How to be a better trainer. Do the easy stuff first.

Rudolf said to me once, with some disgust, “What is all this talk about teachers?  It is the student that makes the difference!”

Well, yes.  But there are some notable teachers, himself included, who have changed the course of many riders.  And historically riding teachers have been more or less directive.  Recall this sport started with the cavalry?

The cruel trick now is most enthusiasts are adult and professional women.  People not exactly accustomed a sound butt-kicking on a daily basis–as might have been a more common teaching strategy in the old days.

The pendulum swings. But here is something for any stalled students who wonder sometimes plaintively, where to go next:  you may have the best horse in your area, more money than most, time enough to ride, a facility lots of riders dream about.  But, if you cannot or will not take instruction, if in your heart you want praise for what you are doing more than you want to improve what you are doing, then you will someday come across someone who has all those same things–a horse, money, time–and perseverance.  Someone who knows how to be trained.  And that person, the one who knows how to be trained, will quietly leave you in the dust.  Think about it.

From what I can see currently there is a big love-in happening in the dressage community between the students (the ones with the check book that are actually in charge) and the teacher who assumes a role of being in charge for a short period.  People are so nice now!  What happened?  And are riders doing better for it?

I’ve been at this a long time.  I was a girl in the hunter circuit on the East Coast in the seventies when George Morris sent everyone on a crash diet.  Mr. Morris was (and is) one of the most revered and feared jumper coaches of our time.
Distance-George-Morris(Thank you Amy.)

This is very good advice, by the way.  Dressage riders, take it to heart on any line of changes that you engage in.

So this little ditty has some references to George and is largely about how to be a better (and possibly hated) trainer by actually making a difference in your riders.  Its also about how to determine the correct moment to duck and run if that is what is indicated.  And it has a pointer at the end to something that actually makes life easier for your horses–and thereby you. I’m going to say this several times.  In almost all cases the best teaching plan is to do the easy and obvious things first.  Horse limping?  Check his feet before you buy a new saddle.  Do the obvious–because 9/10 that is what the problem is.  Horse bites at you when girthed?

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It means it hurts.  Do something.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield

More on this seemingly-obvious, but never-addressed issue at the base of the post.  Making your horse more comfortable is a great example of picking the low hanging fruit.  Do first the easy (and inexpensive) things that make the biggest difference. Bit trouble?  Maybe. Get his teeth looked at before you splurge on a new bit. Avoid trends.  They are expensive, designed to get you to focus on equipment rather than riding.

Anyway, in our social media-enabled age of instant perfection, coaching is getting to be a complicated subject, largely because actually being a better trainer is likely to get you fired.

Though changing old behavior into new is the reason riders presumably hire coaches, people tend to get mad when you actually ask them to change.

(Oh dear.)

First off, and question of note: why would you WANT to be a trainer in this country?  Never mind a better one?

Point one, there is a lot of free competition: a seemingly endless supply of U-tube and Facebook experts willing to give an opinion, watch a thirty second clip and make a judgement.

Point two, the liability aspect of the game in the USA is enough to send all but the impoverished (or extremely well-insured) running.

And then there is the,  point three, “meanie” quotient.

images-2George Morris fairly terrorized a generation of young riders–myself among them.  Many of which amounted to something.  There is nothing that says you have to be a tyrant to train aspiring riders.  You do not have to insult them or send them on crash diets, or be unsympathetic to their individual needs and learning styles.

But it helps.

Some advice from George:

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Look at how relaxed and at peace that horse looks.  I guarantee you, the rider at the other end of that gaze did not.

 

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Well, trainers, maybe you do need to ignore “their learning style.”

(George once famously accused a rider in a clinic of appearing like a wart on a horse.  Ouch.)

Trainers DO need to ask (and sometimes demand) their students  to change.  And as I have begun advising in clinics of late: “This part of what I’m about to tell you (over and over) is probably going to make you angry.  You are going to hate me.  That’s okay.” 

(That’s also why I have a hotel room on a clinic and probably don’t want to go out to dinner with the larger group.)

Hands up who has been mad at their teacher !!!!!!!!!!!!!!    0

(There is at least one liar in every group.)

Teachers can (should) be demanding.

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(Trust me I’ve been there.)

Change is the process of letting go of what you thought you knew or understood.  Change (learning) often evokes grief, rage, disappointment, and even momentary despair. Change is about doing something different.

That’s all part of learning something that in the end may be deeply satisfying, but the road towards it is a real PITA.

So, as a teacher, if you are basically there to cheer on your students, they may feel great–but will not change/improve.  Good side of this “cheer on” plan, short term, is they won’t ever be really mad at you either, so you can probably get on for a while, and everything will be okay.  Until they decide to go to a horse show and encounter a thing called, a score.

More on simple changes that make a big difference below, but here is my advice on training, some of it gleaned from some good sources.

Check the tack. Make sure the most simple details are attended to before you ever start.  Make sure the tack fits, the equipment is in good order and comfortable for the horse.  (Unites States Pony Club.  Remember, I am a graduate A . . . we never start a lesson without checking the tack.)

