Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC
Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Right Fit Riding and Horsemanship Instructor

On his facebook page I came across a post from Denny Emerson, a legend in the horse world and particularly eventing.  In it he discusses various aspects of riding and horsemanship instruction, and I thought I'd share, then add to it my own thoughts.

"Riding teachers come in many varieties. So do students.
Getting the right fit can mean the difference between productive learning and failure---So what do you look for? Some thoughts...
How far along are you in your riding, total beginner, somewhere in between, or expert? The teacher for one may not be good for the other. A university professor of astrophysics might not do well teaching second graders, and the second grade teacher might not have a clue teaching high level material. 
What kind of teaching meshes with your learning style? Can you thrive under a more disciplined approach, or do you need a softer style to bring out your best work?  Are you primarily a visual learner, a kinesthetic learner, or an auditory learner? Find the teacher that fits your strengths.
Are you more comfortable with one instructor, or do you learn better by having different teachers for different aspects of your riding, as an event rider might have one dressage coach, another for jumping?
Do you prefer being pushed over being allowed to progress at your own pace?
Do you find that you thrive under lots of praise and cheer leading, or are you better served by someone who tells it like it is?
Can you have meaningful discussions after lessons, questions and answers, or are you finished once the lesson has concluded?
I don't think that any of these have right or wrong answers, because they are aimed at individual learning styles, with a couple of possible exceptions.  Some teachers are not knowledgeable enough to provide valid information, and some teachers are OK with using methods that are tough on horses, and neither of these are productive. This leads to the obvious question, though, of "How do I know the difference if I am a green rider?"
Probably the honest answer is "You can't." But maybe a friend can, or some other more experienced person.  Some of this---possibly the key to this---is whether or not it feels right. If you eagerly look forward to your lessons, that's far different from being apathetic, or, worse, almost dreading them.  But don't be in too much of a hurry to decide, because things take time to assimilate."

Denny Emerson, Tamarack Hill facebook page

I largely agree with these sentiments.  Getting the right fit between instructor and student is extremely important if the student wants to make progress with their skills in their discipline.  When I have a potential new client interested in coming for riding and horsemanship instruction, I always have them come and audit a riding lesson or two (or three - however many they have time to watch on a lesson day).  This is to ensure that my teaching style fits with how they learn.  
In addition to finding an instructor who teaches the discipline the student wants to learn, it's important to look at teaching style.  A good instructor will address various learning styles within a lesson, helping students progress by verbally explaining things (auditory), showing the riders how to do a task by having them watch each other or watch the instructor (visual), and giving them exercises that will set them up for successfully accomplishing a task (kinesthetic).  
As students have dominant learning styles, instructors also have dominant teaching styles.  Find an instructor who, if she doesn't have the same dominant style as you do, can at least alter her teaching to accommodate and include other types.  Studies have shown that students learn better when material is presented in multiple ways, regardless of what the dominant learning style is.
Temperament is another important consideration.  Does the instructor push students beyond their comfort zone?  In what way?  Does the instructor yell?  Give the riders exercises that challenge the existing skill set?  It's important to be pushed beyond your comfort level so that you grow as a rider, but how the instructor accomplishes this can vary widely.  Is the instructor positive and encouraging, or more militant with barking instructions?  What type of instructor temperament helps you to progress and enjoy your lessons?  Does the instructor allow and encourage questions from students, and is discussion helpful to you?  Or do you prefer to think on the lesson without engaging in more verbal examination?
Another consideration is your horse's preferences if you're riding your own and not a school horse.  Particularly if your riding instructor is also a horse trainer, fitting the trainer's style to the horse's style is critical.  Some trainers excel with the compliant quarter horse type, some specialize in hotter horses such as arabians and thoroughbreds, some have a way with mustangs, and others can get the best athletic effort of a cold blood such as a draft horse.  The ability to read the horse's body language and teach him in a way that he learn confidently can make the difference between a fun lesson and a miserable one.  Of course there are variations of temperament and personality within each breed, and a good trainer will be able to adjust their training to suit the individual horse. 
Often a trainer will have a system that she uses on every horse, and it works well with a certain subset of animals.  However, in these situations when a horse comes along who doesn't learn well with those techniques, the horse is often blamed and declared to be un-trainable, difficult, or not suitable for the discipline.  Indeed, the horse does have a preference regarding what job he wants to do and would be good at, and it's important not to smash a square peg into a round hole.  However, a multifaceted trainer will adapt her training and methods to the horse, and have a wide variety of techniques upon which to draw so that she doesn't run out of ways to teach the task.  Some trainers do find great success with their favorite personal methods and only train the horses and riders who fit that box, others will have a deeper well of techniques and experience and are suitable for a wider variety of students both equine and human.

There are so many aspects to finding an instructor and/or trainer that is a good fit for you and your horse.  Do you enjoy a lesson program with lots of kids and ponies around all the time?  Do you prefer a more mature environment with more focused individual instruction?  Taking a trial period with various instructors can be beneficial as you learn what is most helpful to you, discover what you enjoy most, and realize what methods help you progress most quickly in your own riding and horsemanship skill set.  

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