Topics in this article
- Shared responsibilities - the 50%-50% concept
- The rider's 50%
- punctuality, presentation,
- state of mind, stress management, fatigue,
- hunger, dehydration, health,
- communication skills,
- preparation of the horse,
- home practice,
- contributions to learning
Best-practice learning: a shared responsibility
Like any relationship between two people, we are responsible for 50% of each rider/coach relationship that we have, no more, and no less. That leaves the rider with 50%. What they bring to their lessons tells us so much about what and how the rider wants to learn to ride and it determines what we have to work with. I truly believe we cannot teach anyone anything at all, unless they are prepared to learn it.
Neither can we coach them until they are in a suitably coachable state of mind. While we bring all the professional responsibilities of ethics, etiquette, and rider education in our back pocket, it’s also entirely reasonable to expect the rider to show up at the appointed hour in a fit and orderly manner that’s compatible with their 50% of the learning bargain. For them to do less is to waste your professional time.
For some coaches, this approach may seriously challenge the idea that they should run 100% of the show, but I’m prepared to say that most of us would agree that’s an outdated idea. While we may indeed steer the ship, getting to our destination will rely upon significant contributions from the rest of the crew.
The rider’s 50%
How can they best organise themselves prior to a lesson, and what are their responsibilities in the learning/teaching process?
Now this is easy. It’s really just a matter of courtesy. ..... Or is it?
For some people, punctuality, or the lack of it, is a tool to show the world who’s boss. This can be disconcerting if the rider is one such person, and is playing mind games before you’ve even started the lesson. Alternatively, they may be stressed, disorganised and LATE. What does that tell you about your prospects of creating a well-oiled competitive combination? None of this, however, alters the fact that they have a responsibility to be punctual and well-organised for every lesson and that getting stuck in traffic or any other of the usual excuses is no excuse at all for being late.
The rider’s presentation will tell you heaps, not only about their knowledge of gear and its uses and care, but also about how they feel about their riding and where it sits in their life. A nicely presented rider is showing respect for you, their horse, and the whole activity of riding. That’s a great place to start from.
State of mind
Now this is critical to what is about to happen in the next hour of everybody’s life.
If the rider is calm and attentive, it gives them – and you – the best possible opportunity for best-practice learning. If, however, they are irritated, impatient, worried or perhaps nervous, that immediately compromises their learning for the day. With only half a mind on the job, they will be easily distracted and it will upset everyone to realise how little of what you say actually makes it into their memory.
Many riders have to fit their lessons in around working full-time. This is often a difficult juggling act and they don’t have time to properly disengage from their work before they arrive on your doorstep with a headful of worries. This makes them very difficult to coach. Apart from having this unhappy state of affairs compromise their learning at the time, it will severely impact upon their later retention of what their lesson covered. Taking a few minutes to show them standard relaxation techniques is entirely in order if you are to contribute to dissipating their stress. Failing that, giving them the address of the local yoga guru might be useful.
This is so commonly the product of living a crowded life that it has to be worth a mention. You cannot effectively coach a physically or mentally tired rider. They bring nothing to their lesson and take away less. Anyone who is sleep-starved, overworked or chronically unfit will be unable to last the distance in any meaningful way once you start even the mildest athletic riding. This will make them very frustrating to work with and progress will be at snails’ pace. You might want to reschedule such riders to return in a month’s time when perhaps they’ve had the chance to re-write their lifestyle.
You would be amazed how many riders turn up to lessons with their stomachs rattling! I can only think this must be a consequence of their being fairly disorganised or forgetting to eat, but it is no way for their bodies to start an hour’s heavy exercise. By the same token you don’t want them working on a full stomach, but it is useful if they’ve eaten within the previous few hours.
