December 03, 2009

What makes a good trainer?

On my post two days ago, I got an interesting comment from Wiola.
She wrote:
"Someone told me this clever thing a couple of days ago: "Horses always do what they did".
If they come to the arena each day and are allowed to buck that's what they will do next day. If they spend 30 minutes a day fussing with the bit that what they will do next day again.
If you want to break a habit either in yourself or a horse you need to make a proper change, do something different.
Experimenting and trying different approaches is good."

Wiola's comment got me to think of another saying: "If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always got".
That is, if you want to break an undesirable pattern, you have to do something different.

Through the years, I have been riding for many trainers.
Some good, some less so.

One show jumping instructor was very nice, but when a horse and rider had problems with an obstacle, he did not make the exercise easier.
Did not lower the obstacle, did not frame it to avoid the horse running out etc.
So often the result was that the rider kept banging his/her head in the same brick wall without being able to solve the task.
Resulting in repeating the bad behaviour in the horse thus learning him to do things wrong, and getting the rider frustrated.
Not a very good tactic, if you ask me.

I have also found out that a good rider does not necessarily make a good trainer.

So what does?

If I am to improve myself, I have to change things.

I need an instructor who helps me to see what is most important to address.
I want my instructor to have many tools in her tool box, and also to be able to use them at the right time.
I want him/her to be verbal, to be able to interpret a feel into words.
To have an analyzing skill, so she/he can dissect the problem and find the underlying cause.
To be encouraging, but at the same time come with (contructive) critisism, as I know that the only way to improve myself is to do things differently/better.
I want him/her to have a sympathetic approach towards my horse.
I want him/her to look both at me as a rider, as well as to the performance of my horse.

What do you think guys?
How is your ideal trainer/instructor?

The other thing that Wiola's comment got me to think about is the excellent memory our horses have.
I have a vague memory of having mentioned this before - but if I have, you'll have to excuse me.

When Fame was three yo we met a small pig from one of the other stables when out trail riding. It was moving in the undergrowth, hidden behind some bushes.
She got absolutely terrified.
Thing is that every time we pass that place she still gets very alert and tense, three and a half years later.
There is no doubt in my mind that she still relates to that single incident.
Nothing happened, she was just very scared.
And remembers it well.

So we have a large responsibility when training horses, especially young ones.
We have to be very careful about what kind of experiences we give them.
They remember well, both the good and the bad.


RuckusButt said...

Great things to think about! I am going to go pour some wine and ponder these thoughts...I will be back!

Claire said...

but - a person can be the best trainer in the world, but if you don't connect with him/her on a personal level, it's still no good ...

i do agree, thought, that just because a person can ride well doesn't mean they can teach, not all who can do can pass it on; also, i think that not being a brilliant rider does not mean that you CAN'T teach - since a lot of instruction is about what you can see and having the eyes to see it (so long as you know what you're looking at, LOL)

trudi said...

Brilliant question and good thoughts from Wiola.. my head isn't really up to deep thought at the moment but I'll try ;-)

For me the best trainer puts me in a position (along with my partner the horse) that I can develop myself from. They put me in situations that make me ask questions of myself and work out the answers for myself.
I need someone who has the tools and the answers but doesn't just hand them to me on a plate. Otherwise I can never learn to be effective.
I truly believe that we all can train horses, it ain't micro surgery it's more about developing feel.
A trainer is there to let you make mistakes, learn from them and move forwards. They are not there to provide step by step instruction.
Your trainer, above all, should give you confidence. Confidence to make mistakes but also confidence to pat yourself on the back and say 'yes I did good today'.

I could go on...and on...and on, lol but you get the picture :-)

stilllearning said...

Here's another saying: "Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I agree with all the comments about trainers, especially with Claire that the trainer doesn't have to be the best rider in the world to teach you well. Sometimes a simple comment from an observer can be eye-opening.

I've never been lucky enough to work with one trainer who supplied all the knowledge, understanding and communication skills I needed. Has anyone? I try to take what they have to offer that's of value to me and discard (or tuck away for later) the things that don't apply. It may be because I don't have access to the best trainers (i.e., high-level experience and qualifications) because of location and financial constraints; some of the trainers HOC works with would most likely change my opinion and I'd become a loyal disciple.

I agree with Trudi that the rider (and horse) bear the most responsibility for their development. A good trainer keeps you on the right track, but no one can develop "feel" for you.

Anne i Hannover said...

