Monday 4 June 2012

Checkpoint 3 - The Coach

“Curmudgeon, you have spent a lot of time and money learning to ride.  Why don’t you start teaching lessons now?  You know at least as much as most of the crappy coaches out there.”

Hmm.  It's a good question.

And it is not that it hasn’t crossed my mind.  After all, I was responsible for technical sales training for a multinational company a few years back.  One would assume I do have the ability to teach someone something.  But really it is not even in the same realm.  

All I had to do in my trainer role was put together a nice PowerPoint slideshow to present whatever “key platform” or “value proposition” we were focusing on that quarter  Then, over the course of the presentation, ensure that the sales team was able to correctly pronounce a few important technical words so they didn’t sound like total morons in front of clients.  Lastly, I added enough cheesy jokes and entertainment to the whole shindig to keep everyone awake for 50 minutes.  Usually, this was something witty about dog stools or vomit.  My typical day was kind of like bad night at Yuk-Yuks, with a focus on digestion.  

Come to think of it, I was more like a clinician.  No deep or lasting improvements were really expected.

Braaav, Carol!  You remembered how to pronounce Colon!  Nice work.  Next we will tackle Duodenum. 

The cashier at Loblaws explained to me that they refer to this as "FENNEL".  It is much safer that way.

Now... standing in an icy arena, at night, after a long day of being nice to people at my real job –  that is a whole different bag.  The thought of staring catatonically at someone circling me on Senor Fluffbunny , silently thinking “Wow.  That is some mighty bad riding” while desperately trying to pull out of my ass some words.. any  words… the first clue or hint on what to tell them to start doing – something, anything – that might make a difference – and that they might actually, physically be able to execute…yikes, the very thought of having to do this is just too depressing.  I don’t have the skill set.  And I am too lazy (or perhaps honest) to pretend that I do. 

I think lots of coaches do pretend.  I notice this especially while watching hunter lessons now, because I am kind of removed from the gig and realize how primitive the understanding of things like “shoulder-in” or “cadence” or “bend” are to most hunter folk – and therefore how entirely stupid it is to use these terms while instructing this population of riders.   And really, for the standard of performance required to win at lower level hunter shows – how entirely unnecessary.   Sorry to sound like a DQ, but seriously.  It is true.   Watching a beginner adult rider trying desperately to pilot a half-lame 20yr old piece of equine ¾ inch plywood around a 2’3” course, careening through motorcycle turns, while hearing tips like “ask him for a bit of flexion through the joooowl – good, niiiiice, muuuuuch better – did you feeeeel that?” or some such thing is really quite entertaining.   (Always must be said with that slight coach-drawl, a blend of boredom / condescension that all hunter coaches seem to magically acquire).

(And don't forget "Waaaait, Waaaait, Waaaait, Waaaait..." If you were blind, you might think you had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and wound up at an Evangelical Christian Abstinence convention...)

Anyway, this whole long blah-blah intro really did not start out with the intention of gratuitous hunter bashing (but it is so hard to resist) but was really initiated just to bring us to the last checkpoint.  And to help you to see that it is not that I am entirely unsympathetic to the challenges faced by the other participants in my own personal drama.   

Checkpoint 3 – The Coach

I don’t think it is a spoiler to let you know that over the course of the eight years that I have owned Ms. V, I have had more than one coach. 

Why?  Am I an unteachable cretin?  Yah, some days that is probably it. 

But really - as a hunter rider with no dressage experience…   sticking with your very first dressage horse -that you selected yourself - from backing to PSG is not an everyday occurrence.   Sticking with one coach AND one horse from backing to PSG would be heading into immaculate conception-like miraculous territory. 

(Conversely.. .sticking with one coach and cycling through several horses – well, that would be moron on an internet bulletin board cliché #7835 – WWYD – Coach says my horse is no good, but she has the perfect one to sell me!  Again!)

Let’s see… what would it take to pull it off this immaculate conception of horse training…

First…you would need to find someone who has the patience to work with a beginner rider.  No, not a real, fresh faced beginner, without a clue... that would be easier.  No, it is typically a beginner to dressage, who thinks they already have several clues.  Unfortunately all of them really bad, and probably wrong, but they don’t know it yet.   

