A Tale of Two Trainers

The mark of a good teacher is seen in the success and advancement of his student.

That would only make sense, correct? Alas, not in this country. No, teachers don’t teach. They bristle (and strike) when the people who pay their salaries (us) request that they actually teach a child to read, write, reason and do math.  But they don’t. The children who are motivated to learn are “led” to understanding , not taught.  Their teachers are ‘educators’, and the difference is semantic,  but fundamental. An educator preaches from a lesson plan written by other educators. She doesn’t concern herself whether the children in front of her grasp what she parrots.  She has a certain number of days (far less than the 180 days that was required when I was in school.) in which to get through the lesson plan. At the end of that period, the child is passed on to the next grade, regardless of whether or not he learned what the teacher was supposed to have taught him.  I’ve met high school graduates who cannot read. At ALL. I’ve known college graduates who couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the c and the t.

A teacher gets down on his or her knees and shows the child how to do fractions. She does it over and over, breaking it down into steps the child can understand and assimilate. Sort of like Anne Sullivan, who worked with Helen Keller until the deaf/mute girl made that intuitive leap that the scribbling in her palm meant something.

A horse trainer/riding instructor doesn’t get off as easily as educators. She needs to actually be able to teach someone or a horse to do something. The person is usually an adult who is paying the trainer to train her or her horse, and if she isn’t, she fires the trainer. Nothing like an empty wallet to get their attention! And the horse is even simpler. If he doesn’t grasp the lesson, then he is put through it again, and again, in gentle doses, until he DOES. Not only does he not have issues, but he can be trained, and the results must be obvious, or the trainer is, again, fired.

I spent the last week near Houston, auditing a dressage clinic given by Heather Blitz. Heather is a sweet natured, kind person who is open to all questions. She’s also the winner of many medals at the Pan Am games, where she and her homebred Swedish Warmblood gelding, Paragon, took the team gold and Individual silver medals.

Heather Blitz and Paragon

It was a three day clinic, when a select few people (8 in all) brought their dressage horses for her to help  through problems. The people paid a ton of money for the three 45 minute sessions, and got their money’s worth. Heather only once got on a horse.  In all other cases, the owner/rider was the one who rode the horse through all its issues: won’t go on the bit, won’t collect, goes too fast, etc. On Friday, Day 1, you saw horses that’d never been made to do something before (because he’d figured a way around it) throwing hissy fits when Heather zeroed in on what the issue was. Just because they’re dressed like sissies doesn’t mean a dressage horse can’t buck like a bronco. Or rear!

One woman brought a 13 year old Hanoverian gelding  on which she could get no  further than Level one, because he wouldn’t ‘collect’. The problem was his conformation. He had a lovely arching neck and to look at him, he appeared to be on the bit.

But no, he’d been lying all those years. He’d never, ever really been asked to move forward with contact, because he appeared to already be there! Like a sneak thief finally caught in the glaring search lights, the gelding threw a horrendous fit when he was actually forced to have contact. He ground his teeth in aggravation and frustration at ever move. He didn’t move forward so much hopped, jumped, bucked and even struck.  I wondered, aloud, if he’d have any molars left by the end of the clinic.

Day Two, as with all the other horses in the clinic,  you could see the horse had spent the night thinking of what had happened to him yesterday. This time the histrionics, the refusals, were halved. Day two, the Hanoverian ground his teeth now and then. He moved forward, still gingerly, but he was on the bit and moving.

On Day three, his issue was NOT, is he on the bit? It was how does he balance now that he IS on the bit? And that is a much easier thing to fix. He didn’t grind a bit. Being noble, like most horses, he’d forgotten how upset he’d been being forced to do something new and strange, and willingly did what he’d learned.

THAT, my friends, is teaching. Heather had zeroed in on the problem right at the start and knew how to fix it. She gave the client his or hers money’s worth.

These people, and their horses, were all so far above my level of riding (in general, not just dressage) that I may as well have been a pygmy amongst giants. But I learned a LOT, even as a mere auditor. Heather taught effortlessly,  and even though her focus was on the paying horseman, the paying much less money auditor got a ton of learning, too. Although I caught this hideous head cold on the flight down to Houston, I still came away with it (congested as it is) full of new, useful, applicable knowledge.

The day before I left for Texas, I went and played with Trooper for a while, as I was going to be gone for a week. Tiffany, the boarder/renter, came out to say hello.

She was wearing bedroom slippers.

I didn’t want to be rude, but I told her that for her toes’ sake, she should never go anywhere NEAR a horse wearing slippers. Hard boots are the only safe footwear. We had a long conversation. She told me she’d bought a horse from her trainer back east, and two weeks from now, she and Patti were going to go get him and her dog.

I asked her what the horse’s name was. She grimaced and said “Dollar”. She obviously didn’t like it.  I asked, what are you going to name him? She looked at me very oddly and said, “My trainer named him and told me it’s bad luck to change the name of a horse.”

I scoffed at that. “That’s crazy. See Trooper over there? Think he’s got bad luck?”

“No”, she said.

“His name was “Lacey” when Patti bought him.”

“Lacey?”

“Lacey. Pretty dumb name, don’t you think? You name YOUR horse anything you want to.”

The night after I got home, Patti and I rode in the arena (thank goodness, as it was raining, hard).  I began immediately to put some of what I’d learned from Heather into practice. Of course, it worked. Trooper doesn’t need the training, I do. He already knows what to do. He is patient with my fumbling efforts to improve my riding, and I am definitely a better rider than I was a year ago. Just like Heather had done with a Grand Prix horse in Texas, I could do with a nobody horse like Trooper here.

That’s teaching.

While I rode, Patti on her mare Penny told me more about Tiffany, her new renter/boarder.

If you go back a little, you’ll see the post about the green rider. She is even greener than you would believe. She’s been taking lessons from this egotistical “trainer” (I’ll call her Tilly) for ‘a couple years’. She has learned…zilch. She doesn’t even know the difference between a sorrel Quarter Horse, like the one she bought, and a bay Arabian like Trooper. She had no idea that the white marking on the face is called a blaze (we won’t go into all the variations and names). She has had NO safety training whatsoever. It sounds to Patti and me that the only thing Tilly has done is take Tiffany’s money and let her ride a riding stable horse, the kind that goes nose to tail with the one in front of it.

Tilly isn’t a trainer. She’s an educator, it appears, and a scammer. I’d like to go whip her. I bet she couldn’t train starving dogs to come running when she opened a can of dog food. She’s a bum.

While I’d talked to Tiffany, I told her that Patti was an expert horseman, and if she was willing to listen, she (and I) would teach her to handle horses safely, and to ride well.

I told Patti that.

OK, she’s not the level of Heather, but she’s taught ME stuff, I’ve taught her stuff, and her horses’ condition is absolute proof that she IS a horseman. They’re healthy, happy, her barn is immaculate and runs like a Swiss watch. I pointed that out to her. Her reaction is still percolating through my not so well thinking head now. Once I get over this miserable cold, maybe it will pop out.

Heather Blitz is a teacher, a trainer, an expert horseman and a fine human being. Tilly Whatshername is a scammer and a liar, and has put a novice at risk by not teaching her anything other than “one doesn’t change the name of a horse (that SHE named).

We will teach Tiffany safety, Patti will teach her to ride. (western).

Dollar’s name is going to change, too. She’s changing it to “Duke”.

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About subodai213

Retired U.N.C.L.E agent. Living in Laurasia.
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