The Riding School: What I really teach

For a riding instructor, teaching people how to maneuver around on a horse is only a fraction of their job description. Our columnist explains.

From The Riding Instructor:

My business cards and tax returns call me a riding instructor, a person who teaches people the skill of riding horses.  In some ways, however, this is the least of what I do.  If the IRS really wanted to know and if my business cards were big enough, they’d say something like this:

The Riding Instructor

Teacher of:

Persistence; Work Ethic; Teamwork; Attention to Detail; Goal Setting; Large and Fine Motor Skills;  Co-ordination; Multi-tasking; Communication; Compassion; Tradition; Logical Thinking; Intuitive Thinking; Pattern Recognition; Putting on your big girl panties, and doing something that scares you a little bit

I think I cover pretty much every one of these skills in every lesson – far more skills than I cover in an average lesson in my academic job.  Think about it:

  • Persistence is a constant: putting the bridle on; keeping Ol’ Lightning trotting; checking your diagonal; again; again; again.
  • Work ethic: every time I tell you to drop your stirrups.  Stay in half-seat at the trot just a little longer. Sweep the aisle after you untack.  The list is endless.
  • Teamwork: although riding is an individual sport, it’s the only one where your success depends on your ability to work with someone you cannot communicate with verbally.
  • Attention to detail: are the keepers on your bridle up?  Is your girth tight? Saddle pads attached?
  • Goal-setting: from “How many times around the ring can you keep Ol’ Lightning trotting?” to “What do you want to achieve this show season?”
  • Motor skills and co-ordination: Have you ever watched small children put the noseband through its keeper or adjust their stirrups?  The advent of Velcro has made the riding instructor even more necessary.  And think about the early struggle to post AND use your leg at the same time….
  • Multi-tasking: just think about how many different things a rider has to do to make a circle or jump a crossrail: planning, steering, going forward, changing position, using rein, using leg, grabbing mane.
  • Communication: inter-species, no less.  I jest, but judging what an animal’s response is going to be to a particular action is not unlike figuring out a person’s feelings from their non-verbal cues.
  • Compassion:  putting the horses first is the cornerstone of how I teach.
  • Tradition: can you tell me why we mount on the left?  All my students can.
  • Logical thinking:  “If I do this, the horse will do that.”
  • Intuitive thinking: “The horse did this.  Why?”
  • Pattern recognition: even the mind-numbing repetition of side-diagonal-side-diagonal in your basic hunter course teaches children to identify patterns and make inferences based on evidence: “Which side is the ground line on?  So which way do we jump?”
  • Putting on the big girl panties: well, they don’t call it getting back on the horse for nothing…

So, parents, if you ever question whether you can afford riding for your children, I think the real question is if you can afford to not give them riding lessons.  Because what I teach can be the foundation for a productive and successful life.


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