(“She couldn’t grasp the individuality of each horse.”)
An “air controller lesson” is one where the instructor supplies a nonstop series of commands to the student, in essence “riding” the horse from the ground through the rider’s body. The actual rider must be able to perform the physical functions promptly and exactly, but thinking is optional at best. It even sometimes just gets in the way.
Admittedly, there are certain times with certain riders that this technique can be useful. It can make them realize how many balls they need to keep in the air at the same time. But as you can surmise, it doesn’t do much to develop the rider’s decision making process. Rather, it develops a dependency on the instructor.
When I teach, I try to emphasize what the rider should be feeling with her partner. It puts the focus in a different place to say “Try to soften his right jaw” than to say “vibrate your fingers.” It helps the rider think less of what her hand is doing to the rein, and more about the tactile effect on the horse.
As a teacher you also want to share your thought process with your student. Other than simply learning to execute the movements, they need to understand why you choose a particular one at a given time or why you employ them in a certain order.
A long time ago I knew a woman who asked every visiting clinician for a warm-up pattern–-a series of exercises she could do every day the same way when she brought her horses out of the barn. She couldn’t grasp the individuality of each horse or that they could be different from day to day and would need their work tailored accordingly.
Riders must learn to read their horses. “Push, push, push,” for instance, is not a long-term strategy that can be employed exclusively without making most horses nuts! Learning when to challenge a horse, when to back off and do something he’s good at and can be pleased about, when to be physically less demanding, when to simplify an exercise that he’s having trouble with— these are all important skills for a rider who spends much time working on her own.
Watching a student develop the realization that her horse, unbeknownst to her, has been telling her these things all along is a significant milestone in her education. Michael Poulin has often spoken of the creative aspect of riding and training. This is not a one-way process of stuff you just pull out of your head. It’s a collaborative effort with your horse which can only be achieved when you understand what he’s telling you.