Monday, 29 October 2007

How to teach equestrian sports? - random ponderings

I am forever searching for ways and routes that would lead to a good 'learning to ride well' strategy. There are so many books written on riding but still so many questions.
When you first learn to ride, should you spend hours on the lunge, without stirrups, reins etc just learning to feel? Should you maybe practise some elements of vaulting to start with to develop flexibility on a horse bareback?
Should you ride without stirrups or with them? Should you first learn to sit in canter or go in half-seat?
I am often asked how many hours 'until he/she can jump?', 'until he/she can compete?'...Well,
according to various coaching research, "it takes minimum of 10.000 hours of practice for an individual to become expert in their chosen field. This is the most robust finding to emerge from studies with athletes and with experts from other fields such as the arts, music, mathematics and science. 10,000 hours equates to approximately 3 hours of practice per day, every day for 10 years, a calculation that has led this finding to be known as the ‘10 Year Rule’. "

Of course we don't need to be experts to pop over British Novice course (0.95m) or ride an Elementary dressage test. We do, however, need certain amount of time 'in the saddle' in addition to knowing the theory.

Majority of the sports seem to have a ladder of knowledge and skills to climb. Trainers know what needs to be taught when, what skills need to be acquired before another set of skills can be introduced.
From what I observe, in equestrian sports (maybe except vaulting), such structure is almost non existent. Ok, there is the BHS system but if you look closer you will see that it barely provides you with some very vague guidelines. Almost every single instructor or trainer will have their own method and will teach differently.

What is the 'right' way then? I am of opinion that a rider should not be let to ride in the arena until he or she can canter on the lunge while being completely relaxed, sitting well and perhaps browsing a paper in the process ;), if I implemented that in an avarage riding school, most of the riders would die of boredom or would never ever left the lunge line...

Should there be various systems then, for those who really want to be good and those who don't care? What about all those who are not that bad but due to poor teaching, or lack of it, accumulated so many bad habits that it would take another lifetime to re-learn them?

According to BEF (British Equestrian Federation) the answer might be in the application of the equestrian specific LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) framework.
You can find more information on it HERE.

If I had the opportunity I would really be interested in performing an experiment on various teaching methods - start people off differently according to various programmes and see which one is the best. I reckon, those who spend some time on the lunge and learn to 'feel' the horse in various situations before going on to learn how to influence the horse, would be better riders in the long run.
They might have less fun though...

To be continued (at some point).


Rising Rainbow said...

I think that teaching people to ride is like training horses, each is an individual and the individuality needs to be taken into account. Different things work on different people.

Unknown said...

That's absolutely true but should this mean no particular, systematic schemes were needed?
I find that current systems are either too rigid or non existent.

Dressage Mom said...

I think it would be difficult to have a set system for teaching. Suppose you have someone who has natural balance but is fearful and has no sense of security. Would you teach them the same way you would teach a bold, yet unbalanced rider?

I think having a loose set of expectations for each rider is appropriate, with room for change should the rider make progress or have lapses in training.

Unknown said...

Hmm...I understand your point but I think there is a difference in between making room for psychology of learning and letting go of a systematic, well thought out, sport specific teaching format.
On a larger scale we now have riders who grow up in riding schools or similar set ups where they learn that you 'pull to stop' and 'kick to go'. Then they start learning more but it takes them a while to re-learn pull and kick instincts (I taught a girl today - 14yrs old, riding since she was 6yrs old but today was the first time she has heard about coordination of inside and outside aids, their connection to how the pony goes and that turning a pony involves more than just 'pulling on the left rein and kicking with the left leg'). 8 years of riding like that! Even if they are later taught quality riding, the bad habits transpire through their further riding, it transpire through their horses (bully rider create a bully horse and that bully horse will then go on to create another bully rider etc).
I am wondering, would it be different if we teach 'proper' riding very early?
When I played volleyball in primary school we weren't told 'oh, just try to make sure the ball hits the other side'. We were shown exactly how to stroke the ball etc
I was about 10 or 11 years old then.

It seems to me that in riding we try to put together a puzzle using non-matching elements. Maybe it is different in the US??

Suzie said...

My old boss used to regularly tell us that in Germany, children learn to ride right from the beginning on ponies wearing side-reins. He said that from the very beginning, a rider should expect the horse to go correctly, and their body will only be used to the feel of the horse moving correctly. When the child comes to influence the horse himself, everything about his body will automatically expect the horse to go correctly. He used to say that anything other than a horse 'on the bit' should feel like 'sand between your teeth.'

I think there is definitely something in that. Children here (including myself when I was young) learn to ride on riding school ponies that you have to boot to make them go anywhere. How is that teaching them how a horse should go?

I agree that riders should spend time on the lunge, perfecting their seat and feel before influencing the horse - it works for the Spanish Riding School - no stirrups, no reins - all good! Failing that, I think the rider should have some way of making the horse round without them having to do anything - side reins, or a market harborough are good for this. If a rider has only experienced a round horse, they are more likely to achieve a round horse when they come to ride alone.

Sorry - that's a bit of a rant!

Dressage Mom said...

Maybe part of the problem is that anyone who has a horse or pony can teach lessons in the US. There is no required test or certification. And most people don't even know what "on the bit" means. Further, they probably don't care. They just want to get on and ride.

I think the serious students will find trainers who are serious about teaching in a systematic way. However, most people just want to ride and enjoy it for what it is; not compete, train, or better themselves or their horses. While I'm not one of those pepople, I think there is room for them in the horse community and don't think they should be subjected to hours of lunge work if all they want to do is trail ride.

And I think a rider who has only ridden a perfectly trained horse would be lost on a horse who has some sort of issue. This isn't a one person sport - it's a pair (horse and rider) who constantly learn from each other. Some of the best lessons I learned were from the rankest, dullest, or spookiest horses. But again, as a serious rider I seek these situations out so I can learn something. Most riders don't because they don't want to. And that's okay.

I think it would be fine to have a systematic training plan in a horse school or barn where they attract those wanting to ride with a goal like showing or competing. But other than that I think it's not necessary until the rider gets serious.

Whew! Talk about a rant! I'm done now...

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