Riding Coaches – antennas up

Riding instructors come in many shapes and sizes, and as with all coaching activities we rarely start with elite coaches, but rather work our way up towards them.  In my equestrian life I have been blessed to have been able to get instruction from some world class coaches and trainers, and real-life Vaqueros.

After I bought my first horse and got away from a lesson barn, I was shocked to learn how little I had learned – yet at the time I was happy with where I was.  I could ride any of the lesson horses, and never fell off of one of them.  I could walk, trot, lope, back up and turn my lesson horse around without any difficulty.

After buying my first horse, a four-year-old AQH with about two months of training, I quickly learned how a horse could outsmart me and get the upper hand.  It seemed that everyone else was getting along fine with their horses – but looking back most of them either couldn’t or wouldn’t ride – pouring out excuse after excuse.

Nonetheless, when someone told me they had owned horses for 30 years I listened to what they had to say. Eventually I realized they had no idea what they were talking about and where just puffing themselves up.  Egos abound in just about every equestrian arena or barn.

Some years ago, I fence sat at a clinic, with a friend, put on by a woman pretending to be a CA coach, turns out CA never heard of her.  She was teaching people how to wack horses with a carrot stick and had absolutely no idea what she was doing, or talking about, basing her teaching on a box set of videos she had watched and completely misunderstood.

Another local individual is actively running clinics, even though falling into the category of a very novice rider.  This one has the unmitigated gall to be issuing coaching certificates to unsuspecting followers.  I attended, and am embarrassed to say I paid a fee, at a theoretical clinic.  While the payment was a lot for the low level of information provided on a specific sport, it was not outrageous had a decent quality of instruction been available.

I have seen another struggling to perform advanced techniques with her horse one day then teaching others how to do it the next – she still could not understand the technique or even the goals of the techniques.  The students she was passing this information along to were beginner riders who needed help with WTL.  My point here is not to embarrass anyone; hence I have not named any of these individuals, but rather to express a challenge that all beginner riders must face.

It is hard to find good coaches, and even those who have passed certification must be looked at with caution.  To become a coach, in this country, one must follow a protocol set out by a national or provincial regulatory body.  But even that does not guarantee any level of qualification or abilities.  Most of the training programmes involve non-horse related stuff such as police checks, first aid training, concussion awareness, and registration with other theory-based organizations such as NCCP.

There is nothing wrong with learning these add-ons, but my point is there is very little horsemanship being taught.  And what is being taught really needs to be reviewed carefully with the horse to see if the horse agrees that it makes any sense at all.

I am not “coach bashing” there are some excellent coaches around, and they have usually been in business for a while and can demonstrate practical techniques that do not involve an over-reliance on the aids, or pain inflicting devices.  It is also important for entry level horse people to recognize that arena sports, generally, involve a lot of cruelty, as competitors are results driven, so don’t be fooled by ribbons, buckles, and trophies.

If you have the opportunity, try to get around a world class horseman you will appreciate the difference.  And always remember it is not necessary for beginner riders to wear spurs, or use tiedowns, crops, twisted wire snaffle bits or other harsh bits, chains over or under noses, whips or any other devices that inflict pain on a horse.  If your coach or instructor is advising, you to use these torture devices find another coach.