I’ve been thinking alot about the same questions myself lately, but in a different way - I'm not quite sure how to relate to my current instructor(s).

I have now been riding for about a month for two different instructors at my new stable in Germany, and even though they’re a couple they have very different arts of teaching.
One is quite tough (the older, male), and often gives pretty snide remarks and can make you feel quite incompetent. I guess that’s the old German school... And I (and others) put up with it becuse he’s so good at what he does. At the same time, if you do something right, you’re well praised.

The female instructor is younger, with the same education (Bereiter), but has a softer approach, though she’s also demanding.

I get the feeling that they make it tough, because the people before you, including themselves, had it tough (and that’s more or less the only reason).
It’s the same thing at the University here, where the (older, male...) Professors often humiliate student in front of their peers, with the incentive (I think) that once humiliated, they’ll study even harder...

It’s a mentality that’s more pronounced here (in Germany) than I’ve ever experienced before, and while it makes you learn things “the proper way” I think it hinders, or at least slows down, the learning process. As far as I know, most people learn by trying and failing, and since you’re so afraid of making a mistake and recieving a harsh comment or be embarrased, you do almost nothing – offer no answer to the question asked (Uni) or sit quietly on the horse and wait to be told what to do.

At the same time, the tougher instructor also asks for initiative and a feel for what you need to do... So I've come to the conclusion that I need to try (and possibly fail), ignore the snide part of the instruction and only listen to the correction...

Any thoughts? :)

mugwump said...

As a student I watched various trainers ride before I chose which to talk to.
Then I stayed with the trainer I clicked with.
I ended up with a trainer who was not a good teacher.
I made it my job to learn from him.
We argued and fussed and observed and discussed.
I watched and watched and studied.
It was a good partnership.I had a lot of success and learned to rely on myself as much as my trainer to solve problems.
My own students came to me for different reasons. I tried to be clear and thoughtful. I tried to be a better communicator than the man I chose to train me.
I did the best with students who knew what they expected and would tell me.
I expected my students to ride, think and process.
I was not successful with students who said they rode 4 times a week and obviously only rode when they came to see me.
I did best with students who wanted to actually learn how things worked and why.
So to my mind it's a two-way street.

Siri said...

I like trainers who explain why they tell you to do stuff, who wants their riders to think for themselves. I also like trainers who know me and know how far they can push me and then reward me when I acutally do it right. They need to see the whole picture, both rider and horse. Trainers who say "good" and you don't feel it, or you've just heard it too many times that lesson, that it looses it's "value", that becomes boring and I don't feel like i've got my moneys worth.

I'm only starting to find myself in the equestrian world and I have been attending clinics with many different trainers. I learn alot from everyone of them, but prefer some over the others.

and Maria *sukk*

HorseOfCourse said...

I just love your comments here all!!!
Keep them coming!

RB - please do! How's things going by the way?

Claire - I agree with you. Just as you click with some horses, you get a better result with trainers who you feel "at home" with.
I agree with you re. your second comment too.
The very talented riders ride very much on feel I believe. To explain the “why and how”s to another person might sometimes pose a problem, because they might not analyze much what they do themselves.
While another, more normal rider has to, in order to improve herself.
I have always found it both stimulating and beneficial to train others, because I need to sort out things to myself in the work. This again might benefit my own riding.

Trudi and Anne – confidence.
I had to laugh to myself when reading your comment, Anne. I thought that type of instruction had died out!
When I grew up, there were still a lot of military traditions left in the riding sport in Sweden. I had a major as my first riding teacher. You often saw military people participating in shows. And the sport was more colored by discipline than by sport psychology if you get my meaning…
Now, we might put up with snide comments if the instructor is good, but it makes at least me uneasy. And if I get a larger ratio of snide comments that encouraging such, over time it takes some of the joy out of the training.
And I train for fun.
I do not need to reach any goals, or make my living out of this.
So yes, Trudi, I agree – a good trainer needs to give us confidence, because we will perform better.
We are often our own worst chritics, right?
Self confidence can easily be destroyed.
To have someone encouraging you, and make you believe that “yes, I might be able to do that” might actually make you do it too!
A trainer that needs to give his/her pupils snide remarks is a small person, IMO. Jeez, we pay him, don’t we? Apart from it being offensive, he doesn’t have to insult his clients. Stupid.

Trudi – I also like your comment about teachers that makes us think, or feel. They are the best. There are some that ride your horse for you, giving a running stream of comments which of course makes you work better. But you do not have that instructor standing beside you every time you ride.
We have to think, feel and analyze ourselves.

