I have had many teachers and many students over the years, and finding the right teacher can make a huge difference in your success in whatever field of study. This sounds obvious, but there are deeper aspects than one may think.
I’ll start with my experience with horsemanship. I started like many, as a kid in hunter jumper camps.
In my late twenties, I took some jumping lessons at another hunter jumper place. I had a lot of fun, and learned some basic things.
Later in life when I reentered the horse world, I wanted to know how to do the deep work. I didn’t really know what to call it then, because I am sure I didn’t really know what it meant, and still don’t know the breadth of it.
In searching for a teacher, I had to go through some that I knew weren’t right for me, or the horsemanship I wanted to learn. I knew this, but did not know exactly what I was looking for.
It was simply knowing what I did not want that finally led me to what I did want.
One of my teachers seemed plenty nice and had many years of experience, and I was really interested in riding with her. I was doing my usual volunteering for chores around the farm, and noticed one of her students said her horse bit her while she was tacking up. She had tacked up at the barn, and it was at least 10 minutes later and several hundred feet away when she mentioned this to the teacher.
I was very interested in what the teacher would say to this student, and to my dismay, she simply punched the horse in the face. Knowing what I know now, I know that not only was this brutal, but totally and completely ineffective. You would have to block the horse at the moment the bite happened, and preferably you would have seen it coming and changed the outcome. Then you would figure out why it happened and check physical issues, tack, etc.
Back then, I did not know this, but I did have a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw the teacher punch the horse. I decided if this was the horsemanship they were teaching, I did not want to learn it. I left for good that day.
I did end up finding a better teacher, and I am continuing on the path of being aware of what I’m seeing and feeling in each situation.
My point is that if I had not followed my instincts, I might have never been introduced to what I really wanted to learn. I could have said « she is the expert, she must know what she’s doing, and what do I know anyway. »
Anyone can hang their shingle up and call themselves a riding instructor. There are certification programs and the like, but that often means less than one would expect. Remember, the entire time you are learning from your teacher, you are also teaching the horse. This is what makes things a little different from some other areas of study that don’t involve a third sentient being (who happens to learn very quickly and be incredibly sensitive as well).
My criteria for choices start with these:
—Do I like the way the teacher’s horses move, feel, and handle. Is the horse running away from pressure or responding to a communicative feel? Does the horse seem happy and well cared for?
—Is the teacher open to questions, like « Why is it done that way? » or is the answer «Just do it because I said so. »
—Is the teacher on the path to continued learning themselves? There is too much to learn in this art to ever be finished in the learning process. I am sure this is true of every art. Everyone I have studied with since getting on my path has continued their study with others.
—Are you permitted to observe the teacher working with horses and/or people prior to signing on with them?
There’s a lot more to think about after that of course, a lot of details to notice, and a lot to think about for yourself regarding how to be a good student! I have learned as much over the years about how to be a good student as I have how to be a good teacher. As that is much more than this little post covers, I will leave off with just one statement.
Follow your intuition!