Last week, I visited the Horse World Expo, a local event that pulls in equine professionals from around the country. As I sat outside the various arenas listening and watching the different trainers, clinicians, and speakers teach riding and training exercises and horsemanship theories, I thought about the benefits of learning from different teachers, but also the difficulty in making sense of what can seem like conflicting messages.
Horse people, especially professionals, have a reputation for strong opinions and a “my way is best” attitude. Collaboration for open minded learning and growth can be rare. As a student, this can make learning more difficult as we try to reconcile the different messages we are taught.
One instructor says to keep the heel low, another to focus on pressure at the ball of the foot. One trainer advocates using phases of pressure, and another to focus on how that pressure is started. One talks about speaking the language of the horse and another on helping the horse understand the language of humans.
Are these conflicting messages or is there perhaps something important we can pull from each?
We can learn from anyone, if we keep an open mind and recognize that every different trainer or riding instructor is bringing a unique set of strengths, skills, knowledge, and life experience.
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Instead of passing judgements on the right or the wrong way to do something, instead we should look for what we can gain from a different point of view.
To learn effectively from different teachers, we need to also become a better student. We can do this by becoming careful observers to learn and find meaning even beyond an instructor’s words and explanations. We also need to be willing to re-examine our current beliefs when they are challenged and be an active participant in our learning.
How We Benefit in Learning From Many Teachers
Each person, including your trainer or instructor, is a melting pot of what they’ve been taught, what they’ve experienced, and how they use their knowledge and skills based on their own strengths.
There are both advantages and challenges to learning from different teachers, but here are three benefits to getting a varied education in horsemanship.
- Learn from Other’s Experiences
Unique learning opportunities and life experiences allow each person to put their own personal twist on a similar idea.
For example, if we were to discuss the best way to lead a horse, we would get different answers if talking to a breeder who works with mares and foals, an instructor at a large lesson barn, or a groom working on a racetrack.
But each of these responses could be valuable if we consider the context and then select what works best in our own situation.
- Gain New Insight on What You Already Know
Have you ever experienced a moment of insight when a new teacher said something that just clicks? It can be the language they used to describe that feeling you should have in your body at the canter, or a metaphor they shared, such as “think of a little string pulling you upward from your helmet to sit taller”, or even the way they asked you to pick up the canter that just finally made sense!
You know it’s the same thing you’ve been told a hundred times before, but this person – whether in a lesson, a demonstration, a lecture, video, or book, finally said it in a way that made sense to you!
Each teacher has unique ways of using language and describing ideas or movements. It often takes hearing something many times before it “clicks” and finally makes sense.
- Learn in a Way that Works for You
There are four main learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/ writing. Applied to riding and horsemanship, visual learning is learning through watching or looking at pictures. Auditory learning is from listening to someone, how we are often taught in riding lessons. Kinesthetic learning is doing and feeling – the kind of learning that takes place as you try out a new exercise or experience the moment of insight when an instructor moves your leg or hand into a new position. Learning by reading or writing is accomplished through reading books or articles, taking notes, and writing thoughts or insights in a journal.
We often have a preference for one style of learning, but will still learn most effectively when all four are used.
So here is another reason why learning from different teachers is beneficial. Just as students have learning styles, each instructor will have their strengths in teaching.
One instructor may be excellent at explaining the feelings of sitting in the saddle and riding movements correctly, while another may have a talent for creating exercises to help the student feel what they need to learn. Yet another teacher may be a gifted writer, able to describe clearly on paper what they struggle to convey in a lecture or lesson.
Beware: Too Much Information Too Soon = Confusion
We just discussed several benefits of working with different teachers, but there are drawbacks as well.
Hearing too many different theories and opinions before gaining a solid understanding of the basics can cause a lot of confusion, and even more importantly, if we don’t have enough base knowledge in a subject we won’t be able to detect the differences between good information and well, stuff that’s just not true.
I feel it is important for every rider to have a working knowledge in the science of horsemanship, meaning the facts that have been generally accepted by the scientific community.
Understand topics such as how horses learn, how they behave socially with other horses, what their behaviors mean (and don’t mean), and basic anatomy of horse and human.
Armed with this base knowledge, you can be what my friend and mentor Angelo Telatin calls a “conscious horseman” – able to understand the base principles of training and riding to discern good information from bad.
