Milton’s Missing Lesson

While the blog was on break last spring [Struggle Bus], Milton and I had a dressage lesson with a new instructor. It did not go well. Horse and rider were shivering wrecks for the next four days. I kept meaning to blog about it, but it kept threatening to turn into a 2000-word epic. Here is the short version. Well, I tried to make it the short version.

This person teaches a friend of mine. I went to watch a lesson. All seemed well. If anything, the person struck me as a little too low key. I might have said more about the ride that was going on in front of us. I scheduled a time to bring Milton over.

Instead of being the pleasant soul that I had encountered, they immediately got all up in our faces about how Milton would never do what we wanted him to do. This is a common attitude encountered in the horse world, ‘Your horse isn’t good enough. You need a new horse.’ Sometimes the speaker has a horse for sale. Sometimes the speaker simply has an opinion they feel compelled to share. Sure, fine, but five minutes after we get off the trailer? You haven’t even seen the horse move.

Nearby, but out of sight, a house was under construction. Huge machinery whizzed and clanked and banged. Milton hated it. Every whiz and clank and bang. He never settled. It took three people to bridle one horse. In hindsight, we should have gone home right then. Nothing good was going to come out of the day.

Lunging. The person had a theory of groundwork that we had not seen before. The work was a bit more demanding than I might have done, but nothing harmful. More of, ‘You will now listen to me.’ Milton didn’t like it, but he wasn’t liking anything at the moment.

No way was I getting on this cavorting, hysterical beast. Too much Tennessee flashback [not a post]. Cajoling occurred. I relented. I got on. I could barely walk Milton around the lunge pen. The instructor felt my hands were so bad that I needed to ride with a running martingale until I could learn to to keep them steady. Huh? Coach Courtney tells me she does this with her rankest beginners.

It finally ended. I got off. We made nice-nice noises and went home. There were tentative plans to come back. The new ground-driving/lunging technique had merit. Perhaps the person could be of use as a groundwork/driving instructor. Perhaps Milton would be more settled next time. We went off to buy a new rope.

I was not happy. Clearly, every decision I had ever made was wrong. And so on. This may be a bad place, but it is not an unusual place for me. My ground crew figured I’d snap out of it eventually. I generally do. By Wednesday, he realized that Milton was also still jumpy. Perhaps it was not all in my head. Perhaps going back was not a good move.

The session went badly from the get go. We didn’t do enough to get a good sense of this person’s teaching style. However, there appeared to be an underlying attitude that did not sit well either with me or with Milton.

Perhaps some form of tough love? Could be. I do not handle that well. Tell me, or even imply, that I am a useless waste and I will curl up in a ball in the nearest corner hoping to keep my worthless self out of everyone’s way. Tell me, show me, convince me that I am wonderful & I will amaze you.

Perhaps Milton feels the same way.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Categories: Dressage, Horses, Lesson

7 replies »

  1. Awe, you and Milton are worth it as I read this post I can’t stand people who admonish and scold as teaching and that’s all that seems to come out of their mouth. I am a strong believer in positive reinforcement over negative and yes, in order to correct or offer advice sometimes you have to be negative but I always compliment first and then start in on the so I see we have a problem? YIKES! Sounds like you and Milton don’t need someone like who you rode with and yes, maybe it was just a bad day but that’s still no way to help someone or teach. My personal opinion is take what you think you could use, sounds like the ground work is okay, but not every instructor is meant for every horse owner. My heart goes out to you as I’ve been there before!! From one horseback rider to another – Diana ❤️

  2. What she said. I had one lesson with a dressage trainer who worked well for a friend but for me it didn’t go well. At all. Having trouble in a corner, he kept telling me the same way to fix it. Which obviously didn’t work. I figured it out on my own and that was the end of that. He also had a condesending (I just can’t spell that word) attitude which apparently worked for my far less experienced friend, and could not change to help anyone who rode differently than she did. I also got the impression that he didn’t think much of Chief. And nobody insulted my boy!

  3. That’s no way to teach. As an instructor, you work with the person and animal that you have and strive to use your toolbox to help them. Of course you wouldn’t go back to someone that started out that way. No one needs that kind of negativity and it’s certainly not something to pay someone for. Chalk it up to experience, take the piece of the groundwork that worked for you and move on.

  4. Some people respond to a push, shove, in-your-face humiliation style of “coaching.” I do not. In the last few years I’ve branched out a bit from back yard & trail riding and have done some winter boarding. Needless to say, two years ago I literally saddled up my horse and rode her home after the barn owner tried to humiliate me more than once. Saturday I’m shipping my current project home for the same reason. We lasted seven weeks there. Nastiness seems to be a common theme in the horse world. But there ARE good people out there so don’t let that discourage you from looking again. Just trust your gut. If it’s saying put the horse back on the trailer and cut bait, then do it. Don’t over think it, just DO IT. Your horse and psyche will thank you. Sorry you had to go through this and glad you’ve moved past the experience.

  5. I am so glad I haven’t encountered an instructor, or lesson, like you described — or if I did, I was not paying attention! I would think many times over, before returning. Milton is a good horse, and you are an excellent rider. Don’t lower standards. Happy Holidays!

  6. I wouldn’t say the person was a bad teacher, just not for me. Some people like challenge. Seems to work for my friend, who – without being specific about her life history – is way mentally tougher than I am. OTOH, I would say that the person didn’t adapt well to a different learning style. One size fits all. I’ve seen brilliant managers who can go from yelling at one person to solicitously asking after the cupcake (that would be me), but such people are rare.

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