they do away from home, in a group, etc. And they're fun : )

    Good trainers have horsemanship, experience, a good eye, and effective communication.

    Comment


    • #3
      My daughter is taking lessons from a friend who is internationally competitive - she and her mother have a wonderful lesson program where they make good people, not just good horsemen and horsewomen. My husband (super-non-horsey) was shocked to learn that my internationally competitive, licensed judge, barn full of clients friend had an instructor for herself. One NEVER gets to the point that a pair of excellent eyes on the ground cannot be of some benefit. And sometimes - for any of us - we are so close to the forest that we cannot see the trees. Particularly if we are struggling so resolve a situation that's been troubling us for some time.

      The best trainer I ever had was very demanding about every aspect of horsemanship. His standards were so high that I at first thought I had no place in being a part of his barn with my tiny, limited, crazy OTTB and rough & ready style of doing things. Without taking up any more words than necessary, it was obvious we did not belong with the caliber of riders or horses in his stable. Interestingly enough, that didn't sway him from taking us on. The ridiculously high bar he set drove us all to challenge ourselves to be better than we ever thought we could be. It instilled a sense of pride in everything we did - from picking out hooves to scrubbing water buckets to braiding for Grand Prix & cleaning tack. Not only was he a phenomenal rider and horseman, he was a great teacher because he had a great eye and sense of the horse - whichever horse or horse/rider pair he was working with at the time - and he coached everyone from beginners to Olympians. He could articulate to the rider what changes needed to be made in order to achieve the desired result. He never sugar coated anything, though, and thin skinned riders who couldn't take criticism were quickly weeded out of the "program." He was demanding, but never any more demanding of us than he was of himself. If you weren't going to step up and be demanding of yourself, well, that would weed you out of the program, as well.

      I'm an old lady now and no longer driven to compete but the standards of horsemanship instilled in me by that trainer are still evident in the way I do everything horsey. We don't settle for less than we have to whether it's sweeping out the barn aisle, cleaning tack, or getting our 20 meter circles right. I have found myself quoting him time and again, "I will have time to be tired when I'm finished doing this!" (Horses always come first.) The best trainers are horsemen/horsewomen and they endeavor to stamp that on all their students. I'm not sure one can be a truly great rider without being a great horsewoman/horseman.

      ETA What makes a bad teacher??? Lots of things but one's motivation to teach (regardless of what they are teaching) must be righteous...they gotta be in this for all the right reasons.
      Last edited by Finzean; Dec. 18, 2012, 09:36 AM. Reason: addition

      Comment


      • #4
        What makes a good riding instructor? I think that is a complicated question. The ideal instructor for a child may not be right for an adult beginner. An experienced rider needs a different kind of coach than the kid or adult who is just starting or coming back to riding after a long break.

        I do think all instructors need patience, empathy for both the horse and rider, and the ability to break concepts down to their most simple pieces. A good instructor will also have many, many different ways to explain the same concept, as each horse and rider needs different things to help them grasp those concepts.

        One of the best instructors I ever worked with is a master of finding out what a rider and/ or horse is good at and building on those strengths. She is very good at finding analogies that are unique to the rider she is teaching, and uses those analogies to help explain concepts. For instance, when she discovered I had spent a year seriously studying yoga, she took our common knowledge of yoga poses to help me understand where I should put my kegs, hips, etc to help me sit better and aid my horse more effectively.

        My current instructor is a master of making the difficult simple, for both horse and rider. He is patient and has a different way of working with each horse/rider based on what each unique pair needs.

        As for why I am still taking lessons, now more than ever, even though I have been riding for 40 years, I can only answer with what a wise friend of mine says about riding, and dressage in particular--it has "no definable end point." Although I have ridden for most of my life, I have NOT ridden or showed in the PSG, and that is what both my horse and I are working on. So I need lessons! And besides, lessons are just FUN

        Comment


        • #5
          When I'm looking for a new instructor, my number one rule is "No screamers." I absolutely will not ride with someone who yells at me. Back when I was a kid, I had no say in the matter and had one instructor who routinely made me cry. In college, one of the school's instructors was a screamer and I had to put up with it or I couldn't ride in the program. Perhaps that has made me more sensitive to this, but I have an absolute no tolerance policy on this.

          Another biggy is that the instructor has to be willing to work cheerfully and enthusiastically with my goals. The place I lesson now has some students and boarders who are active in the show ring and some who couldn't care less about the showing. My instructor works happily with both and never pressures anyone to do anything they aren't interested in doing.
          "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
          that's even remotely true."