From here you can even look past a person’s words and still benefit from their unique art of riding or working with a horse, without needing to agree with everything they say.
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of learning from different sources and the importance of base knowledge to detect the quality of what you’re being taught, let’s talk about how you can be a better student.
How to Be a Better Student
I have several tips for you on how to get the most from learning opportunities with different teachers, but first there are two thoughts you need to be careful not to say to yourself in the spirit of keeping an open mind for learning.
The first is “I already know this.”
Even when you do know a concept or an exercise there is always a deeper level of understanding to be attained. What is the person saying that you may have missed previously? What is new in this person’s message that you haven’t heard before?
The second is “I disagree.”
It’s fine to debate and argue. In fact, it is important to have our ideas challenged and to challenge the ideas of others. However, you must first make sure that you truly heard and understood what the other person said.
Before disagreeing ask questions to clarify. Also, continue to watch what the instructor does, not just what they say. If you hear a statement you don’t agree with and quickly dismiss the teacher, you may miss the underlying meaning or you won’t have the benefit of watching what they do, which may be different than what they are describing – not good on the part of the teacher, but still a potential learning opportunity for you.
Now that you know what to watch out for in your own thoughts, let’s take a look at a few more tips.
- Look deeper than the words
We all use different language to describe our thoughts, and sometimes we use different words or expressions but we mean the same thing.
As a teacher, I do believe that word choice matters, but you don’t want to pass up a learning opportunity simply because someone used a word that has a particular meaning or negative connotation for you.
- Remember each person has their own expertise
We don’t need to learn everything from one person. Each trainer or instructor has their strengths and expertise, so learn what you can from each. For example, one instructor may be great at teaching riding skills, but you may not agree with their training philosophy. That’s ok – learn what you can and be grateful for what they’ve given you.
- Be willing to second guess your own long standing beliefs
The longer we think something is true the more difficult it is to let go. But we can only make space for new ideas by being willing to challenge our current beliefs.
- Be an active student – how can you make this teacher’s message make sense to you?
Earlier in this article we talked about learning styles and how we often have an individual preference for learning a certain way.
If you are working with an instructor and they are teaching in a way that isn’t making sense to you, ask for the information in a different way. Say, “could I watch you so I can visualize what to do?” Or “could you move my leg exactly where you want it so I can feel the position?”
By simply asking for clarification or help understanding you can make progress more quickly which will make both you and your instructor happier!
Another way to be an active student is to take notes. Even if information from different instructors isn’t making sense to you right now, make notes on what they said or did. Write down your questions or uncertainties too. You may find that clarity on the information will come later.
I love collaboration and believe that working with and drawing on the knowledge of others is what moves us forward.
The problems and challenges we face are not unique. Someone has faced them before and likely found a solution.
By learning from different people, we can help ourselves work through challenges more quickly and avoid the pitfalls experienced by others.
[Tweet “Helen Keller said it best, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.””]
Now I want to hear from you. How have you learned from multiple teachers? What were the benefits of experiencing different teaching styles and points of view?
See you in the comments,
Hi Callie, perfect timing for me with this article. I have recently started riding at a second establishment. So I’m having two lessons a week, different horses and different instructors. Both my instructors are wonderful but teach very differently. I have learned a lot from the new instructor as she is more hands on and uses her own body to demonstrate positions. I feel it has been a great benefit. Sometimes I think we can get a bit “stuck in a rut” and having someone else explain things in a different way is all we need. The only thing I am having problems with is my” two point”. One instructor wants me to barely be out of the saddle and the other more out of the saddle. I cant find any videos that suggests either way is better. Whats your take on this? Thanks
Hi Jackie, Thanks for your comment and question! The positioning of your two point really depends on context. Two point is a galloping and jumping position, but if you look at a rider jumping a crossrail compared to a 4’fence, the position is different in that the rider jumping the bigger fence will have a more closed angle at their hip joint (from thigh to body) and likely a shorter stirrup too. To me, practicing two point is not about memorizing a fixed “correct” position but rather learning to stay balanced and in alignment as you can both open and close the angles of your body.
An excellent post particularly for those of us who are active adult riding students. I have come to realize through learning to ride, that I learn much better by employing several learning styles and probably learn the least by the auditory method alone. I became aware of how little I truly grasp from the auditory method alone when a former riding instructor would yell instructions to me from the ground about what she wanted me to do, and I was totally lost.
