They’re only secrets if you haven’t heard them

 (“. . . she wants to do art but she doesn’t know how to hold the brush.”)

Here is part of Associate Editor Sidd Finch’s ongoing conversation with Bill reflecting on his years of teaching.

SF: So here’s a question for instructors — do you teach people what they want to learn or what you feel they need to learn?

BILL: Of course that’s a different question than telling them what they want to hear. Ego stroking is only called for if you’re really impoverished!
I think I speak for many instructors who get that call from someone who has decided to do “dressage.” They’ve read volumes on the subject and looked at endless videos on YouTube, but routinely they don’t grasp how much they need to discover before they can realistically pursue the goals they envision. A big part of our job is teaching those riders what they should want to learn.

SF: Are they receptive?

BILL: The revelations can be jarring. It’s like a woman who professes to “want to do art” and finds out she doesn’t know how to hold the brush.

SF: An example?

BILL: One thing many riders who are new to the sport don’t understand is the need for physicality. It looks so easy when it’s done right, and a tall, lean rider who is very fit can make it look that way.
A novice may also have bought into the “I don’t want to be strong with my horse” syndrome (which is how so many natural horsemanship beginners get hurt.) I am amazed at some riders who employ a truly minuscule amount of strength and wonder why their horse proceeds blithely along totally oblivious to them.
That old “as little as possible but as much as necessary” line pertains. Sometimes if nothing is happening, “as much as is necessary” is more than they can conceive of! Working riders understand this, but if your book learning exceeds your practical experience (and the above situation describes you), it may be time to think things over and re-calibrate.

SF: It sounds like you’re advocating strong riding…

BILL: Not hardly! I’m advocating effective and appropriate riding and the goal of using small aids to get all the effect you want. Strength when used should be brief and immediately followed by reward, but I’m talking about people who use cotton candy aids that the horse politely smirks at.

SF: Any other ways these riders distress you?

BILL: Distress is too strong a word. More like “bemuse.” We have all heard phrases like “Why did my horse do that?” or its corollary, “I didn’t tell him to do that!”
Some riders are okay with the physical part of riding— they know the buttons—but they haven’t learned to psychologize yet. To “think like a horse” is beyond them. An experienced rider when faced with her horse’s inattention or distraction adjusts her aids and simply goes on. A novice hasn’t figured out that horses are horses and gets waylaid by the incident even if it’s a very small one. They have to learn a popped shoulder, a sideways glance, even a bounce or a buck or a mild shy shouldn’t be worth their time of day!
Along similar lines getting into their horse’s head will let them tailor their schooling to the best long-term outcome.

SF: For instance?

BILL: Well, repetitions are extremely useful. When teaching some movements even a little bit of anticipation can help. But be careful! Too much rote drilling and you will have taught your horse behaviors that pop up when you don’t want them and are hard to extinguish!. Having your horse be honestly on the aids and waiting for your advice is far, far different from teaching him to learn his test!

To be continued (by and by)