          Homer Simpson

          Comment


          • #6
            This reply might be a little disjointed because I'm multitasking, ineffectively!

            Context: I take a dressage lesson every Friday morning at 8am, rain, snow, sleet or hail. I spend very little on myself otherwise, but this weekly lesson is the one thing I do for myself and I guard the opportunity fiercely. I've also taught kids and therapeutic riding for many years, on a small scale (<10 hours/week). I am a much, much better teacher when I'm taking regular lessons.

            What makes a good riding teacher? first of all, you can't teach what you can't do. A good instructor has the depth of experience with the particular style of riding they're teaching, the type of horse they typically work with, the level of showing their students might participate in, all that. They need both a broad base of experience - what do you do with a western trained QH who comes to you for dressage lessons? - and depth - can they explain to the middle schooler on mom's retired PSG horse why he's switching leads all the time?

            They also need to understand how people learn and be flexible enough in their teaching style to work with lots of different learners. Does your rider glaze over when you launch into an explanation of the theory behind the movement? or do they come to life after you explain the how and why and then let them try it? A good instructor reads both the horse and the rider at the same time and tries to be the bridge between what the rider is trying to get the horse to do, and what the horse thinks the rider is asking him to do!

            One other thing - I think a good instructor knows when to quit. I mean that they wrap up the lesson while things are going well, before the horse is too tired or the rider has shut down. I can't tell you how often I see horses pushed past their level of fitness in pursuit of that last round when the rider is supposed to suddenly be able to do the thing they've been struggling with for the past hour (or month). A good instructor doesn't set the rider up to pick a fight. They shape the situation to help the horse be successful and to help the rider learn what they need to learn. They have a million schooling figures or gymnastics or exercises in their bag of tricks and can pull one out at a moment's notice when they observe what needs to be taught that day. A good instructor recognizes that most of the time, the horse is really the one doing the teaching and the instructor is simply translating for the human on top.

            A good instructor walks the talk. They live the standards they expect to see in their riders. They put the horse's best interest first. They recognize that they are a role model and take that seriously.

            Comment


            • #7
              A good riding instructor is one who knows that not all people learn the same way and is able to help you learn in whatever way works best for you.

              You might be the type where having your instructor come over and physically show you where to put your hands helps you know where they should be. You might be the type that the theory behind why you put your hands there helps you know where they should be. You might be the type that theory just confuses you and your instructor just telling you that you need your hands a certain way works great for you, or maybe seeing another rider gives you the light bulb moment. The bottom line is a good instructor can teach to each student the way they need to be taught.

              Comment


              • #8
                So my questions to my fellow riders are:
                Why keep taking lessons? Its the best way to insure that I ride correctly and with purpose at least once a week.
                What so they do for you? They show me what I need to work on.
                What makes a good teacher? The ability to see what is going on with a rider/horse and succintly explain both what to do and how to do it correctly.
                What makes a bad teacher? Lacking either the knowledge or ability to teach you how to ride correctly.
                attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? To get a different perspective on your riding, your horse, or both.
                What do you hope to gain by riding in one? I would attend to learn a new skill to deal with an ongoing bad habit or problem.
                And any other thoughts you have about teaching and riding. As opposed to a good trainer, I don't think that one necessarily has to be a great rider to be a good riding instructor. They need to be knowledgable and have a honed eye for what is correct, as well as the ability to relay the information to their students, as opposed to a good trainer, who needs to be able to ride correctly and effectively to teach a horse. A good riding instructor needs to be able to communicate to humans verbally, a good trainer needs to be able to communicate to horses physically. And when you find someone who has the knowledge and skill to do both, you've struck the trainer lottery!
                Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
                Witherun Farm
                http://witherun-farm.blogspot.com/

                Comment


                • #9
                  So my questions to my fellow riders are:
                  Why keep taking lessons? Riding is like any art form. There is no on/off switch.

                  What so they do for you? The feedback and insight from educated eyes on the ground have no equal when it come to application and correction

                  What makes a good teacher? One who can put themselves in the place of the rider. They must have empathy and humor and the wisdom of when to use them.

                  What makes a bad teacher? [COLOR="#008000"]One who belittles or looks down on the rider. Who's ego gets in the way of instruction.[/COLOR]

                  Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? Viva la difference! One never knows where or when that lightbulb will turn on.

                  What do you hope to gain by riding in one? The benefit of the wisdom of an expert.

