I have been doing some internal wrestling recently about the clinic or lesson format and how it works – or doesn’t – for horses and people.
Typically, a lesson is 45 mins to an hour. And in a clinic, there might be 8 of these lessons back to back. I have been both the teacher and the student involved in this way of teaching, so I can directly talk about those perspectives. I can’t say how the horse feels, but I can reflect on what I notice from watching many, many horses.
As the student, there is quite a lot of pressure on an hour lesson, particularly if you have paid a lot to get there and maybe taken a whole day off work and organised transport . A student often wants to show their teacher that they have improved. Us students want to get the most we can out of the lesson in terms of understanding and progress. We want our horse to have a good time, and ideally we would like to have a good time too. You hope you ask sensible questions, you hope you understand, you really hope you don’t look stupid. Those 45 minutes have a lot riding on them (no pun intended).
For the instructor, the pressure is also on. Try to find out what the rider wants to learn (they are not always sure) as quickly as possible. Diagnose what would be most useful for the partnership and think of the option most likely to be successeful. Give the student enough information, but not too much. Tell them some useful things and let them work some things out. Have a breakthrough! Leave them delighted, inspired and clear what their next learning steps might be. Don’t overrun the hour though as there are people waiting…
For the horse, well. They have to try to keep up with both of these humans. They have to be fit enough for a full hour of working (many are not). The horse is having 3rd hand information passed on to them (instructor – rider- horse) but are the member of the team expected to demonstrate the change. They have to be focused enough that they can be mentally in the arena, and physically capable enough that they can do what’s asked.
But this is the thing I do know about horses. They like time. Like a lot, lot more time than we give them, They like to be met where they are at, rather than where we wish they where because we have brought them all this way to a clinic. If a horse really ‘gets’ something it seems one of the best things we can do is not overlay this with anything else. This might mean that an ideal time – for the horse – to stop a lesson could be 5 minutes in. They appreciate long, long gaps to process, relax, come back to themselves. Maybe half of their hour long lesson would best be spent standing still, if we were to do what they really needed.
My brain has been exploding trying to make sense of this. And I have realised I can’t make sense of it, as it’s not very sensible. Therefore, rather than trying to shoehorn people and horses into a model that in the main doesn’t work well for them, I am going to change the model instead.