University of Vermont AAHS

My Students, My Teachers

Jan Dawson
President, AAHS

[reproduced from Caution: Horses, Vol.3, No. 1 Spring 1998]

Having just returned from the 1998 United States Pony Club Annual Meeting  where I was invited to give a workshop on "Teaching Safe Horsemanship" I am renewed, energized. It was wonderful to be with so many people who have such dedication to teaching young riders to ride well and humanely and who have a serious interest in our next generation of riding instructors.

"Accident Free Teaching and Learning" was the emphasis of the workshop. It focused on protecting the parts that the helmet doesn't cover. We confronted the issue of how an instructor can tell whether her student is ready to trot, canter or jump, and whether the common “trial and error” method is sufficient.

What skills does a rider need to be able to do any of these things? She/he must be able to sit and not fall off. Building a seat can be divided into five skills that are taught by five exercises and we covered them briefly.

Because of the one-hour time limit we hit the high points, but we went into turbo gear and finished with minutes to spare. There was standing room only on February 7 so that we were asked to repeat the whole workshop the next day.

For me, the most interesting discovery was that while every one seemed to know that a rider's teacher is her/his horse, few had given much thought to the related fact that one of the main jobs of the riding instructor is to teach the student, from the very beginning, to listen to what the horse is telling him.

A rather amazing related issue was that it was apparently another issue to say that the student is the riding instructor's teacher. It seems the same to us. If one asks a student to perform some skill and the student does not perform the expected act, just like the trainer with the young horse, the instructor must, at least, consider that the request needs to be rephrased. Students do not deliberately ignore instructions. They do not deliberately do something other than what the instructor requested. One must assume that what the instructor said was not what the student heard or understood. If the instruction doesn't work, don't keep hammering on the same request. Reword or rephrase it. Back up to the last place where the lesson was working and start over.

This is the same with advanced students and with beginners. The instructor's job is to get the lesson taught to the extent that the student can explain it back to her/him or teach the lesson to another student. If the student cannot explain the skill taught in the lesson or teach it to someone else, the skill has NOT been adequately taught, which is a different issue than “adequately learned.”

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