I am going straight and forward!  The answer to this mystery called dressage is on the way!  I think my horse is wearing a rubber mask that we can easily remove.  

Yes, the coach must be someone who has mastered the concept of watching this beginner ride around executing something that looks nothing at all like dressage, on a horse that looks nothing at all like a horse that will ever be a dressage horse – while coming up with something, anything positive to say that might begin to penetrate the impermeable crust of suckage.  

Someone who has the insane patience to try to make the simplest, mind numbingly boring concepts sound interesting day after day, even when they feel like pulling out their hair and crying.  Or becoming sarcastic, or fakey-fake smarmy.   Or condescending assholes.  There are only so many meaningful and enlightening analogies on how to tell someone to put their shoulders back, sit their ass down in the saddle, and stop yanking on the inside rein.  Or whatever. Again.  And Again.  Without ever saying FUUUCKKKK!  

But wait – there’s more!  They also have to want to climb aboard 3 year olds, who are consistently ridden by this beginner rider – the exact same one who cannot master the simplest, mind numbingly boring concepts.  And as part of their high paying gig (ha ha being funny here), try to sort out the tangled spaghetti of bad habits that the two of them have worked so hard to develop together.

Does the fun stop there – NO, don’t be crazy.  Of course there's more, much more. Because they have to want to keep on doing it – for years.  Regardless of accomplishments. Or lack thereof.   Or the excuses, or the cancellations, or waiting through the lamenesses…

And the minute something goes wrong - stalls, falls off the rails, no money, no progress, no time, (insert life circumstance of rider that has absolutely nothing to do with coach here...)... bye!  See ya!  Out the door walks a large percentage of the coach's earnings.  Because one can only suffer through so many life sucking clients at a time... 

But don’t worry about coaches – they usually have received extensive training to prepare them for this rewarding life.  Like college degrees in… uh… typically nothing relating even remotely to any of this.  No courses on adult education, sports medicine, psychology.

They have learned all they know from other coaches – who have taught them, while trying not to pull out THEIR hair, become fakey fake smarmy, or turn into condescending assholes.   

Oh wait - my post is done, and so is my wine, and I haven't told you anything at all about the coach.  Damn!

There is always tomorrow. 


  1. A good reason not to start teaching lessons is that you will then, if you are honest, have to show Open instead of Amateur. Instead of being the kick-ass first place winner in your Amateur division with your 60%, you will be the pathetic sad last place finisher with the same score in Open, while Tom, Belinda and Ashley show you how it's really done.

  2. Wait a minute...where do I go if I am the sad pathetic last place finisher in the Amateur division?

    1. To the UDBB to complain about biased judging....

  3. I can't really think of a worse job than teaching adult amateurs dressage. On the scale of mammalian intelligence horses are fairly dumb, and yet they are soooo much easier to train up the levels than middle aged women.

    1. So much better to teach the hordes of professional children that are out there!!!

      I think you guys have found your niche market, go for it.

  4. You guys are very witty today. (Can't tell if it is the same person)

  5. "Someone who has the insane patience to try to make the simplest, mind numbingly boring concepts sound interesting day after day, even when they feel like pulling out their hair and crying." <--That's me...
    "Without ever saying FUUUCKKKK!" <--Don't get too close, you will hear me say it under my breath many, many times.

    1. Sad to say that this is true of almost every occupation. I believe that every person has their forte, inside of which they are master of the domain and liable to judge harshly those who don't immediately comprehend the subject as easily as they do. Outside of the domain, should the role of teacher and student be reversed, they are certainly to be on the opposite side and subject to their former student doing the eye-rolling and muttering bit. I speak out of experience as both an adult amateur rider (not especially talented) and well-paid business consultant who has been engaged by a former coach in a professional capacity. Coach in question was a totally gifted rider but, lord, I wanted to throw my laptop at her for her complete inability to comprehend any normal business practices including filing of receipts and maintenance of basic records.

  6. Love the comment about clinicians..."no deep or lasting improvements were really expected".

  7. Haha...Just started reading your blog and I loved this post. I am a hunter girl just about to get into dressage so at least I know what I'm in for now!