Friday, February 27, 2009

Creating a Confident Rider

There's still snow on the ground, but I'm thinking ahead.  I'm planning on getting that Level 4 Rider test (finally) and after that, my Instructor's Exam.  A few of my fellow students and I are getting together with our awesome coach for a practice session every couple of weeks.  The three of us take turns teaching a ten minute lesson while the others observe and take notes.  This should dull us to the pressure of being watched and graded.  We each have some confidence issues.  The best way to build our confidence, as instructors, is to keep teaching until it feels like second nature.

I felt good about last week's session, even though my feet felt like ice after almost two hours in the arena.  (Sure we were indoors but it was still cold!  I kinda wish I could skip right to May or June.)

Confidence is so important.  When I'm riding, my horse needs to feel like he can trust me, that I'm in charge.  When I'm teaching, my student needs to feel like I know what the heck I'm talking about... and that they can understand what I'm saying.  That student is not going to feel confident or comfortable if I'm talking gibberish and blanking out.

I really don't want my students to feel nervous, suspicious of my capabilities, uncomfortable, or flat out scared.

(Although if they looked like him I'd be okay with it.)

The more I teach, the more I feel like I can actually do it.  When I ride, I'm thinking about improving my own riding and also how I'd explain it to somebody else.  

I'm learning to do that explaining more efficiently.  I tend to be too wordy; my coach needs to remind me to say less.  I write like that too and find myself editing everything I write.  Well, it's hard to edit what you say after you've said it!  Too many words confuse a person who's sitting on a horse, trying to figure out what to do with their hands and legs and trying to listen at the same time.  I have to keep it simple. 

I'm remembering to ask for feedback.  "Do you understand?  How do you think that went?  Do you think you've improved?  What could we do to make the next ride better?"

I've always been pretty good at encouraging riders and complimenting them, but again it's necessary to be specific.  If my student is riding along while I'm repeating, "Good good, that was good," they might not know exactly what was good.  Instead I'm remembering to say things like, "Your position is good, your heels are down.  You're using your legs really well, that's good."  

Nobody likes to guess.

I think my biggest breakthrough is finally understanding how to help the rider through improvements, and how to make it happen.  In my lesson plan sheets, there's a step called Progression.  I got it that this meant advancing the activities in the lesson.  For example, if I tell the rider to walk her horse to a pylon and stop, I can make it more advanced by asking for a stop, then a back-up.  

Being able to gradually do more will increase her confidence.  And, coincidentally, mine!

It's taken me about a year to really get this, even though it's so simple. After all this time, watching my own coach work, being a student in her lessons, I'm finally getting how it all works together.

The proof of a good instructor is a good rider.  I'm lucky to have found a good instructor.

My own kids have had some pretty erratic instruction.  I've taught them all along, since they were about four years old, but it's never been very formal.  Really I'm just glad I can teach them; a lot of parents can't teach their own kids.  It can turn into a battle of wills.  For us, it's been a fun family activity, even if there are sometimes frustrations.

My kids have had the advantage of having their own horse in Grandma's back yard.  Every chance we get, they're on horseback, sometimes with me coaching them along, sometimes just riding around in circles, trying not to ride their horses into each other.  They have this thing called FUN.  And in the process, with a few lessons here and there, and just going outside and learning accidentally, they've built up a good amount of confidence.  

So.  What does this teach me?  I have to be sure of myself, gently but firmly push the rider to improve, and above all, make it fun.

Then you get a rider who feels good about herself...

... and her horse...

... and that will make me feel pretty darn good about everything.  

Except for the photo of dear Johnny that I snuck in there, all of these shots were demonstated by our sweet lil mare.  She may not be the most finished and best trained horse -yet- but she's willing, gentle, and appealing.  Kids want to spend time with her.  Can't blame them; I just adore her.


marsh to the fore said...

I had one brief shining moment on a horse. Ok. Maybe moments. I had no training. Nada. Loved horses. Loved riding. I'd get on a horse and gallop around the paddock full out. I loved riding--especially riding fast. Scared my instructor. I know there was someone with me. Anyway, I wish it had been someone like you, Heidi! Would you have allowed a 17 year old to do that?

Whywudyabreedit said...

Hey, sounds like you are on a good track. I like your ideas, like paying attention to what you do so that you may better describe to others, and being specific about praise, so that you effectively mark for the person when and what they are doing right. Otherwise things done right may go unnoticed by the rider, and subsequently go away.

I bet you are a great and steadily improving instructor. The passion and commitment that you show toward the goal is bound to make you a good instructor at the very minimum. Thanks for sharing your process =)

coffeypot said...

I believe that any person who can take an animal and teach it to do what the human wants the animal to do, as well as teaching the human how to handle and get what you want out of the animal is a special person. I admire and respect you for even attempting to be that person, much less becoming that person. Now, if you could just do that to Jethro…

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh Coffey, I hope I don't disappoint you...

Jethro claims to be untrainable.

Whywudya, everything you noticed, I give the credit to my coach. She's been really holding me to a high standard. Ultimately it will improve both of us - that's the plan.

I do think I"m improving but there was nowhere to go but up. I was a mess last year. I'll tell you all about it later. Now that I'm putting it all together in my head I want to write about it!

Marsh- Riding fast is a pure buzz! I'd allow a 17 yr old to do that if I felt like she had the skills to pull it off. Otherwise, I'd be scared too! I haven't had a kid get out of control on a horse.

I'll tell you what I love, and what makes me want to do this: that "shining moment" when the horse and the rider are working together and I'm there to see it. It's awesome. Plus I get to hang around with horses.

pseudosu said...

This sounds weird but the thing I loved most about jumping lessons was having the instructor telling me exactly what to do all the time. My job was really high stress, and it was such a relief to be on a horse and only think "quiet hands" "where are you looking" "heels down" etc.

I bet you're an awesome, thoughtful instructor.

Heidi the Hick said...

Not yet, but that's what I hope to be.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.