How Great Teachers Create Magic

Carolina CIC3*. Photo by Sarah Davidson. Carolina CIC3*. Photo by Sarah Davidson.

Technically, trainers and coaches are people that we pay to critique our skills (or lack thereof) because we have seen them work miracles on horseback that we could only dream of accomplishing. We go to them for guidance, for insight, for a little tearing down followed by some building up, and what we want is progress in some way. Our trainers are people that we admire, riders who sail over jumps that make us gulp and seem effortless in their effective treatment of the horses underneath them.

However, as most of us have learned by now, just because you can ride does not mean you can teach! While having the knowledge is important, the ability to convey it in a coherent and approachable manner is more so. A coach is more than just an encyclopedia of horse knowledge; a coach is also your psychotherapist, your fitness guru and, occasionally, your mom.

I go to lessons because I want my butt kicked. I want my coach to poke me out of my comfort zone and make me go places that I won’t naturally go when I’m schooling at home. I want higher jumps, more complicated movements and I want her to tell me when I’m looking like a monkey up there. However, I don’t want to leave the lesson feeling like a piece of poo, so it has to be carefully constructed so that I can end on a good note — feeling accomplished, maybe a little humbled and I can leave with homework for my practice at home.

Being able to explain the tiny shift in weight that will accomplish the perfect down transition, or how the balance feels when you’re approaching a square oxer or how to ride your first drop fence is no easy feat. A coach has to know the feeling in his or her body, translate it into step-by-step mechanics and then explain it to you in a way that makes some sort of sense. They have to know how to challenge you in small ways, but also know when to put a ceiling on your upward mobility so that you don’t go too far too fast. A coach has to sense the personality of the horse, as well as the rider, and instantly map out a plan in her head to suit you both.

A coach has to play psychotherapist to you when you bomb on cross country or take six rails in show jumping. They have to teach you to be humble and enjoy your success when you can … but not too much. Hopefully, they set examples of how to conduct oneself in a variety of situations that arise in the horse world: disappointment, winning, gracious losing, sh*t happens, sadness and loss, celebration and social interactions within the community. They teach you responsibility and how to care for your horses — not only physically, but emotionally. They show you how to be realistic, especially in times when that’s not what you want to do.

To me, an integral part of coaching is knowing how much to hold your students’ hands and how much to let them go. When do you encourage independent thinking and feeling? How do you set up exercises that will safely allow them to learn from their mistakes? These are things that are not for the unintellectual. A coach does not just create a robot replica, but instead enhances the rider’s own individual style. A coach creates a rider who will remember words of wisdom while alone on course and integrate it into a personal plan.

If you’ve found this coach, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t found this person yet, don’t worry, they exist! Make sure your coach knows that you appreciate all the hard work, because the next time you fall off in public, and your coach still lets everyone know who you belong to, you know it’s pure magic.

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