Riding instructor or coach

Pauline Brimson takes us back to school and asks us to consider the differences between a coach and an instructor. I’m often asked why we all have to be called ‘coaches’ now? I personally have called myself a riding instructor for years and feel I have been providing a pretty good service to my clients. Will it make any difference if I start calling myself a coach?


Before we start to look more closely at the different roles of a coach, I thought I would share a saying that has been attributed to Confucius, which is a bit of a mantra to many coaches. ‘What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.’ ‘What I hear I forget’ – research has been done that suggests that most people forget up to 80 per cent of what they hear. Think back to your school days - hours sitting behind a desk listening to a lecture about goodness knows what. How much of that content can you remember now? ‘What I see, I remember’ – If we’re just looking at words and pictures then we will remember about 30 per cent of what we’ve seen. If we are watching moving pictures or a demo, then our retention rate rises to 50 per cent. So, two weeks from today you will only remember about 30 per cent of what is written in this magazine!

‘What I do, I understand’ – finally, if we are actually taking part in an activity then we will remember 90 per cent of the information. You remember what you did on your holiday but not what was written in the brochure, or the information your rep told you on the first morning. This is what a good coach takes advantage of when working with their riders.


If we go back a little and think about the role of a ‘coach’, it is worth looking at some actual definitions. The verb to ‘teach’ or ‘instruct’ means to impart knowledge or a skill. A driving instructor will teach his clients the necessary skill to drive a car safely (we hope). A maths teacher will impart to his pupils the knowledge to pass an exam. The verb to ‘coach’, however, means to transport something or someone of value safely from one place to another – think stagecoach. Gradually, ‘coach’ became used in the context of someone providing the necessary information, skills and attributes needed to reach a level of competency. Therefore, although one of the roles of a coach is to teach or instruct, they are also advisor, counsellor, mentor, demonstrator, assessor, motivator, organiser, planner, trainer, supporter, and so on. While you might go to a riding instructor for a lesson before your next competition, you and your coach would have already spent the winter planning and organising your whole season from start to finish including fitness programmes for you and your horse, setting goals and analysing where the plan might go awry due to unexpected events. A coach takes a holistic view of your training programme and is able to weave all the elements of technical knowledge with mental preparation, physical fitness and competition tactics such as how to plan your warm up and what to eat the morning of your show. Your coach will even travel to the show with you to watch you under pressure and give support and encouragement when things don’t go quite right. This will enable you both to adapt and revise the plan to take account of the different surroundings and distractions. As you progress and improve, so your coach will help you to move on to the next stage and you will have a clear idea of what you need to do to get to your goal – whether it’s to win a hi-point buckle or to get your horse loping on the right lead.