Have a plan and sit outside the arena. (Anders Lindgren, Rocky Mountain Instructor’s Series.)

Make sure it is the student who is putting in the majority of the effort. (Rudolf Zeilinger, my hero and a master of inspiring his students, both equine and human.)

Be very demanding, but when they are really working make them more at ease by forgiving small mistakes–which inevitably happen. (Meg Plumb, who coined the phrase I often use, “not to worry!”  Rudolf Zeilinger’s equally profound version is: “Es macht nicht” or “it does not matter.”)

Knowing when something does not matter is critically important.

Only care deeply when change is possible. (I’m not going to attribute this to anyone, but there is no point in knocking yourself (and the student) out when change is not really wanted or it is just too hard. If the horse is old or lame, or the client is frightened, making excuses, or rides only twice a month, let it go.  They have given you a message: you have been assigned educational hospice care, not intervention.  You might choose not to teach them if it annoys you.  But let them down easily. There is no shame in that.  They are in charge of how much effort they put in).

I’m going to repeat this: The student is in charge of how much effort they put in.  Time, money, commitment, goals.  They belong to the student.  And if the student does not organize these to a level that may make a difference, there is nothing you can do as a trainer but collect a (small) check and go home.

People used to (annoyingly) say to me, You’re so lucky that you “get” to go to Germany and train! 

Luck had nothing to do with it. And my raised eyebrows at the comment had to do with the grief, rage, disappointment and despair that were often my companions on the journey.  It was not fun.  Gratifying, but not fun.  And truth was, I made it happen by giving up many things the people claiming I was “lucky” possessed.  They could have done it too.  I did it because I wanted the training very, very badly–I was tired of the grind of “almost” knowing.  But many parts of that journey were humiliating, confusing, expensive and painful.

So I am amused when my casual students seem to expect that lessons are in some way entertainment.  Sure, you can use humor to keep the mood light, but that’s not the goal.  Nor is marketing.

Which leads us to client choice.

As a trainer do not work with horses or riders whose talent, temperament, or level of training are outside your training skills and goals.  That means both horses too green and horses too experienced.

There are probably other people better suited to these jobs, and it is silly to think you are an expert in every one of the various fields.    No one is.   If you are a Grand Prix rider with good cred and no experience with young horses, then teach the upper level.  If you know about bringing a young warmblood along the levels, do that.  If you know how to break a horse and gentle them in, do that. Some people have two out of three of theses skills.  Almost no one is an expert in all three.  Live with it.

Mine?

I have never done polo or tent pegging, but I have watched both with enthusiasm.

I have experience in breaking and training young horses.  I don’t do it because I don’t find it very interesting–and you need really specific facilities, help, and other very broke horses.

I have experience in jumping, eventing, trail riding.  I don’t do those much because I already have. (Well, sometimes I still jump, and sometimes I take the horses out.  But I don’t get paid for it.)

I have  experience  in upper level dressage, a background in science, a degree in English, Brown belt in Aikido, and know something about biomechanics, carriage and suspension.  I teach because I enjoy making it easier for people to understand (and feel) how they are going to get where they are going–if indeed they want to go.  If they do not want to do it my way, it is usually not a good fit.

So my training group is really limited.

That’s fine!  I don’t have all that much time.

Another great piece of advice from Rudolf?  “Get done with your riding day and go do something else.”

Sometimes productive things happen when you step back and think.

 

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We figured out why horses don’t like their girths

In a related post I have told you we solved the girth problem.  I know that sounds weird, but really, we did.

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And now in 2018 have a workshop to prove it.

I heard a story a while ago at a clinic, while showing some girths to an interested crowd.

It goes like this: A friend who also rides for pleasure, was walking through CDI stabling at Dressage World Cup, witnessed a bunch of ears back, tails swishing behavior at tack up.

She asked, “How come all the nasty faces?”

Companion’s answer, “They are ALL like that–dressage horses.”

Nope. They DO NOT HAVE TO BE!

(And please, now that we know how to fix it–FIX IT!)

https://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield?ref=listing-shop-header-item-count#items

Here I am also going to tell you quite simply how we finally managed to make the horses more comfortable.  So it will perhaps make more sense.

The solution came about by trying things we suspected would work.  Most of them did not.  If you do this as a job and watch carefully without investment, the so called perfect answers really don’t work as much as you’d hope.

Our prejudices at the start:

  1. We liked our cord “mohair” girths–and on investigation found they were no longer made of corded mohair, but nylon with no give whatsoever.  Their only virtues were they typically do not rub and they are inexpensive.

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Would anyone like a pile of them?

2. Real fiber with spring actually is good–but you can’t buy it for $24.99.  Ever feed a goat?  We have. You shear them once a year and it takes them a whole year to “grow” a fiber girth.  Then some human has to spin it and cord it and ply it.)

