Whether or not he recognises it, a teacher uses one or several of the following strategies when teaching:
1) He builds on strengths.
2) He destroys a person and rebuilds.
3) He teaches by discussion – ‘Question and Answer’ at its most basic.
4) He teaches by fear.
5) He teaches by rote or drill.
6) He teaches by example, demonstration.
7) He teaches by sympathetic analogy drawn from personal experience.
8) He teaches facts.
9) He teaches using humour.
There are very few people who do not respond to 9) and 7). To know their instructor has experienced problems with what is currently frustrating them is extremely heartening. When employing 2), 4), and 5), an instructor is using techniques that are poor in motivation. It is quite possible to destroy the desire to learn. Often enough the instructor is not starting with a ‘clean slate’ either. Many pupils have preconceived ideas about riding and horses, gleaned from a variety of sources.
It is possibly because riding instruction generally is so poor that many people do the rounds, going from one instructor to another to try and get an overall view. Unfortunately, what may happen is they pick up a hotch-potch of unrelated ideas. It then becomes quite a task to sort out the mixed messages co-existing in their minds.
“Mr. Wright said I should just let my leg hang loosely when I ride without stirrups. You say I should have my toe up and knee higher as if I still had stirrups!”
This is an apparent contradiction.
It can be dealt with by explaining that different exercises are working for different things. The ultimate aim is to produce a versatile, supple rider who can readily control his body movements. But unless the purpose of the exercise is explained the pupils will be left in a state of confusion.
One injunction offered to new instructors is: “Avoid too much talk”. This is a dreadful generalisation, wide open to wrong interpretation. Many people take it to mean explaining the purpose of an exercise or movement should be minimal. The importance of relating one thing to another they are teaching in their lessons may never enter their heads. This results in isolated pockets of knowledge – embedding the old ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing‘.
Here’s a simple example of this.
As a child, it was drilled into me to groom a pony well. Being eager to please, I did. The pony came in from the field muddier each week. Years later, I learned that my over-zealous grooming had taken the grease – which he needs to keep him warm – out of the poor pony’ s coat all winter! I had not been given the full picture. One isolated over-emphasised fact led me astray.
When learning, people are inclined to latch on to one thing in their quest for solutions to their problems. They may decide lungeing or work without stirrups or lots of jumping or exercises is what they really need. It may take time for them to recognise that a balanced riding diet is the best and, in the end, the more interesting one.
Avoiding too much talk means that your easiest method of communication – through natural speech – is curtailed. Avoiding talking while pupils are executing movements requiring concentration is important. But this should be followed up by discussion and exchange of views about what the instructor saw and what the rider felt. Unless these two are in accord, instructor and pupil cannot come together in their thinking and understanding. Speaking concisely and not repeating oneself unnecessarily are valid. But finding another way to put a point may bring it home to someone who is confused. How many of us have heard:
“Well, when you explain it like that I understand what you are getting at”?
Riding is also an art. Highly dependent on the sense-compatibility of two very different species – a horse and a human being. As such, the precision of definition found in science is, of itself, insufficient.
We need to think about the phrases we use and consider whether or not we can improve them. Having decided that we have found a better way of expressing something, it is useful to reflect on how many interpretations – other than the one we want – it carries.
For example, ‘soften the wrists‘ has replaced ‘relax the wrists‘ in an attempt to incorporate the idea of gentleness. Anatomically, it is bone-crushing!
Perhaps the strongest criticism to be levelled at riding instruction today is the old-fashioned, haphazard method of learning to teach. Little time is spent on teaching people to teach. So the instructional method defaults to rote learning and not an in-depth discussion and appreciation of what’s being taught. Swallowing facts whole and regurgitating them at suitable times is the general method that is passed on.
This blog is not a manual on how to ride. Still less is it a blog about looking after horses. Rather, it is an exploration of the horse-human relationship in an attempt to improve the quality of that relationship. In the past, this area of knowledge has been derailed into ‘only experience will teach you how to cope with this‘.
Generations of horse-people have got away with such statements because of the mystique surrounding their little world. Closed worlds breed many undesirable qualities: insularity of thinking, a refusal to grow and learn, a suspicion of outside worlds and what they have to offer. If this were not so, the horse-world would already have taken much of value from other sports, in particular, borrowed and adapted the instructional and coaching methods they use.