                  And any other thoughts you have about teaching and riding. "To practice equestrian art is to establish a conversation on a higher level with the horse; a dialogue of courtesy and finesse. The rider obtains the collaboration of the horse by the slightest hint of a demand, and the spectator can then see the sublime beauty of this communion. He will be touched by the grace and the form, as if he were hearing the most grandiose music". Nuno Oliveira. says it all I think.
                  Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I had a really good change-of-plan this year. I had reached a plateau with my mare in dressage. My trainer can't hop on her for obvious reasons. (errr... ok, not obvious to everyone, but I am an elf, and my mare is called TinyPony for good reasons. My trainer is regular sized). So I sent the pony off for training, but took my trainer with me. We met with the pony-trainer for an overnight stay, and left her there for a month. This moved the pony's training along a huge amount, obviously, but since the rider was 7 hours away, it didn't advance my education much. (The trainer was JT Burnley, and his wife Wren, who is Teeny-Tiny !)

                    So then when i got the pony back, we found a visiting clinician who was highly recommended by my pony's trainer.

                    My big step forward was .... spending a bunch of extra money in order to keep everything consistent.

                    1) expensive lessons with the visiting clinician who can ensure that I'm riding the pony in line with how Wren Burnley had trained her.

                    2) Paying extra to have my home trainer show up and watch me ride

                    3) Paying extra so that my home trainer could ride with the visiting clinician.

                    So a huge extra initial expenditure. But the value has been enormous. There has been no drop-off in pony's education, having come back to her numpty mom. She's still improving daily. We're all working together to achieve the same things.

                    In order for teaching and training to be optimally effective, you all have to be on the same page. I think the problem is that it's very difficult to know which set of trainers you need to be with, before you've tried a bunch.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Why keep taking lessons? What so they do for you?
                      A lesson isn't always the 'do this-do that' sort of thing that someone can think of. Often, as the rider progresses it becomes more of a discussion. Trainer on the ground can say what they see and suggest things that might help, rider/trainer on the horse, can discuss what they are feeling and so they can bounce ideas off of each other. It brings new ideas to the table and adds a bigger knowledge base to work from when working with a horse. Person on the ground may see something that the rider doesn't feel or does subconsciously.

                      For me, I take lessons because I know that I have way more to learn and I want to get better. A trainer will point out my flaws, like that I subconsciously tend to chase fences and see the long spot, and that I brace against my stirrups in the canter, or that I drop my right shoulder. All of those are things that I wouldn't pick up on as quickly but when fixed things go much smoother and I can progress and work on something else.

                      What makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher?
                      A trainer needs to be patient but have high standards. They don't need to be the best rider in the world, but they need to know all the concepts. The problem with some of the top riders is that they can just get on and it works but they can't really explain it to someone else. Both of my trainers have really worked to get to this point in their riding so they can break the bigger concepts down into the smaller parts. Instead of saying 'more forward' or 'make him rounder' they can explain how in more detail. They have to have the high standards to demand that you improve and not just accept your flaws as they are, but they need to be patient in your improvement and let things go as slowly as they might need to. Someone without the patience can push you too fast or too hard and then you can loose confidence.

                      Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer? What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                      A clinic is an opportunity to ride for someone else, other than your trainer, and hear what they have to say. They might have a different explanation that works better for you, or a different exercise that does the magic trick of working for your horse. It is a change of scenery and pace. Not to mention auditing you can watch the trainer teach and pick up some ideas to try at home simply from that.
                      "I'm too sexy for my blanket, too sexy for my blanket, these mares-they should take it..." (J-Lu) - Featuring The Skypizzle Pony aka Classic Skyline

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by NoSuchPerson View Post
                        When I'm looking for a new instructor, my number one rule is "No screamers." I absolutely will not ride with someone who yells at me. Back when I was a kid, I had no say in the matter and had one instructor who routinely made me cry. In college, one of the school's instructors was a screamer and I had to put up with it or I couldn't ride in the program. Perhaps that has made me more sensitive to this, but I have an absolute no tolerance policy on this.

                        Another biggy is that the instructor has to be willing to work cheerfully and enthusiastically with my goals. The place I lesson now has some students and boarders who are active in the show ring and some who couldn't care less about the showing. My instructor works happily with both and never pressures anyone to do anything they aren't interested in doing.
                        Same here. I shut down when people yell at me. I too had one of those as a kid, and in college I was terrified by the head coach. Luckily I was able to ride with one of his assistants most of the time!

