Thursday, February 11, 2010

Trainers and our inner children

Confessions of a Struggling Dressage Rider had a post recently about losing her cool during a lesson which sent me off thinking about the relationship between rider and trainer. I have definitely been in the situation where I have lost my cool. It is amazing how the act of being coached can sometimes set back your mind set. I sometimes feel almost childlike. This is a good thing when my inner child is full of curiosity and wonder at the new things I am learning, it is not so fun when my inner child is scared or worse indignant!

My first riding instructor when I was a child was a very gruff "old school" type. The best you would ever hear from her was "that wasn't Horrible..." Her criticism was not very constructive either. I would often hear her yelling over the wind in my ears "DON'T FALL OFF" Needless to say she made a lot of young pupils cry. I do not remember especially losing it in front of her though I do remember coming home in a rage about her and my mom saying "you could just quit riding?"

That was never an option!

Honestly though I remember feeling mostly apathetic towards her, and her yelling. I never learned much from her, only from her horses, but she did not really get to me like she go to some of the others.

My next trainer(s) was another story. They were a pair of dressage rider twin sisters. My father worked with one of them and they saw my picture on the wall and asked if I wanted lessons... for free. My father jumped on the chance to get me free riding time and I jumped on the chance to learn something new.

They were quite different. They took the zen-master approach. No yelling but no praise just constant criticisms and corrections. They took my stirrups away and locked them in their truck for months. When I eventually got my stirrups back they tied my reins on the neck and I had to learn how to ride in a circle without reins before I would get my next lesson. I practiced in a large pasture so I spent a good deal of time in the woods before I managed to ride my circle. This brings me to my point about the extreme behavior that trainers can bring out of a person. They did not yell though they were brutally honest and still pretty gruff. I found my self filled with emotions sometimes during lessons and I was bewildered about where they came from and why? I didn't have that problem with the other trainer. Was it that these women were actually criticizing not just yelling, was it because I was growing up???

I was at a show and about to go in the ring for an over fences class. I had been warming up off and on and watching the competition. One of the twin trainers comes up and tells me to go warm up over fences. Instead of telling her I already had warmed up I go to pop my mare over the small vertical in the warm up arena just to appease. She chastises me harshly for being so careless to start to jump with out a warm up and I burst into tears. Both of us just sit there in stunned silence. I could not believe I was crying and she could not either! We never really recovered after that. I still don't know why that happened, or what it means. I was 14 at the time so still young but even now I can feel pretty overwhelmed during instruction. Why is that?

My current trainer is amazing. She really breaks things down and explains why things work. Two things I need in order to learn. She is also very positive. Quick to tell me when I do things right and open minded about my positive reinforcement training. I would consider us friends as well. We talk on the phone, and go out for coffee. We have still had a few humorous moments.

One time in particular that really sticks out was a lesson early on when Bodhi was very green, during one of our first dozen rides with the bit and out of the round pen. He was having a bad day. Being very fussy and nervous and I was getting frustrated. That was when Bodhi started stopping and standing there refusing to move. I figured he had to poop. As a baby it sometimes took him a while to actually get his business going. Also when Bodhi gets afraid or nervous he poops a lot. (Does this happen to anyone else by the way???

)My trainer tells me to get after him for his stubbornness and I tell her "No, he has to go!" She retorts that I am making excuses for him and that I need to be more firm.
"No he really has to go!"
"NO he is being difficult. Kick him. He has your number."
"No, I don't think so..." I can tell she is getting frustrated with me and she thinks I am being difficult. I feel horrible.
"Molly trust me on this one, he is being a brat. It should not take this long!"
"No I think your wrong, his back feels funny.. he has to go!" I kick him anyways and he takes a few tentative steps and then stops again. Before my trainer can say anything else he finally does his business. The tension is so high between us that we both start laughing hysterically.
It is amazing what lessons bring out of us. Trainers have a very special place in peoples psyche I think. Is it because they are telling us what to do? Is is because we are so used to having the relationship between just the two of us that adding a third party is weird? Is it just because of the fact they are challenging us and putting us out of our comfort zones? I think there is this special balance between trust and discipline without giving away your individual problem solving skills and integrity when riding with an instructor and maintaining that balance can get a little hairy.

So tell me folks what are your experiences with riding lessons? Have you lost your cool? Have you had some really bad trainers? Good ones? How are your relationships with them?


  1. It can be interesting in a lesson when you get frustrated. I haven't had any bad coaches, but I have had little meltdowns where my coach has told me to just walk and catch my breath and then start over.

    A friend took lessons from this lady and the lady would talk to the horse and ignore the rider. She would say stuff like "Vale, you are doing a wonderful job, too bad your rider can't figure this out...". Most of the time my friend was able to laugh about it, but she soon realized the instructor really didn't like people much so she swtiched instructors...

  2. I love it when I spur others into examining something a little more closely. I think you pretty much sum it up in your post. Our trainers push us outside of our comfort zones in an attempt to get better results. Society has trained us to look up to our "teachers" and to respect them. They have knowledge that we don't have yet and we're trying to learn it. Pleasing them by trying to do as they request. However, we need to find teachers/trainers, etc. that match our styles of learning. I don't believe in berating. You can point out errors but you also need to let riders know when they do something correctly. That's how we learn to ride correctly. I find that when I hear a lot of chatter (commands) I get stressed out. I need time to process what's happening and try it on my own. Thankfully all of my instructors have been wonderful and understanding.

  3. Keebler- How bizarre your friend must have felt! I think there are a lot of horse people that feel like they like horses more than other people but that is taking it a step further!

    dreeagerider-Yeah I agree it is important to find a trainer who works well with you. I have had people tell me that they like the yelling-it is the only way they will push themselves. I think I am more like you. If you give me to much correction not only do I get frustrated I get confused. My brain shuts down when there are too many commands at once. I guess we know how our dressage horses feel sometimes!

  4. I am admittedly the worst student ever. I have had no luck in keeping a consistent relationship with trainers. It my fault and I am aware of the (hey, its a start isnt it?). When I was small I had a trainer for a few years then she sold out and I had another trainer for a few years. But once I was on my own and had my own horse, I really just took a lesson here for there. I hope one day I find someone who clicks, but I have never been the type to have 1 person that I look up to as a 'horse god'. I'm just a natural born skeptic...

  5. I think it is better to have multiple trainers to take lessons from. It keeps people well rounded and asking questions. I wish I was more consistent with lessons as well. It is hard to afford lessons in both time and money. I think being a skeptic is good!

  6. I don't remember too much about the lessons I took as a kid. I remember having to learn to dismount at all gaits, all kinds of exercise (toe touch at the trot etc), lots of figures. I know they put a good foundation on me because I was able keep up pretty well after a 15+ year period where I barely rode at all.

    Now, I have a coach that suits me well. Sometimes I wish she was a little harder on me! I am comfortable enough to question, listen, and yes, sometimes talk back, lol. I only get frustrated when I AM doing something she said and it isn't obvious to her, so she keeps telling me to do it! Usually she listens well and helps me learn by hearing what I'm experiencing and guiding me starting from there.

    So, do you think all that no stirrup, no reins work made you a better rider, or not?

  7. Yes riding as a child really gives you a great foundation doesn't it? I only wish that I had done Pony Club!
    You know there are actually using clicker training in coaching people now but they call it "tag-teaching" I want to try it! Does that sound a bit weird?

    Yeah I think the no stirrup work gave helped my independent seat(which I am not so sure I have now!) and the no rein work put me in the habit of asking with the reins last. I don't know if that is "right" but it is how I train and I have noticed others having more trouble steering Bodhi when they ride.(though it is his weakness).