I am fortunate to have an outstanding riding instructor, but I recognize that I have learned things from past instructors. Additionally, participating in on-line courses, riding clinics, videos, your weekly blog-post, and books have helped me as well. And of course, fellow riders!
The point you made above that I completely agree with is that something can all of a sudden make sense ~ I often wonder was it the way in which the person said it and the words they chose or was it that I was now farther along the learning curve and the words the instructor used just happened to turn the light bulb on. Either way, it is great when a breakthrough occurs!
The wonderful and exciting part of riding and horsemanship is that it is a lifelong journey with constant learning…that makes it exciting and challenging! Something great to aspire to and also to be inspired by!!
Thank you very much Callie for this post and all that you do for us riders.
I’ve ridden since very young, but never had any instruction until I was in my 40’s, other than two jumping lessons at 18 years of age. Now, as an instructor, I enjoy listening and watching many different instructor/clinicians and take with me what I think is good and leave behind what I think isn’t. I also take lessons from people I admire and feel have something to offer and I feel no matter how long we’ve ridden, or what we think we know, there is always room for improvement. And, if we pay attention to the horses we are watching, and the ones we ride, they’ll tell us what’s good and what’s not.
This is a great post! I identify with everything you mentioned. When I was new to riding and knew nothing, I did find it confusing and frustrating that there were so many different opinions.
Now I recognize how every horse and rider are different in so many ways, and our way of expressing how we do something or understanding something can vary depending on so many things.
I love how you are always learning and sharing. You are a great example of staying curious and offering solid always expanding methods of teaching. I love your classes and how they weave so well into what I am learning with my instructor and in other courses. Sometimes something is said a certain way that does suddenly make something click and pieces from one or all of the learnings suddenly fall into place. I love those sweet spot moments! It is amazing how much we don’t know or realize, until we do, and then is so obvious we wonder how we missed it!
Thank you Callie!
I am so thankful that I have discovered you as a trainer, as we think alike.
I agree We can always glean “something” from every trainer. I do not accept everything
I read unless it touches my gut and or heart. I am a novice rider but I think I
have almost every book and video available from the “recognised ” trainers.
In my opinion you are the most humble, with the most common sense.
You are who I wish to emulate, if I live long enough. HA
Thank you so much, keep up the good work!!
Thank you Lorelle, I really appreciate that 🙂
Your words ring true Callie, especially for those who really want to learn, regardless of past experience. Picking up one small kernel of knowledge is always worth the effort to pay attention to the instructor. I consider myself a lifelong student in all that I do and I am always learning – who can ever know everything? I keep my attitude open and willing to learn. And I always learn something every week from your Friday posts! Thank you!
When i first started i wanted to know everything right away. So excited every person, teachers,barn owners and anyone near a horse i would ask questions. Very patient people.
Learning to be a good and active student is an important part that i still work on.
Thank you Callie great insights will read a few times.
Hi Callie, your blog is very inspirational. Can’t wait for Fridays. I’m not so comfortable with riding yet, but learn a lot from my daughter who had some lessons when she was younger and does things so naturally. Still I feel so excited to go and try what I have read and learned from you. Your blog is giving me the “guts ” to try and try. And what is nice, I can go back and re-read or look again at the video. Big benefit for me. Love this way of learning. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge – keep up the good work.
Hi, great timing as I just had two jumping lessona from two new trainers. There way of working is different and I had to think hard on what I believe was the best or what exacly they are saying. I tealised I was probably not going to get the clear picture right after my lesson because I found myself being confused. So I wrote everything down and looked back at it a couple days later. Being able to draw a good conclusion, finding similarities on what they are saying and defining a path forward on how to work on each of their pointers in my own style. Good post!
As a returning, adult rider I realized I had to use various forms of learning. Since I am only able to ride 1x per week reading your blog and watching videos has been helpful. It Reinforces what I learned or gives me a different perspective. I look fordward to you future post, especially videos.
I have to agree with one of the comments that you are one of the most humble instructors that I know right now and you have common sense! I have learned so much from your practical blog videos .
Thank you so much and keep them coming.
