By Jemma Ryan
IN MOST equine publications experts bombard us with “how to’s.” How to ride, handle, feed, train and groom our horses. We’re even told how to think, breathe and feel. If everyone was able to do all these things correctly, there would be no bad riders, handlers or trainers in the world. As we know, reality is quite different.
When starting out, the first thing most of us look for is an instructor. This in itself is confusing and can be a minefield. Where do you start? There are lists of “registered” “approved” and “accredited” trainers, but is it a case of sticking a pin on the page and choosing or is old-fashioned word-of-mouth a better option?
Either way, if you choose wrongly in your early days of training, experiences at the hands of instructors can be so traumatic as to almost put you off completely! Fortunately, there are many trainers who have their students’ and the horses’ best interests at heart. Finding them is the key, but it all boils down to: Who do you trust?
This is the traditionally trained person who has “been around horses all my life.” Despite being disciplined, restrained and reliable, engrained are the rigid habits of that lifetime and forgotten is what it’s like to be new to it all.
Patience here is limited. With no prior decoding, the student is expected to understand the terminology which over the years has inevitably been slightly altered from the originally accepted usage, but to the naiive student means absolutely nothing because it simply doesn’t sound like what was “in the book.” There is an immediate breakdown in communication causing confusion for the student and further impatience from the instructor.
To be instructed to “give it a good kick” to get the horse started is really unhelpful. While a dutiful student will muster all her gumption to do as she is told, chances are the poor horse, until now minding his own business, will take off from standstill to canter. An equally startled and beleaguered rider loses control, with hands and reins, feet and stirrups everywhere and a seat that is by now half way down the horse’s flank. Although the intrepid student may bring horse and rider back to some decorum, the collapse of the jelly legs when dismounting at the end of the lesson leaves a trembling, humbled heap at the feet of the bewildered mount.
Trust lost. Try another instructor.
This is an experienced, genuine, hard-working professional who loves the horses and willingly tolerates a great deal of nonsense and tantrums from the many children taught. Here is dependability, knowledge and a good atmosphere. There is abundant patience, kindness, genuine praise given where it’s due and censure when deserved. Time and effort are given for students, no matter what age, level of ability or particular riding discipline. Courses here are useful, practical, informative and enjoyable. Many students are friends, having become part of the social activities built around the school. There is sensitivity and care that students are safe and happy and they are learning correctly. Time is taken to discuss all aspects of riding, how to improve and instructions are clear. The best horse is chosen for the individual student and the particular lesson, so experience on different horses can be gained. Hacking is fun and confidence-building. This instructor is expensive but makes no bones about the fact that it is a business – so it’s worth it.
Trust gained. Go back to again and again.
This trainer has also been around the horse world a long time – has been there, seen that, done it all and is proud of achievements – probably rightly so. In the student’s eyes credibility and integrity exude, but there is a disappointing tendency to boast, while intimidating and criticising everyone else. The clever set-up is for control, subtly shielding any failings, indiscretions, even fears of this trainer. Generally accepted rules or instructions can be suddenly changed or ignored, apparently on a whim, to suit a hidden agenda. This one doesn’t “do” children.
It soon becomes clear there is a soulless element, with little compassion and zero tolerance for anyone (or horse) who does not fit in with the ethos and perception – or indeed anyone (or horse) who dares question it.
For the student the promise here is immense, but delivery leaves much to be desired. Training and its value is erratic, mostly depending on instructor mood. Lessons are often cancelled without warning. Those that do occur may be loudly narrated from the ménage. Praise is sparse and shallow. Criticism abounds, to the point of sarcasm, spite and downright unkindness to horse and rider.
Accepted procedures, such as warm-up are often ignored. Afterwards, the event may be openly related, dissected and criticised with gusto and hilarity among others in the presence, absence or within earshot of a now demoralised student. On a hack the student may be shouted instructions most of the time, with no chance to relax.
Promises are broken, arranged dates, times and requests for specific training ignored or refused. Information and teaching are often flawed. Discipline is for everyone else so embarrassing trainer tantrums are frequent. Student achievements are often dismissed or trivialised, but the most demoralising is inconsistency. Having been told to do a thing a certain way, having gone away and practiced, then to be contradicted and denigrated time after time is confusing, insensitive and can erode confidence to the point of devastation.
Trust lost. Try another instructor.
This is a veteran, mature and kind – really has been there, done that etc…over many years. Here is a knowledge and sensitivity to horses and riders which immediately earns affection and respect. This is a simple, no-nonsense, disciplined yet relaxed approach to training, with much patience, making lessons interesting, motivational and fun. Student nervousness is understood and confidence built. Whatever time is needed is generously spent teaching basics, such as rider position, seat and comfort for horse and rider before anything else. This trainer seeks only benefit for horse and rider and that the student enjoys the lesson. Hacking out is in itself a joyful experience. The student beginner is made to understand progress and learn the true reward of the horse’s response when cues are correct. In an exhilarating, honest learning experience, students raise their understanding of the process and feel just a step closer to becoming a confident, competent and gentle rider.
Trust gained. This is a true teacher who will uplift students and restore flagging confidence.
Which one would you choose?