                        Plus I'm an adult now. You only get to yell at me if you are paying me to work for you (i.e. my boss)!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Why lesson? For me, riding is a lifelong learning process. Because it's a relationship and both parties are sentient, there will be good days and bad. Some things work for one party and you have to try something else for the other. It's like dancing or ice skating or gymnastics in the sense that you can get better and better and you're still never "done."

                          What makes a good trainer?
                          Obviously a trainer should be a very good rider. S/he should truly care for the safety of the horses and humans and instill proper standards and horsemanship, with no exceptions.
                          Patient, but only to an extent. Patient in explaining things, but not so accepting of imperfections that riders are not challenged or standards are sacrificed. Trainers should be able to explain things in different ways to different people. They should be able to see different capabilities and interests in their students and tailor the lesson/program to fit. Then review that periodically to see what's working and isn't.
                          Sometimes a student needs to be pushed to get over a fear or obstacle so they can progress. And sometimes they just need support and acceptance to feel safe and have fun.
                          I've been with an experienced trainer who really didn't provide sufficient feedback. It's very important for the trainer to tell the student how to improve. The best trainers will also give homework.
                          Born under a rock and owned by beasts!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Lots of qualities

                            1) self-sacrifice and dedication- A good instructor will answer that frantic text about poop or feed, etc while on vacation. :-)
                            2) Honesty about how hard this sport is, what it takes to succeed and how you are progressing
                            3) a sincere wish to improve both the horse and rider through improving their partnership and teaching them skills and confidence
                            4) A good instructor knows when to call in reinforcements such as a clinician or fellow trainer for their input
                            5) A good instructor acts as your horse's advocate
                            6) A good teacher knows when to let go and move their students on to better/more skilled instructors
                            7) A good instructor gives you the skills and the confidence to go it alone
                            8) Needs a really big "bag of tricks" and must be willing to cycle through them to work on your and your horse's issues.
                            9) Is invested personally in your success and I don't mean ribbons
                            10) has a wicked sense of humor and isn't afraid to trot it out when the occasion demands it
                            11) Listens to YOUR goals and helps you work towards them and hopefully beyond them as well
                            Shoulders back, hands down, leg ON!

                            https://clshrs3.wixsite.com/website

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              A good teacher is one who can adapt his/her teaching to the kind of rider they have. Not all people learn the same and one must be part physcologist to be able to communicate effectively. A good teacher can also talk in a way that each rider understands what is being asked of them and to be able to correct in a constructive way. Though popular with a few BNT, screaming and ranting does not make for a good learning experience. Enthusiasum for the job, whether you are teaching the next Olympic champion or a rider whose main goal is a safe and fun ride down the trail.

                              One of the joys of riding horses is the never ending education that is needed to make you the best you can be.Just when you think you know it all, another horse comes along to tell you that you don't know it all!

                              Going to clinics gives a rider a chance to hear something maybe new or maybe what they have been hearing but said in a different way that clicks on a light in their brain.

                              The day you stop learning as a horseman is the day you will start becoming less and less a horseman

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by copper1 View Post
                                A good teacher is one who can adapt his/her teaching to the kind of rider they have. Not all people learn the same and one must be part physcologist to be able to communicate effectively. A good teacher can also talk in a way that each rider understands what is being asked of them and to be able to correct in a constructive way. Though popular with a few BNT, screaming and ranting does not make for a good learning experience.
                                Not sure how you can go on for lines saying everything learns their own way and then say that screaming and ranting does not work. Some people like to learn that way so do not write it off as wrong for everyone just because it does not work for you.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Why keep taking lessons?
                                  With riding and horses, there is always room for improvement.

                                  What so they do for you?
                                  I like to have a pair of eyes helping me from the ground on a weekly basis so I don't develop too many bad habits.


                                  What makes a good teacher?
                                  One that can adjust their methods to both the horse and riders needs.

                                  What makes a bad teacher?
                                  One that lacks flexibility in their syle and methods

                                  Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer?
                                  It is always good to get a second opinion to either point out any weakness or reaffirm you are on the right track for your goals

                                  What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                                  If there is a weakness, the tools to overcome it. If reaffirming I am on the right track for my goals, more tools for my riding toolbox.
                                  I don't always feel up to arguing with your ignorance

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    So my questions to my fellow riders are:
                                    Why keep taking lessons?
                                    Because the day you stop learning is the day you stop progressing.

                                    What so they do for you?
                                    I don't lesson weekly like most riders. I think weekly lessons are essential when developing general riding muscle memory which is a stage i have passed. I no longer find that method of learning effective, but my students do take weekly lessons because they are still developing their position. Instead I go for bursts of education via short courses and clinics.

