At the moment I am doing a big clear out, trying to get rid of mountains of papers, lightening my suitcase, and looking to find that elusive piece of paper that seems to have vanished…  And, at the bottom of the pile, I have found an old certificate, which is what has nudged my mind down this path.

Many, many, years ago, I had just left school and a friend and I spent our times hanging out with our horses.  I was already eventing big time, and the excuse was that my horse needed hours of road work (he was too fit if I’m honest, could tow me around an open track and still be running away with me at the end, hardly even breathing hard), and I was schooling horses for owners to fund my eventing, so, the days at the yard just happened…  Our mothers despaired at our tomboy-ness and my friend’s mother came up with a plan – go on a modelling course.  We reluctantly agreed (well, we weren’t given much choice actually) so off we went.  We did our time, got through our hours, returned to our ponies.  (Being 6-foot-tall, and at that time ultra-skinny, they offered me a modelling contract, on condition that I lost a couple of kilograms…  Talk about the unhealthy effects of modelling…  There were the gym guys telling me to do weights to build up for my eventing, sports doctors telling me to add more protein to build up, and the models telling me to lose weight – let’s just say the modelling, thankfully, never happened…)  We were handed our certificates at the end, which is the bit of paper I started this with, somehow it managed to survive all these years…

My first event horse, "Golden Marble" who ensured that I spent so much time at the yard
My first event horse, “Golden Marble” who ensured that I spent so much time at the yard

Also, many, many years ago, I went to a coaching seminar and during the Q&A session after lessons, a coach asked what he should do if expected to teach a student at a lower level than he regularly agreed to.  The guest speaker advised him to just get through it – by “Just Teaching the Trees” if that is what it took.  Choose a tree and direct your comments that way.  I was beyond shocked and, if I am honest, it did have a profound effect on my coaching – never, ever will I make a pupil feel unimportant.  If you’re there to help someone, help them.  If you are not interested, don’t be there in the first place.  Don’t just get through the hours to receive your pay check.

No matter how beautiful or distracting they are, please do not teach the trees…
No matter how beautiful or distracting they are, please do not teach the trees…

Now, that whole modelling course, I swear, they were teaching trees.  The agency had obviously decided that either they needed to make more money, or try to find new models, and so, a course was put on.  The thing that has made me remember it for all these years, is how utterly unprofessional and disinterested they were.  The lady running it would be chatting to her boyfriend / husband / model friend most of the time, throwing the odd comment to us occasionally.  She would set a task for us to do and wonder off, not supervising at all.  We really were an inconvenience and her lack of interest was appalling.  How does anyone run a business like that?

Over the years, I have ended up doing a lot of examining, and must admit to failing more than my fair share of wanna be instructors.  If you are teaching, you have to invest in your clients.  You need to have an interest in helping them to improve, and them getting something tangible out of their sessions.  Even under exam stress, you can see the instructors who genuinely want their pupils to gain something.  And you can see the ones who will be teaching at home, sitting on the fence, drinking their coffee and talking to their groupies on the rail, or checking their phone messages.

As an instructor, what do I want from my pupil?  A willingness to learn; a desire to be there; an open mind; a sense of exploration; the courage to speak up; the appreciation of having a very large animal willing to interact and work together; a sense of fun…

And what should you, as a pupil what from your instructor?  A desire to help you; an understanding of their subject; an empathy for you and your horse; a moral code to protect you both; the same sense of gratitude to the four-legged team member; the same sense of fun and exploration, but ultimately, the respect for you, the client, to actually be there imparting knowledge to YOU and not chatting to a TREE…

What would you add in your quest for the perfect instructor?


Comments (1)

Hi Ashleigh,
I have learned over the years taking lessons with you that riding is like building a structure with legos. You must start with the base and add a block only after you have built (mastered) the foundation (fundamentals). We are all so very eager to progress on this riding journey – wanting to skip this or that. But a great instructor will understand where we are in this process and will apply whatever and however many ideas, concepts, images, exercises, it takes before introducing the next building block. All the while, the best instructors will remind us to have fun, but also give us the confidence to know that we are becoming better riders and better versions of ourselves every single ride.


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