When the teacher says NO to the student.

BILL– If you only want your instructor to say “yes,” then you probably don’t really want an instructor. Giving you affirmation is, in fact, part of a teacher’s job description. But a teacher has larger responsibilities as well. Foremost is to protect the horses he or she works with from rider behaviors which result from flawed reasoning or, in some cases, lack of reasoning.

A good instructor intervenes in person when necessary, but more importantly, plays the part of that small green cricket with the orange umbrella – the voice of conscience or perspective which springs from the wealth of experience they have—and you don’t. Nearly 40 years ago, I was riding in a clinic with Major Hans Wikne. While I had been on a few upper level horses, my skill set was sorely limited. Forward? Yes. Contact? Yes. Flexion at the poll? Some. But the horse wasn’t really “on the bit” and at that point words like connection and throughness had not yet found their way into print in mainstream horse publications, much less had they permeated my consciousness. As I recall, the clinic was scheduled to last three days. Throughout Day One, I struggled on the 20 m circle trying to produce Acceptance. Towards the end of the lesson, Wikne got on my horse and made him round and buoyant in a way I’d never seen him be. The next day, when I returned for my second lesson, I told the Major I had gotten back on my horse the previous afternoon and had tried to duplicate what he had done. He didn’t react to that news, but at the conclusion of my second lesson, he said to me quietly, “Now this afternoon, don’t get on him again. Let him be. Let him think about what he’s learning, and tomorrow we will pick it up fresh.”

A gentle remonstration to an ignorant student who didn’t know any better but to keep drilling past the point of any useful learning. But interestingly, it was delivered in a kind way, not producing hostility in me while helping me to see my problem from my horse’s point of view.

Some “no”s need to be resounding—after an aid that’s cringe-worthy or when a rider reacts from emotion rather than from sense. Some “no”s are really just a “not yet,” and deserve an explanation so you don’t feel you’re being unfairly deprived of the blissful state you’ve been seeking.

An occasional student whose horse I was about to school in her absence recently left me the following note: “Got his counter canter now and mastered the canter-walk-canter. He’s ready for flying changes! ” . . . .Yeah, except he wasn’t. Not through, jaw stiffness, unable to displace his withers from my weight aids—a bunch of reasons why, although flying changes were on the horizon for him, I wasn’t going to be doing them that day!

Looking out for your horse’s welfare, preserving the dignity of our sport, sometimes even protecting an over-zealous student’s life and limb—these are all reasons for your instructor to say “no.” “No”s turn to “Yeeeessssss” in the long run.

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