Friday, December 18, 2009

Armchair Training

What I Remember

"Armchair Quarterback" is a term often used in the USA to describe the person watching an American Football game criticising the quarterback (the leader of the team who calls the plays) from his living room as he watches the game. He's just a viewer, of course, not out there on the field, but he is always ready to comment on how another play should have been called when one fails.

It's easy to sit on the sidelines watching other people work, thinking you could do it better. It's a lot different when you, yourself are actually doing the work.

It's the same with horses. I remember a number of clinics I attended with my horses over the years where the trainer kept telling me what to do as I repeatedly had no success. These were, most of the time, highly rated international trainers. (I live on the East Coast of the USA, less than an hour from the US Equestrian Team Headquarters--not so much used now--and many international stars would frequent our area with clinics because of that.) Often, when things would not work out, I might hand the reins over to the trainer and simply say, "Show me."

The results were often not at all what the trainer would expect. My PJ, in particular, was a senstive fellow, very eager to please, but very quickly tense when he didn't understand something. Bully him around, and he would "freeze" up in his efforts. One German instructor insisted he could get him going "right" in a matter of minutes. It was a disaster as poor PJ just got more and more tense with his strong arm tactics. A Swedish trainer insisted she could accomplish something, got on and within a few minutes had PJ nicely on the bit--to her mind--but when I asked he if she had really intended to ride a sharp haunches in on the circle to do it, she gulped, tried to straighten him, and lost the program all together. One Danish trainer, for which I will never quite forgive myself, rode PJ into the ground in a rollkur horror during a clinic when I could not ride due to a broken wrist. (It took three chiropractic/acupunture treatments to get my Boy back to 100% afterwards.)

This is all one of the reasons I loved riding with New Zealand trainer, Lockie Richards. Lockie had been an international even rider, the coach of the national team and eventually a Grand Prix competitor. Due to financial restrictions, he often worked with more difficult horses during his career. (By the by, Aragon's horse in "Lord of the Rings," Brego, was Lockie's former Grand Prix mount.) Because of his experience with all kinds of horses, Lockie had a huge "bag of training tricks" to deal with nearly every kind of situation he might encounter in a lesson.

There was never one approach with Lockie. If one technique didn't work, he'd come up with another. Little "miracle" cures often solved big problems. I subtle ways I learned to shift weight to a seatbone by "dropping my knee," or, get this, "dropping my ear," on one side or the other to get my horse straighter. And if Lockie did get on my horse, you could always see the master at work. He'd try a dozen little exercises or changes to fix a problem, rarely, if ever, confronting the horse to the point of emotional upset.

But, above all, he was one of the best "armchair quarterbacks" I've ever met in the horse world. When he taught, I could tell he was riding along with me, not just observing and making decisions based on what he thought "might" be happening. He "knew" what was happening at that moment and addressed the issue just as if he were in the saddle along with me.

Whenever it comes time for me to teach or train, I try to keep that concept in mind. As well, when I comes time for me to comment on or critique someone else's training or riding--unless I see something I consider outright cruelty (rollkur for example)--I do try to bite my tongue. Unless I have been in the saddle on that particular horse, perhaps it's not my place to make a judgment about what's right and wrong.

It's something to think about.


  1. Nice post - trainers and teachers who are truly aware and with the horse and rider, and willing to adjust what they are doing to the needs of the particular horse, are rare and to be treasured. You've been fortunate to have found, and ridden with, someone really good.

  2. Thank you, I enjoyed that.

  3. i like that.

    and i would love to read your view on Moorlands Totilas.....

  4. Just stopped in to see how you were doing.

    My wife would like me to go back to teaching riding but it is so exhausting I'd rather be the student :) I sometimes will get on a horse so I can feel what is going on but the goal is to have the student feel it and have a few tools to correct the situation. If by the end of a class I don't see that smile and sparkle in the eyes then I feel I missed the mark.

    I'm glad you have an instructor who gives of himself so that you may improve. and also glad to read your recovering.

  5. But you know even for rolkhur, we do not know how horses are before and after.

    I have been put off by Dressage because of the rolkhur debate. So many people critisize, many of them did not understand a thing about Dressage it became an over-emotional, sensational debate.

    At the end of the day, NOTHING has changed, because the wrong people open their mouth.
    I am sure that if we go to ANY professional Dressage barn all trainers are training DEEP or rolkhur.

    As I am carrying on my journey for becoming Slowly a horse-pro, I am more and more disgusted by the equestrian forum and web community. There are so many "armchair trainers" who make believe so many fairy tales about horses. They are playing with the heart of the masses.
    Who are the masses?
    Teenage girl or middle-aged woman back to horse-riding ( I am one of them)!!!

    It is why "by winding up" the masses about rolkhur there was NEVER a pro to pro sensible dialogue.
    The pro get the blame.
    But if these armchair trainers had a single idea of what it takes to work with horses AND people, tehy will NEVER critisized.

    Teaching good riding is EXHAUSTING mentally and physically, and training horses is HEART-BREAKING, every single trainer once in a while comes back home in tears because of a horse.

    I wish there would be MORE respect for the pro working with horses and students. Because soon by giving them the blame you will put off the GOOD DEDICATED pro, because they are painted with the same brush that the bad ones.

    Plus on the rolkhur debate it is NOT the trainers fault. They have to put food on their table and buy clothes etc ...They will carry on to use a technique in order to win, they will carry on, because the owners want to win!

    IMO the fault is down to the judges/the federation allowing people practising wrong techniques to win.

    So really I wish the real culprits were pointed, and put pressure on, instead of the pro who makes a living out of a tough job!