The Academic Equestrian: 6 Ways to Be a Coachable Rider

Finding an equestrian coach is just one step in the process to developing as a rider — Haley Ruffner outlines 6 ways to be a coachable rider to get the most from your experience.

Haley and coach Harry. Photo by Rose Ruffner.

Haley and coach Harry. Photo by Rose Ruffner.

If you ride under the same coaches or trainer for any length of time, it’s easy to forget how hard they work to keep up with you, one rider among many they are responsible for teaching. This is particularly true for our intercollegiate coaches, who have an entire team to handle in addition to managing the school horses. They work tirelessly to match each rider with a horse they think will challenge and benefit her, stay at the barn from before dawn to past dinnertime some days, and spend hours agonizing over the horse list and show program — actually coaching the team is only one small part of their job, but it can also be one of the most demanding aspects.

In group practices, riders’ courtesy and attitudes can make the difference between a stellar practice and a terrible one. As a captain of Alfred University’s western intercollegiate team, I try to be a good teammate and student, to be coachable and positive, and to do my part to help ensure that practices run as smoothly as possible. Below are six things I find beneficial in making sure that I am being as coachable as possible in practices.

1. Be on time.

If you give yourself plenty of time to be tacked up and ready before your lesson or practice, you’ll be better-equipped to handle any malfunctions that occur along the way. Coaches notice if you’re consistently late, and it interrupts others’ riding time if you walk into a practice after everyone else is already mounted up and riding. Of course, there are times when lateness is unavoidable; if you’re in a situation like this, be sure to contact your coaches in advance to notify them.

2. Be prepared.

Pack what you’ll need for your practice or lesson ahead of time if you’re prone to forgetting things. Having appropriate riding attire (helmet, jeans, fitted top, boots and spurs if needed) is essential — if you turn up to the barn and only have sweatpants, you won’t look professional or be as safe or effective a rider. If you need to borrow any items, arrange this ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to find a set of spurs last-minute.

3. Help others.

Riding with a group has its drawbacks, but one major benefit is that there are others at the barn to help you if you need it. Being positive and willing to help other riders who are less experienced or new to the facility encourages a friendly barn environment and ensures that everyone is able to be ready for practice on time.

4. Be positive.

If you just failed a huge test or your boyfriend broke up with you, evaluate your own mental state before committing to riding. If you can’t set your bad day aside, consider rescheduling your lesson — it won’t benefit you, your horse, or your coach if you are frustrated before you even get on.

If you’re having a bad ride, blaming the horse or getting upset will only make the situation worse. Even if your horse is misbehaving, any corrections should be made quietly and with just enough pressure to fix the behavior. Ask your coach for help if you’re not sure what’s going wrong or how to fix it. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to reset, settle yourself and your horse, and take a deep breath if you feel yourself getting frustrated.

5. Don’t make excuses.

When your coach gives you constructive criticism, accept it and apply it to your riding. If you are unsure what they meant or don’t agree with it, stop and ask them about it in a polite and collected manner. Keep in mind that you are the student, and that during a lesson is not the time to question your coach’s methods or confront them about any issues you might have. If you have a genuine concern, ask if you can talk to them about it after your ride.

6. Listen.

In a group practice, pay attention to the advice your coach or trainer gives to other riders, especially in an intercollegiate environment where school horses are part of the equation. By listening even when your coach isn’t speaking directly to you, you can pick up on things your teammates struggle with on certain horses, and apply it to your own riding without your coach having to repeat it over and over again.

Haley is the author of Horse Nation’s “Academic Equestrian” series, following her collegiate experience as she balances her studies with participation on the varsity equestrian team and time with her own horse. Catch up on past columns by clicking the #ACADEMIC EQUESTRIAN tag at the top of the page!

Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English with minors in Business and Equestrian Studies. She owns a Quarter horse gelding At Last An Invitation, or “Cricket.” Haley is the captain of the AU western equestrian team, and also competes in reining and loves trail riding.

Photo courtesy of Haley Ruffner.

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