November 30, 2010

Thanks Carol!

I’ve only had a handful of riding instructors in my riding career so I’m not an expert, but there was one who truly left an impression.  She was a true teacher at heart (whether she realized it or not), and proved you don’t have to be the highest ranking certified rider/instructor to train quality riders.

To compare we will go through some of my other “trainers”.  The first was when I was 7, I wanted to ride horses and my mom found a woman willing to teach me.  She didn’t have a training stable, she just had some old horses and patience.  Doe taught me to ride, not necessarily how to ride.  To clarify, I was put on a horse and taught to steer, taught to kick, whoa and stay on.  I did not learn heals down/toes in, left lead, right lead etc.  I basically spent an hour each week on a horse, and for me that was ok.
As I continued to ride, my parents realized this may not be the woman to stay with forever.  Eventually I would get bored.  Plus they had promise me a horse when I turned 12 and I started getting interested in jumping and other things my riding friends were doing at another barn.  So we moved to a hunter/jumper facility, this was the exact opposite of the backyard barn I had come from… this was a show barn.  And the trainer had been trained by the best and brightest in the industry, she was a “professional”.  And, honestly I had fun most of the time, I was learning 2-point and getting to jump and there were more kids around to play with.  But the trainer was a little stricter than I was used to.   I was not used to being yelled at and forced to work hard.  For 5 years I kind of rode when I wanted to and took breaks when I wanted to.  This was a real lesson and it took some getting used to.  And to be honest I did learn a lot, I learned to jump, I learned proper posture and even won my very first class at my very first show.  But like I said, my trainer wasn’t always nice, if you slacked you got yelled at.  And she was good at talking you into “needing” a new saddle or trunk or horse for that matter.  My parents weren’t happy with her training and managing style so we move on… again.
My mom knew a guy whose wife trained and raised quarter horses who was looking to start giving lessons.  Sounded like another backyard set up to me.  It was and it wasn’t.  Carol’s backyard was 4 acres, and granted since she was just starting to give lessons the “arena” was a field, and I was learning to ride english on a reining horse.  But Carol was very dedicated to teaching and we built and arena and jumps and whatever else we needed at I progressed…. including a cross-country course on the back 20 acres.  Carol had training in dressage and jumping as well as the quarter horse world but she wasn’t world-renowned and this was by no means a “show barn.”  I think for the first several months I was her only student.  Still I had tons of fun.  Carol knew how to explain things to kids in a way that made sense to them.  And she was always positive.  If a horse threw in a little hop she laughed, no use in getting stressed over something that already happened.  Carol was patient with both horse and rider, but knew how to keep you challenged and interested.
I still use a lot of the imagery Carol taught me as I was learning dressage and collection.  Here are just a few examples:
When I was working on a good seat she said to imagine that the my rear is a plug and the saddle is the outlet.  If I lean forward the plug won’t go in.  And in order to power the horse properly, the plug must be in.
When I was working on collection she said to imagine the horse as a giant toothpaste tube.  You squeeze the toothpaste with your legs, but if you don’t hold the cap on, all the toothpaste with squirt out.  The cap holds the toothpaste just like your hands and seat hold the energy.
And half halts were a matter of dropping anchor.  When you half halt feel like you have just dropped an anchor from you legs and a bowling ball from your seat to help you get that grounded deep feeling.
Now obviously those images worked being that I’ve remembered them over the last decade, but we went through a few before those stuck.  And that was what Carol was good at.  She didn’t teach from a book, she used common sense and imagination to find what worked for each horse and rider.  And she made it fun.  You can’t get too serious or frustrated when you are riding a tube of tooth paste.
Carol taught me to be an independent rider, she didn’t come to every show and coddle me and yell at me from the rails, like you see at so many shows.  She gave me a few key points before I left, mantras to keep in my head.  And I think that is one reason I did so well, I was concentrating the whole way around the ring, knowing I only had myself  to fall back on and couldn’t wait till I got to the trainer to hear what I was forgetting.
Carol taught me not just how to ride but how to train.  All my previous lessons were focused on what I was doing and the horse would take care of the rest.  But since most of the horses at the barn had little jumping/english training when I rode I had to focus on both me and the horse.  And when it came time to buy my second horse, Carol found one that had the basics of english but needed training in jumping and dressage, so I could develop the horse from beginning to end.  I learned how to be patient and consistent and all sorts of life lessons that go beyond the arena.
She taught me how to listen to my horse, to know when to push a little harder and when to back off.  And she kept me well-rounded, to learn the subtleties of seat and rein we mixed our regular drills with some western pleasure and reining.  And even though, like I said, she wasn’t well-known in the dressage show circle, with her dedication to teaching and imaginative ways she trained me well enough to win 2 USDF regional championships (on a quarterhorse no less).  And I was always proud at shows knowing I may be working with the best kept secret in the Region.
Carol has since gotten out of training and horses all together, but I still call her when I’m in a training rut or am looking for a new horse.   And she still keeps me grounded and reminds me that it doesn’t take a fancy horse or fancy barn to be a champion.

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