1. Let them know you learnt what you know now from someone else.
It's important that your little riders know that everything you know and do now, was learnt by making mistakes and from listening and absorbing information from others. Tell them about your role models and coaches from when your were younger, and if you learnt something by making the mistake, tell them about that too. It helps them to know that making mistakes, and being OK with now knowing everything is what is going to make them a better rider in the future.
2. Use Analogy's and Metaphor's
This is a great way to engage riders who are more orientated to Right Brain Processing. For example, if you are describing "Feel on the horses mouth". You might talk about dancing with someone. Would you rather dance with someone who keeps going out of step, and pulling you off balance or someone who won't hold your hand, and feels like you dancing holding a wet fish. Describe how it feels when your dancing with someone who is happy to lead, and makes you feel important but who also allows you to move and adjust the dance steps with a willingness and connection.
If you are talking about staying tall and balanced through a turn you might talk about having a Merry Go Round Pole going through your head, down your back, through the horse and to the ground. If you leaned to far over the pole would detach from the roof and the whole ride would come to a halt, and a whole lot of kids would start screaming. The weirder and crazier you make it the more they will remember it when you are not there.
For riders who tend to look down after a fence, you can use the analogy of a cat strutting away in front of you with his tail up and his backside looking right at you. Your laughing at the cat because he is about to get run over. You can tell your rider to look at the backside of the cat. Yes - It's a bit full on, ever kinda wrong but can guarantee your little riders will be looking ahead at the cats pucker instead the ground!
3. Use all the senses.
This is great when talking about transitions. While you are first discussing the aids, and the process by which the horses changes gaits, you may use questions like. How would it sound. What would the footfalls sound like? What would you see or be looking at as you move through the transition? What would it look like from my perspective? How would it feel if it was done really well? How would it feel in your hips, your hands, your elbows, your breath? You may even ask them if they saw, or have felt a really good transition like that before. Ask questions like - What could you smell when you were watching it, were you beside some pine trees in the arena etc
4. Give them the Right and the Wrong Options to try.
Little people don't learn by doing what they are told. They need to experience it and then make the decision for themselves as to whether this is a good thing to do or not. I often give them the right and wrong options to try and then let them make the decision on what one worked best. For example, a simple turn for a beginner. You can ask the rider to ride in a straight line towards and object, turn around it and then come back in a straight line. Ask them once, to turn by pulling the inside rein in towards the midline of the horse, and relax the outside rein. Let them lean in towards the peg/cone and when they return talk about the size of the turn, what part of the horse moved, how smooth it felt etc. Ask them to go again, this time keeping a feel on the outside rein, opening the inside rein slightly and closing the outside leg and looking in the direction they are going and then come back. Talk about how the second turn varied, and them let them decide what way was better.
5. Let them question everything
Riders will often interpret what we say very differently to how it was intended. For example, simple directions like ride a small circle will vary from rider to rider. What small is can very from a 0.2m three point turn, to half a paddock. This is a very simple example but if you notice your rider is getting lost in translation talk through your description again, and make sure you are both on the same page on all the small things.
Often all a rider is asking for is better clarification on what the outcome is. The rider is not questioning your knowledge, they are simply saying, I am missing something here. Can you please give me this information in another way that I can better understand.
This is a great time to use an analogy, chuck down the movement, and practice the steps leading up to the skill, give the movements that this exercise is leading the rider towards achieving in the future. Most importantly allow the rider to discuss what is happening, be ready to acknowledge them when they are heading the right way, and be there to keep them on the right track if they are lost. Validate their efforts. How fast or slow a rider picks things up is not dependent on how quick you did when you were learning it, but how well you are able to pass those concepts on in a way that the rider needs to be able to process the information.
6. Use Technology
There are so many apps out there now that are useful in coaching. One of my favourites in an app called, Technique. It allows you to video a rider and then draw straight, or squiggly lines over the image. You can also place two different video clips side by side and put them on slow motion so that for example, both clips have the horse jumping at the same time. This allows the riders to see a clear difference. It can also be very handy when describing to a rider who sits off to one side of the saddle during a leg yield. By standing behind the rider and videoing, you can immediately show the rider on your phone, the mid line by drawing a line down the image so they can see for themselves how straight or NOT they are. Often a rider won't believe you until you show them the evidence, once they have seen it, it's no longer on you as the coach to make the change. You have shown them the evidence, explained why this is a problem, offer them a solution and then it's up to them to make the change. If they have taken it all on board, your riders will be much more willing to make the changes needed as the ball is in their court now, and there is a sense of responsibility and accountability.
7. Use Tangible evidence.
This is huge for little guys. Even simple things like being straight/parallel is better understood using two poles. Moving sideways one step at a time between two poles that are parallel, but with the "go to" pole slight further ahead then the "Going from" pole, helps them to notice if a shoulder or hind quarter is closer to the Go to pole. You can even go as far as measuring in Chicken Steps the distance from the pole to the HQ's and the same from the pole to the Shoulders. Anytime there is an opportunity to let a pole/cone/drum do the teaching for you (especially for little guys) the quicker they will work out the concept. Wait for the Ahh, haa moments.
8. Give them homework.
This doesn't necessarily mean exercises or things to practice, however that is important but in a tech savvy world with so much great information out there, give them links to the movement or exercise you are currently working on or working towards so they can see it done well. Always check your links, and make sure the advice on the video is sound. There are training videos now on every dressage movement just about known to mankind. This also helps your riders remember you had to learn from somewhere too, and that is important we keep updating our knowledge. Ask them to write down any questions that come up during the video so you can discuss them suring your next session. Often during these chats, is where the "Missing Link" is found and the riders can move on with more assurance and understanding then ever before.
9. Validate their fear.
Get excited for your little guys when they are scared. Let them say to you - I am getting a little bit scared now! Champion them for that. Let them know that in order to be scared you must be doing something that is pushing your comfort zone out a bit, AWESOME!!! That's how we get better. No one gets better by doing nothing.
Let them know the courage doesn't come until AFTER you have done what scares you.
Let them be vulnerable, vulnerability is not a weakness. It's strength. To admit you are feeling vulnerable and to then go and do it anyway is huge!
Let them know that if it all going pear shaped, you will still be there for them. You won't abandon, or shame them if they get it wrong, you'll be there for them whatever happens, because it is often not the success that grows us as riders, it's in the failure when the magic starts to really happen.
10. Teach them the wonders of mistakes.
This is huge! We all make mistakes, no one is perfect, and quite frankly, who would want to be anyway. After the initial mistake or perceived "failure", let them discuss how it made them feel, don't judge their feelings, simply let them talk it through. Then let them look at - What else could we make that event mean? How is this moving you towards where you are wanting to go? What do I know now that I didn't know before? They can be tough questions to answer initially, especially for teenage girls, but with a bit of practice this can be an enjoyable experience. You'll have to trust me on this one :)
Help them to get excited when they find something that they find hard, or don't know. That means they are about to learn something they didn't know before, and be able to do something they didn't know they could. How wonderful...
Like Thomas Edison said. "I have not failed. I've simply just found 10,000 ways that won't work"
Until next time,