Thank you for this post and for your Better Riding in 7 Days course, which I am currently working through. I have only recently come back to riding after a gap of 30 years (I was 8 the last time I rode a pony properly). I had my first lessons from three different trainers, but found that I worked best with one of them and have continued on with her, seeing an enormous improvement in my riding in a few months. She is not a fully qualified instructor, but is an excellent rider. Having a good connection with my instructor and having a similar approach to teaching and learning has really helped my progress. So much of it is in not just what someone tells you but how they say it. I also think it’s important to feel free to ask questions, even if they feel like they might be stupid ones, especially about why a horse might be behaving in a certain way. I’ve also been enjoying watching and reading online on riding as a way to try and improve while I’m regrettably not in the saddle and as a way of imagining myself in the saddle when I can’t be 🙂
Thanks again, this is a great forum for riders.
Glad you are enjoying the articles and videos, Amanda! Welcome to CRK Training!
This is one of your absolute best articles and I know it has extreme value to all your followers: especially coming from you–a proven knowledgeable, credible, and respected horsewoman. Speaking of respect, this doesn’t come automatically with people, or with horses. When you buy a horse, it doesn’t come with “respect papers”! RESPECT must be earned! The horse comes with what it has learned (and, of course, it’s natural instincts) and it’s your job to maintain and add to the horse’s knowledge. The more you know, the more teaching “tools” you will have to draw from! I’ve been training for over 40 adult years (I don’t count ages 11 to 20…even though I learned quite a lot (these were “trial and error” years) and I’ve acquired so much horse knowledge from all of the ways you mentioned AND am still learning!…be it different techniques, styles, or methods to achieve the same end. What works (or doesn’t work, or is not safe) is every person’s choice. But the more you know, the more choices you can draw upon to teach your horse… because horses, like people, are individuals who also can pick up on what you want them to do if it’s explained in a way they best understand. My horse passion will continue for as long as I’m on this earth…and no one person will ever know all there is to know about these magnificent 4-legged beauties! Your advice in this great article could not have been written better…well, maybe… But I sure believe you “hit this one out of the ballpark!!!! Thanks, Callie!
Thank you Judy 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the article!
Callie! As always, you bridge the gap between how it has always been, and how it can be for the better future of the rider and the horse.
thank God, there is someone like you – with credibility in the horse world – who actually has the courage to say please look at all of the different points of view. And please be polite. And please be open. I’m please choose with active thinking.
Thank you, and thank God
We have communicated in the past and this is a great article. As an instructor I find it difficult when there are extreme differences in programs and we as instructors are trying to piece it together for the student. I think if we can give valid reasoning for our choice in teaching style that is better than just do it because. I also believe that the communication skills between student and coach is very important. The direction can be said in two diffrent ways and one will click and one won’t . Doesnt mean one instructor is better. I have a personal story that relates to this but in the sport of skiing. My mother was my coach, her cousin was a coach as well. There was a point I just couldn’t get from my mother so she sent me off to spend time with her cousin. I came home so excited about what I had learned, when we later talked about it, my mother was saying the same thing it just didn’t click.
I find that even if you pick up something you dont like it is still a benefit.
I also find that people teaching riders to do nothing more than ride in an arena in circles for fun will get away with less technique than those of us who are teaching to become one with your horse at what ever discipline you choose to do.
Something else I have noticed as it relates to heels down which you hear all the time ( not from me) then I look at how the instructor is riding and it is nothing like how he is teaching. In these cases its lack of ability to relate. It is difficult to do it well but more difficult to teach.
Not every person can be friends and there is nothign wrong with that, just as not every trainer will be for you. But take in what you feel comfortable with. Keep one leg on each side and your mind in the middle
Thanks for your comment Cub! I certainly agree that explanation is important – I know for myself I will work a lot harder at learning something new when I know why I’m doing it!
Riding instructors and horse trainers are not required to have a certificate in order to teach. Anyone who rides or works with horses can qualify. They become professional when they get paid. It doesn’t mean they know how to teach or what to teach the horse or the rider.
I have learned more from Callie’s on line classes which includes Angelo Science of Horsemanship and Wendy’s Effortless Rider that I have from the many riding instructors and horse trainers I have worked with over the last twenty years.
Thanks Callie for making the programs available. I am sure your followers feel the same.
I would like to reprint this article for our GMO newsletter. Would that be ok with you? I would cite you as the author.
Absolutely! Is it an online or print newsletter?