Dare to Be Small
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
Accepting your limitations as a rider is one thing, doing the same as an instructor is another.
It is tempting for instructors to exaggerate their abilities when they market themselves – to make themselves seem more talented, experienced, or successful than they actually are.
I’ve always chosen to follow the dictum that “honesty is the best policy.” There are a host of students out there, all with differing goals and abilities. When you honestly evaluate your teaching capabilities it enables you to find your niche and sets you (and your students) up for success. Sure, trying to develop a reputation as a big name instructor by taking on advanced or talented students may seem like the more prestigious option, but the truth is that your lack of knowledge and experience will quickly become evident creating a revolving door and ruining your reputation.
It's also important to realize that no instructor can excel at every discipline. When potential clients come to our barn wanting lessons in Western equitation or dressage, I refer them elsewhere. Could I teach beginner Western equitation or dressage? Probably. After all the basics tenants of good equitation, or riding a dressage test, don’t differ too much between the English and Western disciplines. Would I be doing my clients justice as a Western riding coach? No. My training and experience are in teaching English equitation, focusing on remaining in my wheelhouse is better for my students and for maintaining a good reputation as an instructor.
Embracing being a small time instructor doesn’t mean that you can’t grow and branch out. I am a great advocate of being a lifelong learner and believe that no one can ever claim to be too good to need a coach. Whether it is through regular lessons, attending clinics, or watching online videos, there are a host of different ways to further your education.
After we bought Lucky for my daughter, I started teaching a group of students and decided to start a 4-H horse club. There were no pony clubs in our area, and after doing some research I felt that 4-H provided the best development opportunities for our small community. I grew up participating in Pony Club and had absolutely no experience with 4-H (which includes learning both Western and English knowledge and skills), so this was a completely new track for me.
It can be daunting when you feel out of your depth as an instructor and tempting to try too brazen it out, but I have found the best growth opportunities (for both myself and my students) have happened when I have acknowledged that I didn't have the answer and we have sought help together. I feel strongly that it is more important for instructors to model humility and teachability than to maintain an image. Allowing my students to see me drawing from the experience of those around me or asking for help when I need it hopefully gives them permission to do the same, no matter how good they end up becoming.
When I think of the legacy I want to leave as an instructor I don't dream of training up top class riders and wracking up rows of championship ribbons. My dream is to raise up young men and woman who have a solid foundation in the fundamentals of good horsemanship and equitation, skills that will make them valuable partners for the horses that they are privileged to have in their lives for years to come.