When I was training horses for the public as a full time job, my main focus was on being the best trainer I could and do the best job for the horses and their owners that I could. I spent an inordinate amount of time devoted to studying, thinking about and experimenting with different ways and approaches to be better at my job. Being a student of horsemanship was as much a part of my job as being a teacher of horses.
Now I work as a clinician as my main occupation and I see it as a very different career path from being a trainer. Most clinicians and even instructors fall into their job because of their abilities with horses. People appreciate a person’s way with horses and almost automatically begin clamoring for lessons, in the hope they will learn the secrets that make that person good with horses.
But nowhere, that I am aware, is there a place for aspiring clinicians or instructors to learn to become just as a good a teacher as they are a horse person. I now see my main occupation as a teacher first and a horseman second. My value to a student is no longer about my skill with a horse. It’s in my ability to communicate concepts to people. This is first and foremost what determines if I am a good clinician or not, and my horsemanship is a secondary consideration (albeit still important).
Where do good horse people go to learn to become good teachers? It seems it must come from their own efforts because there is no course or certificate in teacher training for horse people.
That being said, it appears to me that the general public is less interested in a horse clinician’s teaching skills than they are in their prowess with a horse. Some of the biggest names in the clinic world are terrible teachers. Instead of explaining difficult concepts in simple terms that less experienced people can understand, they use trite, mother-earth statements that offer very few people any clear answers and confuse most students. Answering a question about how to use the reins and rider’s legs, with a statement like “… you use them to support the horse”, is often little help to the average clinic goer. But it happens all the time and the starry-eyed paying customer swoons in awe at the brilliance of this observation. We talk all the time about the importance of clarity when teaching the horse; yet don’t criticize the clinician who fails to offer the same support to the student.
Then there are the teachers who don’t know why they teach the things they teach.
I recently asked a clinician why he teaches people not use both reins to halt a horse in the first couple of months of starting them. He got quite cranky and a little belligerent at my question and didn’t have an answer. I think it is an appropriate question to ask why this person charges people money to come to a clinic, when they don’t even understand what they are teaching? If a person doesn’t know why they don’t apply both reins, then should they be telling people not to do it? There maybe a perfectly good reason for why he teaches that principle, but it is concerning that the clinician doesn’t know what it is. All of us teachers should only be teaching what we know, and leave out what we don’t understand.
Then there are the clinicians who believe their time is more valuable then their student’s time.
I’ve been to clinics where people have asked a perfectly legitimate question and are in turn abused and humiliated by the clinician for being so naïve or not paying attention when the subject was discussed earlier in the clinic.
In my view, it’s never ok for anybody to abuse or humiliate another person in public, let alone when somebody who is paying you a lot of money to have his or her questions (dumb or otherwise) answered.
By definition, it’s the job of a clinician (or any teacher) to patiently answer a student’s questions in the best way possible that helps the student. We are always hearing how we should leave our egos outside of the riding arena because they have no place when training horses. Yet, so many clinicians don’t take their own advice when the student is human and not equine.
When deciding on which clinics to attend, I would like to see people do more homework in researching the clinician whose teaching style best fits their learning pattern. I think it is time that people stopped rewarding bad teachers, just because they may be good horse trainers. Choosing to attend clinics based solely on which you think is the better horse person, may leave you financially poorer and no wiser in your horsemanship.
Let the better horse trainers who are second-rate teachers do their stuff at horse expos and demonstrate their skills on YouTube. And let the better teachers be acknowledged for their ability to pass on their skills to students in the clinic setting. In that way, the life of horses will be much better served and improved.
This is a photo of clinicians and trainer who rode the Tom Dorrance benefit in 2001 in Fort Worth.