                                    What makes a good teacher?
                                    I think the first step to a being a great teacher is having a broad knowledge base. They need to have a full understanding of the what's and whys of what needs to be learned. They need to have several ways to accomplish the goal, and even more ways of explaining it. Because this is a kinetic activity to learn, and so few people are kinetic learners, a good teacher can assess your learning style and tailor the lesson to your comprehension. That's not to say that being a kinetic learner makes being taught any easier! I am primarily a kinetic learner, which means feel and muscle memory come naturally to me, but if the teacher lacks the ability to tell me what I should be feeling, I have no way of storing what is correct.
                                    Continuing education is parmount. The instructor needs to be on he never ending journey of education too, or else their teaching can become stagnant.

                                    I am an instructor. I take that role very seriously. I am constantly enrolled in continuing education on ways to teach and communicate, and also to further my riding. My knowledge is only as good to a student as my ability to relay that information in a manner they can comprehend.

                                    What makes a bad teacher?
                                    Lots of things. It's probably best to explain through some of my experiences. I was once taking a test lesson from a lady who was very well known an seemingly liked. I called her to help with some specific things I was working on at the time. I brought my uber hot horse for the the lesson, and at the beginning when mounted, the instructor wanted to put a listening device on me. I requested to dismount, but she insisted I stay mounted. I asked her to hold my horse while I attached the pack. She grabbed only one rein and my horse began to jig sideways while I was fumbling with the pack. I said quickly "both reins both reins!" So that she would see the error of hers that was causing he jigging. She then spent the 45 minutes of the lesson focused on one rein stops and trying to teach my horse to stand still. Neither of which were points I had asked her to help with, nor were her methods effectively accomplishing the goal of helping my horse stand still. I explained I've owned him his whole life (now in late teens) and I don't mind that he doesn't stand still if you aren't holding both reins. Didn't matter what I thought, she was hellbent on making the lesson all about standing still. We never went back.
                                    Another example was working on some big breakthrough pieces with a horse, the instructor became excited by the moment but with a loss of language skills. She began just screaming "now! Faster! Now! Now! Now! Get after him!" And I finally just stopped (which pissed her off) and said "I have absolutely no clue what it is you want me to do right now, and yelling at me isn't helping me magically figure it out"
                                    Another example is the excessive praiser. "Yes, that's good, yes, lovely" yet the rider has no clue what they are doing well or how to reproduce it.

                                    Why attend a clinic, especially if you already work with a trainer?
                                    While I don't work weekly with an instructor, I do work with multiple clinicians and instructors. I have selected a group that has complementary backgrounds so that I can get multiple perspectives yet none will be conflicting.

                                    What do you hope to gain by riding in one?
                                    I hope to gain lightbulb moments and an arsenal of take home methods to use to accomplish whatever was my initial goal.
                                    www.destinationconsensusequus.com
                                    chaque pas est fait ensemble

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                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by betsyk View Post
                                      A good instructor doesn't set the rider up to pick a fight. They shape the situation to help the horse be successful...... They put the horse's best interest first. They recognize that they are a role model and take that seriously.
                                      I liked your whole post, but these parts bear repeating.
                                      The not so great yelling instructor actually set the stage and instructed me into a fight with my horse, then couldn't articulate how to get out of it.
                                      www.destinationconsensusequus.com
                                      chaque pas est fait ensemble

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                                      • #20
                                        For me a good riding teacher is one who wants to understand how I learn best...which is on a need to know basis. Many teachers want to stand in the middle and shout out instructions while the riders absorbs and follows directions. That's not how I learn. I'm too busy thinking to hear instructions. Imagine how hard it was to find a teacher!!

                                        I found one who lets me trailer in when I need to know something. She lets me show her the *problem*. Then I stand in the middle while we discuss it and I can absorb her instruction. Then I go back out on the rail and work on it. She may offer a word or two of encouragement. Or when I was learning what SIT UP meant she kept saying MORE...MORE....MORE...MORE...THERE!!

                                        It's really hard to find someone who will let me pick their brain like that.

                                        When I taught my daughter (saddleseat eq) It was more about having her learn how the horse felt underneath her and how to apply her aids. We used classical dressage training to engage the hindquarters and get more above level in the front end. Without whips and chains. ;-) I was more that stand in the middle and give instructions. In fact, we went to 2-way headsets so I could talk without waiting for her to come around again. Usually whatever the horse was *doing* that day is what made the lesson. Riding, for me, has always been about more than sitting up there like a mannequin and smiling. That's the easy part!
                                        Ride like you mean it.

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