Everyone today is a trainer. Hardly anyone is a riding instructor.
What a shame that is.
I’m both and I enjoy being both. Riding instruction is different from training, even if you’re training both horse and rider. At least, that’s how I see it.
The difference? I think we train horses. I don’t think we train people. We may teach, we may instruct, and hopefully, we’re always there coaching. I think coaching is important — because it addresses the psychological and emotional needs of the student — and it’s important not just for those who compete, but for anyone.
When I was eight years old, I took my first lessons at a “School of Horsemanship.” I had instructors. I went to the stable and not to the barn. I didn’t call my instructors by their first names. Those instructors, who all followed Gordon Wright and the U.S. Cavalry School, put me on Shetland Ponies and off-the-track Thoroughbreds and taught me how to fall off a horse. Every horse (and a lot of ponies) were expected to be able to jump 3’6″. And they did. If your horse stopped in front of a fence, you jumped it from a standstill. And learned to keep your balance in the process.
Instruction was less kindly back in the day. There was a lot of shouting and repetition, but as I recall, you never sensed boredom or resignation or contempt or the tone that my Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend calls “snippy” in any instructor’s voice, the way you so often do now.
Kids didn’t talk back. Instructors didn’t care what they thought, because they weren’t thought to have enough experience to have an opinion, much less take up the air time to express it. There was no whining. You didn’t cry. Even if you fell. Even if you got hurt.
No one talked about how dangerous this and that was. You were riding a horse. Everyone assumed you knew that riding a horse was dangerous, and the only way to mitigate that danger was to work as hard as you could to follow your instructor’s instructions.
Today, there are “trainers” who think that off-the-track Thoroughbreds are dangerous, and not only couldn’t teach you how to fall off a horse by tucking and rolling, couldn’t do it themselves. We live in an age when the “biomechanics” of riding is highly touted by the same “trainers” who will tell you to “make your horse round.” Which is about as far from biomechanics as you can get.
I first heard the phrase “the horse goes the way you ride him,” from Jimmy Wofford, who was quoting Bert deNemethy. I’d been trying to put that concept into words for years, but I’d never been successful. Now I just quote Jimmy quoting Bert.
The horse goes the way you ride him. That’s biomechanics in a nutshell. First you learn how to ride. Then you can train. And you can’t train anyone to ride. You have to instruct them.
I know that my own start as a rider wasn’t the easiest or the best, and it wasn’t the way everyone learned to ride. It would have been nice to be put on the lungeline. Or on “made” horses and ponies, or a gentle Quarter Horse, at least once in a while. But there was a stream of unsuccessful New York-bred racehorses that ended up in my riding school, and they taught legions of boys and girls how to have good hands. In those days, you weren’t thought to ride well if you didn’t have good hands. And riding well was what it was all about.
That’s still what it’s all about. Which is why we need to learn how to ride before we can train, with the help of good instructors and a wide variety of horses. Then, when we know how to ride, we can learn how to train a horse. And only then will we need a trainer to help.
Anyone who tells you getting old is wonderful has dementia. BUT, it does bring to the table experience. In my 60+ years I have experienced many trainers/instructors. After watching what transpires at countless clinics, shows, private lessons, and my own instruction I have to say you are my favorite teacher….of people and horses. WHY? Because you are the perfect mix of what a good teacher comprises. You are highly intelligent, very knowledgeable, compassionate, and patient,; you encourage your students, but at the same time respectfull of their limitations. Not to mention fun loving AND you travel to your students! Katie Hill ….YOU DA BOMB.
I second this!
Aw gee you guys…I thought of this as a conceptual post but I guess I put so much of my own experience in it, that it ended up being more personal than I realized or originally intended. Thank you for the compliments.
I measure the success of my teaching and training in terms of how students (or clients) and their horses improve. When that happens, it’s never just because of the teacher, it’s also because of the student (and the horse, who deserves the biggest thanks for putting up with us as we learn). The bottom line is that horses are extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming, and students deserve instructors who are as dedicated to helping their students achieve their goals as their students are to attaining them.
I’ve been riding with the same trainer since I was 14 (with her or one of her sisters) and I’ve seen our barn go from a “do as I say, no questions asked, no talking back” to one where the clients seem to dictate the lessons to our trainer and I wonder at times if its because she is getting older and tired and doesn’t want to fight in a world where anyone can hang out a shingle and kiss the clients ass so they fork over some money in a down economy.
I’m not even “old” I’m in my mid 20s and I miss the way it was, we rode anything and everything, mostly green, mostly off the track. Forward was first, even if like you said, you reached the base and stopped you made that horse go forward over that fence. We were taught how to fall, and because we knew how to fall we were (I still am) fearless in the irons.
Where my trainer has gotten soft with others, it always feels like she is still hard as nails with me, and I appreciate that.
Hi Elle — Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. It’s always great to hear that there are real horsemen coming up through the ranks and real instructors still instructing. I include those off-the-track Thoroughbreds — they have so much to teach.
I have students who are young (much younger than you) and I find that they appreciate the clarity of being told what to do by someone who believes they can do it, and succeeding. That’s what builds confidence!
It’s easy to look around and believe that the horsemanship that was traditionally passed down from teacher to student has somehow disappeared in today’s environment. It’s still out there, if less prevalent, and we need to keep passing it on.
Your Picture on Haynet intrigued me over, What a good post.
After having a break in horses its been quite a learning curve coming back into the thick of it all. when I watched my first proper lesson(it was actually someone riding my boy Nas). I came away with two thoughts wow my horse can go like that, and the other was a bit guilty the girl who rode him paid for the lesson, and although I got to see what Nas could do. I felt like she had actually got very little for her money.
I really noticed the emphasis was on the Horse rather than the rider.
Hi Jennie — Thanks for your comment and contribution to the blog. How exciting for you to be able to appreciate how your horse goes and think “wow!”. It’s sometimes a real treat to see someone else riding your horse because you just get to admire him.