Recognition of Prior Learning

Recognition of prior learning – (or agreeing that yes, you already know stuff…)

Ummm..... A lesson prompted my indoor skydiving - teaching teaches me about new ways to look at old problems...
Ummm….. A lesson prompted my indoor skydiving – teaching teaches me about new ways to look at old problems…

Many, many years ago (oh I feel old…) I taught a fairly novice man, on his sweet but also novice mare.  He’d had a few months of riding, could basically walk, trot, canter, but that was about it.  The mare was about 5 years old, and also knew walk, trot, canter, and that was about it too.

When we started, they were wondering around the arena, steering was more about where the wind took them.  So, that was where we began – and instantly, after me explaining a few points, he could steer better than a lot of experienced riders.  Hmmm…  And, the reason I am thinking about this now, recently I seem to have had a spate of these lessons.

When I meet a pupil for the first time, I ask them two questions.  Well, I ask quite a few more, (I’m not nosey, honest…)  but these are the important two.  What do you know?  As in, what sport do you play; what hobby do you have; what musical instrument do you understand; what have you done that has created body patterns, or muscle memory?  A lot of people won’t understand if I ask what neural pathways they have built, but “do you play sport?” is something that people can answer.  When a pupil walks in, I automatically take some previous learning into account.  Do I have to teach him how to speak?  How to sit vertical?  Do I have to teach him that he is sitting on a horse, or that the fences of the arena mean that he has to stay near me?  No, I accept that all of that is previous learning, which makes my life easier – imagine having to start by teaching him his ABC?  The other question I ask is, do you have any injury, pain, or issue that I need to be aware of?  Hopefully no.  If yes, what?  Partly so I can help, or at least not make it worse, and partly because I want them, the rider, to be part of how we are going to manage this and move on safely.

So, back to my first rider.

“What sport do you play?” I asked

“Ah, nothing really, I’m too busy with work, and with my horse.”

“What is work, what do you spend most of your awake hours doing?”

“Either flying a plane (I’m a pilot), flying a computer, or sitting on my mare.  All things sitting…”

Hmm, I thought, I didn’t believe him.  There was immediately too much poise and balance in his body, too high an understanding of tensegrity.

“What sport did you play in the past?”

“Ah, nothing really, a bit of stuff at school, you know, the usual.”

I let it slide – one thing that I have definitely learned, is that people “forget” to talk about big chunks of crucial information, and they will come to light sooner or later.

His understanding of steering was remarkable, and he instinctively knew how to use his core.  Within 20 minutes, he and his little mare were walking a dead straight rectangle around the arena and holding it on into trot.  Over my time there, we had a few lessons, each one I began by saying – remind me, what sport do you play?  And he’d smile and shake his head.  We ramped up the technicality of the work, and he and his horse just absorbed it like sponges.

After one particularly challenging lesson, where I really pushed his new found steering skills, he said you know, this reminds me – (and I thought, ah, here we go…) – when I was younger, I used to be a professional sky diver.  (I didn’t know it was a profession?)  In one of those teams for festivals and displays, where thirty of them jump out of planes, and form patterns in the sky.  They link hands in groups of five, then spin away and link feet with 10 others, then flow back into pairs, and all join together, all at 120 miles an hour, at 15,000 feet…  How do you think you steer when there is nothing to push against?  No wall to lean on, no ground to give yourself resistance.  You use your eyes to look (you go where you look), you use your intention, and you steer your core, or trunk muscles.   The second I had explained steering, through the use of his core, his pelvis, his thighs and his eyes, he’d put himself back into skydiving practice, and his little mare had instantly understood.  He spoke her language.  I didn’t teach him anything he didn’t know.  I just asked him the right questions to put himself into a place of prior learning.  All those years of skydiving were the real lesson.

Recently I had three different riders on three different horses, in three different situations.  The first, again a novice man.  What sports?  Ah, a bit of tennis, jog a bit, fairly active you know.  Bit of yoga stretching, move around, swim sometimes.

Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning… If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…
Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning… If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…

Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning…  If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…

We began our lessons, and I started working on his foot and leg position.  As ever, we all have a good well-behaved leg that sits still, and the other wayward leg, he was no exception.  We talked about angles, keeping his knee down, keeping both feet parallel to each other and the floor.  Imagine you’re skiing I suggested – your skis both have to point down the mountain – if the toes are heading in different directions, you may find yourself in trouble…  Ahh, he said, I used to ski a lot.  (Ding, ding ding, went my brain, this is what I was waiting to hear…)  “I always had to slightly snowplow with this right leg, because it would turn the ski out.”  As we went along, the lesson became more ski orientated…  Kneeling onto the ski boots, turning a bottle top, cruising the moguls.  By the second lesson, he admitted to having been a ski instructor in his past.  He’d been taught to teach, but he’d also taken the time out to break down movements and figure out how to teach them to people who didn’t get it.  We had quite a few lessons, and each one involved a fair amount of me asking – so tell me, how would you have explained X to a ski pupil.  He’d walk his horse around, and as he was answering me, he’d be putting his words into effect in his body, and the horse he was riding – a great hairy old beginner plod cob – would magically become beautiful, light and balanced….  After many of his lessons he’d say to me – magic, thank you, you’re a great teacher, when in reality he was teaching himself – he was the great teacher.  The skills he needed to ride the horse were almost identical to the skills he had developed to ski and to teach skiing.  I didn’t need or want him to reinvent the wheel – we both had a much simpler time by simply asking him to remember what he already knew.

Two more followed soon after – maybe because it was on my mind and I was debating writing this…  Both quite novice riders.  One was struggling to keep his horse in trot and not dropping back to walk.  Have you ever played a musical instrument, I asked?  Yes!  He’s a drummer, has practiced drumming for 20 years, since he was little, 3 hours a day, every single day.  Awesome.  So, a trot is approx. 70 bpm.  You and your horse are dancing partners.  Or drumming pairs.  Walking is approx. 50 bpm.  So, either you can keep the beat in your head (and body) and maintain your rising trot or, he can lead you into following his beat.  It’s not about bigger muscles, it’s about focus – who is drumming who?  And guess what (magic wand…) the horse kept trotting.  Did I magically fix it?  No, 21,900 hours of drumming practice fixed the issue.  Why reinvent the wheel when his body already knew what to do?

An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking… All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…
An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking… All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…

An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking…  All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…

The final one – a little slip of a girl.  Can’t keep her horse straight.  What else do you do?  Archery.  Awesome – there is a target (imaginary) at the end of each side of the arena.  As you come around the corner, breathe, ground yourself to take the shot, stay focused and shoot for the target with your core muscles, that do truly release the arrow…  Oh, look at that, suddenly your horse goes straight…..

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