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These things are gorgeous!  Darin Alexander, ArtCords did these.  They are much much better than nylon but at the tension we keep them they were not a solution unto themselves. I gave mine away because I could not bear to have the moths get them.

3. We thought unlimited stretch fabric girths would be nice.  Our horses don’t like them.  We asked, they made faces.

4. We didn’t like elastic ends.  Now we don’t care–the horses don’t care. But if you have them, please have them on both sides

5. We didn’t like short girths–too much hardware in moving places.

We still don’t like short girths and the horses have gotten over the bruising from trying the standard models.  Eventually we came up with one fitted with carefully measured–buckles as high as you can get them that actually works.  A tiny bit of elastic, a girth shield added–see lump like full snake in middle–and a girth cozy–no more ugly faces.  We will show you one at the end of the post.

6. We thought anatomic girths would be nice.  The horses walked off with peg legs.

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Same of the “shoulder relief” girths.  The might work with a hunter saddle designed to be ridden up over the withers.   They cause a huge amount of elbow infringement in a “normally” placed saddle.  (Try one on and stick your fingers in the front side of it and walk the horse.  OUCH!)

7. We thought contoured girths with “humane” ends (which we still like–the humane ends) would be great.

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The horses would not walk at all.

8. We thought the Balding was old fashioned.

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The horses liked them pretty well.

Then we got frustrated that older and older was better and better and bought ourselves one of these very new things:

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It is meant to check your saddle fit, but it worked very well on the bottom side of the horse too.

We strapped it to the beast and rode with it.  (Beast did not mind).

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And then looked at it carefully.  The middle section is the pectorals–still some gel.  The spots that bottomed out–you can see light through them–are just behind the elbows at the base of the ribs.  And it bottomed out every single time we tried–a lot of pressure was being exerted there at the base of the rib cage.

So then off to the Internet and much study of anatomy and other people’s tests on race horses and girth tightening pressures and many many hours into it we came up with something that worked. The Girth Shield concept allows the horses to breath naturally while securely holding your saddle in place.  And that is what the horses are grumping about when you tack them up–when a normal girth is tightened it is hard for them to breath, and it hurts.

The horses are now all very happy.  No more ugly faces

Melynnda got her Silver Medal, I dusted off my Gold and then stuck it back in the car’s ash tray.

We found a way to give room for normal rib expansion by creating what is in effect a second tree for the base of the horse. 6,7,8 or 9 inches wide.  One size does NOT fit all.  But it’s not so complicated. a length that puts the buckles where you want them and a measurement across the pectorals.

 

The design evolves.

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There are lots of ways to get around problems.

The X Girth is above, and it is about as simple as you can think of–other than it is hard to make because of the continuous loop.  It is easy to use.  Inexpensive.  We call it the dry martini of the girth world.

If you want one, make contact.

What’s to lose?  (Strong hint–the nasty faces and peg legs for a start.)

https://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield?ref=listing-shop-header-item-count#items

Below a modified girth  and how it looked before we modified it.

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http://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield

The heavily padded shield at the base of the girth creates a place for the horse’s ribs to expand when the girth is fully tightened.  Problem solved.

The Girth Shield Project

http://girthshield.wordpress.com/

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Last summer a clever student asked me why so many horses seemed to experience discomfort at girthing?  How come they made nasty faces, tried to nip, then walked out stiffly, or stayed tight in the back–particularly the young horses in canter?  We have a gazillion saddle sizes to choose from, clean pads, no sores, and we are always very considerate about girthing slowly.  Very frustrating.

My answer was far from satisfactory.

I did what we all do when we don’t really know, and said it was a problem, I was not sure of the answer.

Then I related that the so-called “cure” was that the horses had put up with it for years, and might well continue to do so–if they had enough grit. (Bad answer!)

And, that  they were not allowed to actually bite us! (True, but has nothing to do with what they are saying.)

I elaborated what I felt at the time–that it was a major issue for almost all dressage horses, and largely unresolved.

Further, lots of marketers had tried lots of things that really didn’t seem to work.

And, like specialty saddles, (though to a smaller degree), one could spend a ton of money on the newest thing and then be left with a pile of equipment that functioned no better (and perhaps worse) than before.

So with a shrug I went on–though I know that was not right.

But that question also spawned an answer because it came to bother me that some of my favorite and very successful horses had been bothered by their girths.

That solution required a lot of purchasing of different girths and a lot of sending back those failed trials, getting closer, and then some new creations based on what we found.  (We found there were some better than others, but the answer was not out there on the market for us to find.)

Now with a pile of experience–and  a several thousand $$$ pile of trial girths that did not work as hoped–we have an answer.

So TM in place, Patent pending our next year’s final drawing, here it is–an opportunity to participate  http://girthshield.wordpress.com/

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This is anything but slick marketing, but that is not what we are about. You can  check to see if we have anything ready made in your horse’s size:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield

And in another related post I have written the story about how we did it.  It was not too hard–it just took a LOT of time.  https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/we-figured-out-why-horses-dont-like-their-girths/

 

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