If you observe and listen to a group of western coaches chatting about their sport, you will notice that each one has their own favourite method of coaching particular exercises be it lope over poles, transitions or reining manoeuvres. None of them are necessarily wrong, as long as the correct technical model is achieved (and the health and welfare of horse and rider is considered) but it does highlight that we are all individuals with our own preferences. Why then should a coach assume that every rider who comes to them for instruction should prefer to learn the coach’s way?
Whether you are a coach or a rider, there will always be some people who you get along with better than others. However, as a coach it is our responsibility to ensure that we provide the same opportunity to learn for every person who asks us for instruction. If you find yourself repeating the same command more than three times, then you can be pretty sure that the message has not got through, and repeating the same thing another three times even louder is not going to have the desired effect either!
If the words themselves haven’t communicated the information to the rider, why not try a visual demonstration? Your coach loping around over poles on foot can often have the desired effect. Still not working? Well, try turning to most riders’ favourite sense of all – feel. My old dressage master used to say, ‘You can’t teach feel, but you can put a rider in the most optimum place to feel it for themselves.’ I think the key message in that statement is ‘feel it for themselves.’
Our most enduring lessons are often those where we have made our own mistakes. I remember as a child putting my finger in the cigarette lighter as I didn’t believe it could get as hot as my mum said – needless to say I didn’t do it again!
So, to all those riders out there who think they are just thick or will never get it, look for another way of understanding the exercise. Walk, jog or lope it yourself on foot, draw it on a piece of paper or beg a ride on a horse that can already do the exercise you are struggling with. And, to us coaches – remember how we have to train our horses. We cannot teach a horse to speak English, so we have to learn to speak horse. If we are this smart and adaptable with our horses, then it stands to reason we can apply the same thought and logic to our riders, and if one way doesn’t work, let’s find another one that does!