What Makes A Good Coach?

In a perfect world we’d all be like Anky and Sjef. The horses would be rolled out by immaculate grooms, we’d leap aboard and work our piaffe-passage tour under the watchful eye of our beloved tuning the softness and harmony to gold medal standard. The reality for the vast majority of us is far from this. How many off us actually have a ‘beloved’ to turn to for eyes on the ground and further, how many of us take that ‘beloved’s’ advice without an over the shoulder snark of ‘what the hell would you know honey’!!

Few of us are fortunate enough to have the perfect coach for them on hand. Many of us have to float to our lesson due to lack of facilities at home or the fact our preferred coach may not travel to us or is based another state and only available for clinics every 6 months. It can end up being an exercise that takes considerable time and organisation, not to mention money. For these reasons alone once your butt hits that saddle you want your experience with that particular coach to be an enriching one!

So what makes a good coach? How often should you have lessons? What level should your coach be? Can an jumper teach dressage, can a dressage rider teach jumping? The questions are endless and often without a consistent answer.  The answer is that there’s not a formula for this, it’s based on personalities, abilities and schedules to name a few. A coach, like a doctor or an accountant is a very personal choice. The coach your friends rave about may not be the coach that suits you best. I’ve ridden and audited many high level coaches over the years and I certainly wouldn’t choose to ride with them all again. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything but just because someone’s won medals or competed at a certain level does not mean they’re the coach for you. Having said that there are others I’ve seen or ridden with who I’d crawl on my belly to have another 10 minutes with! There are also people I’ve enjoyed riding with and learnt buckets from with no glittery name behind them. It’s a balance of finding the right person for you to work with and that’s the tricky part!

We all hear the stories of the coach who tore you to shreds, told you your horse looked like a donkey and would never be any good, or was simply rude and/or uncommunicative. The coach who spent most of the lesson telling you all about them, constantly reminding you that you’re nowhere near their lofty levels, or continuing with an exercise that’s clearly upsetting your horse without breaking it down, trying another way or helping you to understand it better. It goes on and on. It’s fortunate we also hear the great stories. The coach who was able to help you break through a long-standing barrier, the coach who finally made the exercise you’d struggled with for weeks make perfect sense.  The coach who took you from prelim to advanced or from being too nervous to get on to being able to enjoy your chosen discipline at whatever level you’re riding at.

We all learn differently and for this reason alone there are some people who simply aren’t going to work successfully together. Broadly, there are three types of learners: listening learners, seeing learners and touch or experience learners. Trying to explain something to someone who’s an experiencing learner is a frustrating process for both parties and it’s certainly worth thinking about the way you learn as well as observing the way a coach will teach to help with your learning.

This isn’t to say both you and your prospective coach need to both complete a Myers Briggs test and receive a % of compatability a la Perfect Match before lessons commence but it’s helpful to recognise how you learn best and take it into consideration when ‘auditioning’ coaches. Often a coach is working easily as hard as you are on the horse working out how best to communicate their teaching to you!

A good coach should be interested in your goals and aims and be able to assist in your planning to achieve them. Likewise they should assist you in a tactful manner if those goals appear unrealistic or more importantly, unsafe on your current mount. Not everyone’s goals are based around competition aims. Some of us have aims to be able to go out for a nice calm trail ride. Others are realistically able to aim for Grand Prix, others would be delighted to ride an elementary test. All of this is OK, your goals are just that, yours. Noone else has the right to make you feel they’re not ‘right’ or ‘good enough’. A good coach will help you with setting markers on your way to your goal so you can measure your progress. A good coach should be able to communicate on a number of levels, to children and adults, to those from all walks of life. A good coach should be able to push you out of your comfort zone with total support so you feel like you’re able to achieve what you previously thought impossible. A good coach should also absolutely admit when they feel you may be ready to move onto another coach for whatever reason. I think it’s a good thing for people to ride with more than one person. We can all learn from different people. As a coach I’m lucky enough to have a group of other coaches and professional riders around me who I often call to bounce an idea off. I seriously learn just as much teaching as I would with being taught.

Fiona Dearing

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