Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When Students Don't Listen

The vet came out to see Shorty today and do his fall vaccines. She felt that he was looking pretty good today. We did flexion tests and he came up with slight lameness, but its much better than what he looked like three months ago.

I picked up extra lessons from another riding instructor who is going out of town for five weeks on overseas ministry. I started teaching her lessons tonight.

Many of the students the instructor, let's call her C (since I've already introduced A and B), have some serious holes. One student has been cantering for three weeks but refuses to put her leg at the girth. She pushes her legs forward onto the horse's shoulder and leans back on the cantle. I asked her to bring her leg back, which she deliberately ignored. Thanks.

In addition to my forward legged rider, in the same group I had one girl whose head was in la la land, a student who refused to speak and rode very timidly and a girl who would not stop complaining about the horse she was on. This lesson of four girls felt like a train wreck to me. It is very rare that I walk away from a lesson saying, "Damn, I'm glad that's over!"

Typically, I ask my students to walk their horses on a longer rein in circles to start off the warm up. From there, we go into the trot and then slowly gather up the reins. I do a lot of stretching work too, stuff like arm circles and 2 point position. With this group, I asked them to walk circles with their horses and they started running into each other because they weren't looking up. At the trot, the situation got worse. I asked them to do some stretching exercises; arm circles were half hearted and 2 point positions were weak. When I offered some advice to my new students to help them, no effort to change was made.

Finally, I brought everyone back in the center and asked them a question. "Who here is glad to be here?"

Everyone shrugged and looked at me in a dull sort of questioning way.

"Are you sure you guys want to be here?"

In response, I got a few slight nods.

"Okay, well, to be honest with you guys, I feel like I'm teaching a lesson to a group of senior citizens. Where's the energy? Where's the excitment? I'm not getting a whole lot of response from you guys, which makes me think you guys really aren't into riding."

I got a whole bunch of excuses. "I had a test today." "I stayed up late last night." "I rode yesterday." "I don't like the horse I'm on." "Its raining and cold."

I explained to them that a true rider is happy to be in the saddle every time she rides. There's no such thing as a successful fairweather rider. You're in this sport 100% of the time, all in, or you aren't. A true rider gets on the horse even when she has a cold. She gets on even when she pulled an all-nighter studying. She feels like she must ride everyday and spends every second she can at the barn with her horse, even on the days she doesn't ride. She has goals for riding and wants to develop her skills and improve the abilities of the horse she rides.

The lesson was only half an hour, so by the time this conversation had transpired our time was nearly up.

"I'm giving you guys homework. I want you to take a notecard and write down three things you want to learn how to do on horseback and three things you want to be able to do in the barn on your own. For example, your three riding goals may be to learn simple lead changes, jump 12" and perfect your 2-point, and the barn you'd like to saddle up by yourself, take the bridle on and off by yourself and be able to do polo wraps without help."

We shall see what happens next week, but each of my students seemed excited about writing down their goals. I promised them that I would do my best to help each student exceed her goals and help her set new ones along the way. I also told them that jumping through flaming hoops and learning how to ride with the reins in your teeth are probably a bit unrealistic, so I'm hoping I don't get any crazy requests. :)


  1. Lol...good lesson. I like the goals idea. My most frustrating thing about giving lessons is people who's heart isn't into it. I just don't understand them and I never will. Riding takes sacrafice and passion and if you aren't willing to put that into it why bother?

    The only part I disagreed with a little is that woman may not have been "deliberately" ignoring you. It sounds like either her body is weak somewhere or she's afraid especially if she hasn't had a solid trainer previously. Get her to trust you by showing her you're different (you've already started this during the lesson), and she may try to do what you're asking better.

    I've had more than one trainer thank me for listening to them and for at least trying to do what their asking so I know some people don't. Maybe pull her aside to ask her what legitimately is causing it. Its not about excuses, but about finding solutions to the problem. If I am not able to do something I always talk to the trainer about why I feel that way and what I can do to fix it. I have to make sure to find trainers I don't feel intimidated by so I can talk to them because anyone who yells and is very negative makes me nervous and I clam up. I have one of the top trainers in my sport at the barn right next door to mine and I will trailer out 30 minutes for lessons because I think she's rude. It's effective for some students but not me personally. I'm sure you guys will get it worked out, probably just in time for her previous trainer to get back. ;)

  2. I liked that you asked about their goals. Maybe from there, you can pick up on what kind of rider/personality they have. A lot of people are so intimidated that they shut down. Riding, too, is a sport where you have to do so many things at once that it takes so long to get it for some people. Not liking a horse though is not an excuse. The same horse can be so different each ride so they must be prepared to handle who shows up that day. :)

  3. It's so amazing to me that they wouldn't pay attention or put their heart into riding and enjoying it. Sometimes I think kids have too many activities and don't really appreciate how special it is to be able to have horse riding lessons, some of us would have killed for a chance at that as kids. In this day and age maybe they are just the 'drop off' kids while mom or day does their own thing, who knows, but I think you may have properly motivated them, I like your ideas about writing down goals. Good luck next time and let us know how it turns out.

  4. Regarding the lady who wouldn't pull her leg back while cantering - one of the things I've discovered is that it can be very difficult for new riders to make their muscles do something counter to what they'd do normally. People are used to sitting in a chair, so sitting in a chair seat while cantering is easy and natural for them. However, if you put the rest of their body in a position that encourages whatever-it-is your working on, that seems to make it a lot easier for people to train their muscles. In this case, I'm wondering if working on two-point at the walk and trot wouldn't help train her leg to stay underneath herself - and then working in two-point at the canter as well. I'm also a big fan of working on a longe line for new skills and working on refining skills, if that's an option.

    I LOVE your idea of having the girls write down goals, that's awesome! I've also been known to suggest "homework" - one or two key things that the rider needs to work on in the next week. I make a note to myself of what they were, and then in the next ride they talk about how it went, and then they get to show off their progress. That seems to encourage focus somewhat.

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