Stillearning – I do not believe that the “perfect” trainer exists. They are better or worse, in a good mix. One person can work very well with you at a certain stage, or with a specific horse – but might not give you so good help in another setting.
I also discard/tuck away if something strongly contradicts to my beliefs. But not before assessing that I have understood the purpose behind it. It might be that I have not understood the meaning of the comment/exercise.

Mugs – you had the possibility to compensate for his lack of communication by watching him at a close distance every day, right? And to discuss things you saw.
That is kind of an intensive training seminar every day. One learns a lot by watching good riders train, and if you can ask questions or discuss that is even better.
I enjoy watching others train. Helps me a lot, doesn't cost me anything either!

Siri – we are two of a mind here. But we both knew that, hehe…

Grey Horse Matters said...

I originally learned to ride with an instructor who was very tough and there was never a shortage of snide remarks and lots of screaming and cursing at me. After a few years enough was enough. I never felt confident in my riding abilities and had no self-confidence.

I left for another trainer who never stopped telling me how good I was. That was a bunch of nonsense so I left there too. I'm of the opinion that there are no perfect trainers but we do learn something from each one, whether it's good or bad.

My ideal trainer is someone who is able to tell you why you are doing something and not just be a "do what I say, because I know what I'm doing" trainer and how a certain exercise will affect the horses behavior. If there is a problem that needs to be corrected the trainer has to be able to access the situation and know how to fix it. Trainers should also be able to 'think outside the box' meaning that if one tried and true thing isn't working, they need to figure out an alternative method. Trainers should always be open to new methods and keep learning and researching to broaden their horizons. There is nothing worse than a trainer who is so set in doing things their way that they are unwilling to expand their education.

All that said we riders also have the responsibility to speak up for ourselves and our horses. Also,there is never a time that we reach a point where we know it all and we need to continue our education and research new alternatives when we need to. Training is a lifetime commitment of give and take, between trainers, riders and horses. Hope this wasn't too long.

stilllearning said...

Here's another question: Are you a good student?

I know that I'm a royal pain to my instructors in many ways. Despite knowing the dressage is a lifelong pursuit I get impatient and discouraged when progress is slow. Despite having a strong commitment and desire to learn I am constantly short on funds to invest in lessons so I want each one to be wonderful. Despite seeking out lessons I sometimes think I know best (altho I USUALLY manage to keep that to myself...). Because I read constantly and audit whenever I can, I am full of ideas, and some are conflicting; this leads to mixed signals to my horse because if one thing doesn't work I'll quickly try another. Because of the same budget constraints, my horse projects are OTTBs or greenies or some other inappropriate learning partner. And worst of all: I'm so passionate about seeking perfection that my sympathetic teachers must cringe at times.

So...I'm now working with a good trainer on an occasional basis. I board at her barn, and can ask for help as needed. Her teaching style often frustrates me, but I also realize that it's a good one for me. She observes. She comments. Then she goes away and gives me time to work it out. Repeat. She doesn't often discuss things; more often she'll tell me the right way as she knows it. End of discussion. If I disagree with her idea/method to fix it (which is often drilling IMO), it's up to me to find another way to fix what she's observed (i.e., "your horse isn't using his hind end enough" or "he's not even in the contact" or "you're not staying straight on the line of travel"). I work on it, then ask her to watch again. She comments and goes away again.

It's a good system for me right now. If I had a bigger budget I'd be tempted to invest in a more traditional training program; I'm not sure I'd progress any faster.

So, what kind of student are you?

HorseOfCourse said...

Oh, stillearning!
I just love this!
*big grin*
This is such a good comment that I would like to make a separate post about it, so everybody can chime in.
Is that OK with you?

stilllearning said...

Sure! Hope we hear from some trainers, too.

HorseOfCourse said...

GHM - I totally agree. Thanks. (and the longer comment, the better!)

Anne i Hannover said...

Well, it's a type of instruction that I think is at least on the way out. It's most prominent in the older male population, the "majors" I guess;)
I think I'm also more willing to put up with it because I'm not paying for it, I've just been allowed to ride the horses there. So I'll take whatever I get - but I'm am also learning alot!

I also really like the "what kind of a student are you"-comment! It really takes both trainer and student, and horse, to make a lesson work.

