Coach: A Definition

Is it a horse trainer? Is it a riding instructor? No, it’s a coach! Coaching is a term which is creeping into the equestrian community and many people assume that it is just another name for training. However, coaching is a discipline in its own right.

Western riding coaching

Business Coaching is literally ‘big business’ with multinational companies employing business coaches to develop large scale executive coaching programmes to improve staff performance and productivity and therefore increase profits.

Coaching in sport is common place but only in the last few years has the equestrian world adopted it. An equestrian coach may have additional benefits over a traditional instructor.

What about technical knowledge? All ‘coaches’ should demonstrate a required level of technical knowledge. They must have a solid knowledge of the rules and requirements for their discipline. They do not have to have won major championships or have represented their country abroad. Take Wimbledon Champions Venus and Serena Williams’ most influential coach, their father. Richard Williams had no qualifications or titles to his name but used other techniques in order to help his daughters to win. A lot of the time trainers and instructors in all sports with good analytic and tactical skills fail to communicate well with their athletes because they don't understand how their minds work.

This has caused some controversy within the equestrian world as the horse has normally been regarded as the athlete and not the rider. So, how do you know if you need a coach or a horse trainer? Sometimes the answer is you need both but at other times your coach or horse trainer will have skills in both areas.

A Good Coach

  • Rather than telling the rider what to do, a coach will use specific questioning techniques to encourage the rider to use their own thought processes to identify solutions and actions
  • They will help the rider set realistic, achievable goals and introduce methods of measuring progress in relation to these goals
  • A coach learns specific listening skills so that they can more easily understand and empathise with the rider’s situation
  • They can use a variety of motivational and supportive techniques to encourage the rider to develop independence and lasting change
  • A coach should continually strive to increase their personal knowledge base
  • If the coach does not have the correct expertise in a specific area, they will assist the rider to access relevant professional help such as physiotherapy, nutrition, specific horse training requirements, etc.

Coaching: A definition Coaching by definition means ‘to train or to teach.’ The term today corresponds more with the process of communicating learning to an individual and how that individual progresses in accordance to their goals and in terms of fulfilling their own potential. Benjamin Disraeli could have been talking about a great coach when he said, ‘The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.’

How do I recognise a good coach?

Does your instructor tell you what your horse needs or ask you what you want? A coach will want to find out exactly what your aims and needs are and make you the focus of the session not necessarily the horse.

Who does most of the talking? A good coach will ask you questions and encourage you to talk to them about how you are feeling and whether you understand what you are being asked to do.

Who decides what you are going to work on that day? The rider should always be the one who decides on the focus of the lesson. However, if the coach thinks the rider needs to develop another skill first then they will explain why and agree a new topic to work on.

Do you both know what you want to work towards and is there a way to tell if you get there? Both parties need to agree on the goals you are aiming for and have a method of measuring your progress along the way. It might mean that some goals need to be changed or realigned along the way but this is a matter of negotiation between you and your coach.

If you can’t get something right after a couple of tries, does your instructor tell you to get off and let them do it? A coach will not keep telling you to do the same thing over and over again. They understand and recognise the different ways in which people learn and absorb information and so will constantly try to find a new way of getting across the information you need.

Do you go away from your riding session with a feeling of accomplishment or failure? A coach will be supportive of you and give you genuine feedback which is positive and non judgemental. It might be something as simple as, ‘your lope transitions were really good today,’ but you should never leave your session feeling useless or a hopeless case!

Can you call or email your instructor if you have a problem? A coach is with you for the journey and should be available to support and guide you not only during your riding sessions but in between times as well. That said, it does not mean you can bombard them with emails and text messages five times a day!

Do you ever spend any time ‘off-horse’ discussing your strategies and plans? Some of the most effective coaching sessions will take place without a horse in sight. Help with planning your strategy, developing mental skills, practising core stability, reassessing goals and evaluating achievements are all part of a good coach’s job description.

RidingPauline Brimson