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.
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.
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...
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.