Regarding the ideal trainer again, I sometimes miss the effort on the trainers part to make more long-term plans(when/if you have a regular trainer).
Someone who doesn't just show up for the lessons and work on today's issues, but who takes the time to (together with the student) put together a plan for let's say a year ahead in time, including goals, eventual shows or training breaks for the horse and so on.
Of course this depends on your own ambitions and possibilities. Maybe more of a mentor, I guess.

trudi said...

Oh yes, that's a good follow on topic. Funny because I'd already had my brain stray off to the other side of the equation (students cancelling last minute, never working between lessons and so forth) and so I'll wait for the new post and talk there!
On the subject in hand though I always had a file on each student which I updated after every lesson. I had a general direction plan and lesson plans although I do believe that idividual lessons tend to evolve more as you work and can't be laid in stone. I regularly rode students horses for a short time just to assess the feel, sometimes horses don't ride like they look and it's important to 'feel' what your student feels.
I've seen many top trainers (mostly men) stand at the end of the arena, smoking and chatting with other students whilst their student tries to carry on. I personally would walk out of these is terribly disrespectful to your student. I always move around in the arena so I can get views from in front, behind, where ever. I have even videoed students for a view seconds to let them see their problems in 'real time' as it were...that way corrections sink in better.

Sorry I'm waffling.

Anne i Hannover said...

I agree with you! The plan should be flexible, and goals may have to be posthoned or altered, but at least you know where you're going:) And of course the students have a responsibility too (I'll also wait for the new post, and won't write anymore about that!)

And I had forgot about the videofilming - esecially if you're riding in an arena without mirrors, I usually understand what I need to change/what the trainer wants to change a lot better once I've seen it on tape.
Even if the instructor doesn't have the opportunity to film his/her students, maybe a familymember or a fellow rider can do it.
I know I've made my parents stay out in the cold of winter to film endless lessons or shows! With the promise that I'll make them dinner afterwards;)

Wiola said...

It's all very interesting to read especially as I do work as a coach as well as having training myself so can see the issue from both angles.

To me, the 3 Most important qualities a good coach has to have are:
1) Good eye - to see what is the problem
2) Experience - to put the problem in perspective and be able to find/develop best solution
3) Communication skills - to relate what he/she sees and what he/she wants to correct to the rider in a way that matches that rider's learning style.

Someone commented above about some trainer being tough on the riders because they themselves had it tough...perhaps it is the case. However, I think sometimes a coach/trainer really wants his riders to improve and, especially with competition riders, he/she puts them under pressure on purpose...
There are also riders who only ever try their best under tougher teaching styles and they often realise that themselves.

My preferred method is teaching riding through thorough education. I like my riders to know not only what they need to do but WHY they doing it. Additionally I like them to know why I want them to correct something that way and not the other. I think this way, the rider has the ownership of the knowledge and later on they will be more likely to make informed decisions on how to correct things when they ride on their own in between the lessons.

I would think that what makes the trainer superior is the ability to get away from personal learning style and be able to effectively teach very different people in the style that suits them most.
Like someone said, it's all great having the best of knowledge, talent and experience but if all a coach does is standing in the corner barking instructions or being patronising or maybe too quiet and shy - no riders will benefit.

As to teaching 'feel' - I agree you can't really tell the rider your own feel BUT I believe you can train the rider to learn 'feel'. By 'feel' I define here an ability to feel what the horse (his legs, neck, barrel etc) is doing at any one moment as well as being acutely aware of how one's body responds to what the horse does. From my experience, even a once-a-week rider can learn 'feel', what I think is the most difficult is to teach the rider to use that 'feel' to improve the horse and themselves.
To me, learning that feel as define above is like learning different mediums in painting. You experiement until you can create pretty interesting effects with your paints but to create a masterpiece it takes a bit more than to know your tools...and like art, riding can only be taught to a skill level.

Having said that, I think 99.9% of riders will be riding at skill level so we need coaches profficient in teaching those well.

Wiola said...

In response to stilllearning:

When I have a lesson myself I do as I am told (but then I try to go to trainers I trust and respect) and I use it as a testing ground. If it worked, great. If it didn't, I try to figure out why - is it because they didn't communicate it well or because I didn't get it/didin't do it right.

Brutal/pain inflicting/rough methods aside I don't think there is a lot of ways that are intrinsically wrong. I think there are many dirrefetnt approaches out there that arrive at same aim so I often tell myself to shut up, listen and learn ;)

If I strongly disagree with something though I just don't do it.