Teachers or Trainers or DIY?
The internet has really changed things for everyone – the understatement of the decade. But seriously, as a professional horsewoman - it makes one think. Looking back over a career of teaching that has (embarrassingly) scanned over 5 decades ...with a few breaks in between, I often wonder how we ever managed to make it out there without it?
Word of mouth is and always was a great thing if one just wanted to teach generally, school or take in livery horses locally. No matter how accomplished or efficient however, one rarely got ‘known’ unless you passed an inordinate amount of expensive exams or were talented enough out at the shows to be noticed by a magazine such as Horse & Hound. In days gone by this latter truly represented the alpha and omega of the entire British horse system – whatever the discipline.
Even then, success as an instructor or ‘trainer’ was often more about competition results. Yet talent to impart knowledge and clarify does not necessarily depend upon cups won, places on a team earned or top horses. It’s often more to do with communication and understanding - with the ability to step back and observe, before picking up on the salient points to advise others. It’s also about improving the person in the saddle as well as the horse – although even today we still see too many instructors who only attempt to correct the ‘dumb animal’.
I have always thought the saying ‘If you can – do; if you can’t teach!’ to be rather unfair. It generally requires rather more intelligence and experience to pass knowledge onto another person than simply doing things that come to one naturally. Clearly a good teacher will have a wide, all-encompassing knowledge of horses – of all types and of all shapes and size. They must also understand that people can be as difficult as horses – and while some learn quickly, others may be less supple, fit or lacking in feel.
When it comes to dressage training – more specific skills are required. Without understanding the nature and biomechanics of the horse, there is less likelihood of progess or genuine improvement. What is often forgotten in the rush to get great results is that both sides of the partnership must be addressed, but I am often shocked how ignorant people can be about their own bodies! You simply cannot ride well if you have not achieved a good seat, so your trainer will also require a good understanding of anatomy and human biomechanics but there must never be any sense of force or pressure. Basically, what we do in the saddle should be as natural as what we do on the ground- so if it isn’t, you may need to look elsewhere.
Facebook (or its equivalent) is a two edged sword. There are many ‘instant experts.’ It is too easy for people with no depth of understanding to come across with a great show of confidence. Good PR can catapult hitherto unproven methods or ideas straight into the limelight. On the other hand, we hear of people with exceptional talents, who can be destroyed by a single photograph or remark taken out of context. Unfortunately, the ‘no smoke without fire’ syndrome thrives on social media – so whoever you are, instructor or instructed, step warily and exercise caution at all times. As I have always maintained, many people can talk the talk, but it is harder to ascertain that they can walk the walk.
When it comes to choosing a trainer, without seeing them on and around a variety of horses and if possible those they have trained themselves, it will be hard to assess whether or not they can help yours. Many people think they have to have a trainer, but often do a better job themselves. Wherever and however, you do seek help, it’s as important that your horse likes them as much as you do. Don’t forget, he doesn’t go on the internet... and he must still be allowed to enjoy his lessons.