This presents somewhat of a more serious problem than a rider who turns up hungry. Living in Australia, perhaps I am more aware of the need to stay well-hydrated, especially in our hot summers, but for all riders, hydration must be an issue when their body is working hard for the best part of an hour. Dehydration can be potentially serious, and it’s good if the rider knows this and takes action to keep themselves well hydrated before and after the lesson. One of the classic symptoms of dehydration is loss of concentration, which may be so subtle that perhaps neither you nor the rider recognise what’s happening. This, of course, is not helpful in any learning situation and there are better places to be with a wandering mind than on a horse.
I have to say, I insist that any rider with health concerns take responsibility for themselves. If they are subject to asthma they MUST have a puffer with them at all times. If they have diabetes they MUST carry jellybeans.... and for any other known problems they MUST carry their usual medication. I take my Duty of Care very seriously, and I do expect riders to take their personal responsibilities equally seriously. Oh, and I do need family contact numbers for these riders, too.
Successful communication relies on being a two-way process.
In my experience, few riders realise how valuable it is for us to feel they are communicating freely with us. Often, they wait for ages with vital pieces of information tucked in their story-basket, not realising how helpful it would be to their learning if they shared it with us. Maybe they’ve had some great previous coaching, or they hate group lessons, or they had a beastly fall, or their mother just died .....
If you’re into individualising your coaching, any or all of these things could be relevant to how you present their lesson. It’s up to you to create opportunities for riders to share such matters with you, so be sure to have a few minutes here and there that allow them to do so.
In response to you doing this, you’ll find riders feel a whole lot more relaxed – as we all do when we feel someone knows us a bit better. Do, however, return the compliment by disclosing a similar event or empathising with their feelings, unless you want to risk embarrassing them. Appropriate disclosure is part of establishing rapport between two people and is the basis of any good working relationship.
Now here’s an interesting observation. A rider may be wide awake, raring to go, stress-free and as keen as mustard, but if they are not present there is little for you to connect with. For these riders, the lights are on, but there’s nobody home! Maybe they are focused on picking up the kids from school, or on next week’s competition or last week’s holiday. Who knows?
Whatever it is, you know perfectly well they are not concentrating on their lesson. This is tiresome for you, who commits your undivided attention to every lesson you give. Sometimes, deferral of the lesson is the only viable option.
Preparation of their horse
You will see in a blink how this one has panned out. If the horse has been hastily pulled out of the paddock it will be muddily or dustily obvious. Straw in the tail or stains on his tummy are a dead giveaway for an ungroomed stabled horse. Dirty gear is not pretty and may not even be safe. You will not get far in learning terms with such a rider, for their riding is clearly at the bottom of their list.
Now this is something I always make perfectly plain that I expect to have been done.
No-one cannot learn to ride a horse in anything but a most rudimentary fashion, with only one hour per week in the saddle, unless they want to be old and grey before they’ve learned to rise to the trot. If these riders are your clients and you are happy with this coaching slot, that’s fine. For everyone else, I suggest you raise your expectations of your clients to include at least a couple of hours of home practice on or off a horse. If they then choose to drop out, that’s OK. Better that they leave your company and reduce your chances of burnout.
Contributions to learning
Not all riders are happy to be active, contributive learners. This is a style of learning where the student is relaxed enough to energetically bring their ideas, their questions and their answers (right or wrong) to the learning scene. It makes for much faster and more enjoyable learning than the old-fashioned passive style of learning where the rider is just the recipient of the coach’s information. Active learning is hard work. The rider has to stay focused on the content and pace of the lesson. There’s no time for gossiping, day-dreaming or zoning-out. Active learning is huge fun, but to be part of that fun the rider has to contribute mental energy and physical effort to proceedings.
With these matters in mind you are now well-placed to advise your riders as to how they might improve their learning capabilities. Some of these matters may look like common sense but that doesn’t stop them being ignored or overlooked. Rest assured that as your riders tighten up their learning preparations, and take their fair share of responsibility for the outcomes of their lessons, that you’ll find they make much better use of their learning time. I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy the results as much as they do.