I had taken lessons when I was younger but my first real instructor was my first horse, a 32 yr old Quarter horse named Scotch after what I presume was his owner’s favorite drink. Scotch was given to me by a rancher in Colorado when I was nine. Scotch did not know or care about his age. The first day we brought him back to my parent’s property he jumped the cattle guard and started back to his previous home. He made it 7 miles before someone could catch him. The first summer I had Scotch I used a saddle twice. I rode every day but found saddling to be a big hassle, instead I would just walk out with his bridle, lead him to the nearest rock, and clamor on. I would ride around the fields for awhile, then point him towards the barn and hang on as he galloped up the driveway. Scotch taught me how to just ride, not worrying about perfect form or complete control, but just to find my balance and stay on. Actually, my only instruction while riding Scotch came from his prior owner, the rancher Jim. He told me to “keep your butt on the middle of the horse!”, and that’s what I tried my best to do.
A good horse (or even a bad one) can be your best teacher, as our horses give us constant and immediate feedback if what we are doing is working or not working. Sometimes our horses challenge us in ways we may not immediately appreciate it, but learn from in the long term.
I believe that one of the challenges with being an instructor and teaching riding is finding a balance between pushing riders to face their fears and work through them, while not creating a situation that puts them in unnecessary danger. With riding, it is impossible to remove the danger element, and some of our best learning experiences can come from failures. I strive to continually adapt my teaching style to fit the learning style of my different riders. I also try to teach using positive reinforcement. There is evidence that people learn faster when you point out what they are doing correctly instead of always pointing out and trying to correct their faults.