State of the instructor

Thanks to some supportive messages from a friend, I’ve realised a few things.  The third session of camp has finished, and we’re into the proverbial final furlong (sort of: the final session of camp has started, but there’s an extra week tacked onto the end which I’m staying for this year).  I was feeling disappointed with myself – I wasn’t surprised that the lofty ambitions I had for this summer hadn’t been met, but I was still a little down about it.  There were so many horses I wanted to “fix” (or at least improve), but time has been my biggest enemy, with lack of consistency from other staff coming an incredibly close second.

Because that’s the thing with horses, no matter what your approach is: consistency is key.  And the fact of the matter is that these 30 horses are being handled by 14 different full time staff, plus goodness knows how many campers, plus the occasional other bodies who float through.  We’re not all on message – even I’m not on message some of the time!  There are moments when I could do with someone to give me a slap and remind me what my principles are, because when I’m in a hurry or trying to do five things at once, my beloved ideals go straight to the wall and the quickest course of action takes over.  Ultimately, working at a busy barn is far different to the controlled environment of a private yard which is home to five horses.

There was a day recently when three of my colleagues approached me separately and asked me if I could “do something” about a certain horse.  At the time, I was enthusiastic that they’d seen my approach as a valid option, but urged them to get involved, citing the fact that my diary was already full of horses I worked with.  I let each of them know that they were more than welcome to join my classes, which would be the best way for me to help them.  And that’s when they lost interest.  They weren’t looking to engage on that level and make that effort, they wanted me to do it for them.  But that’s not how this works.  I shrugged it off initially, accepting that they just weren’t that interested in learning more.  And then I felt guilty, because I thought I should be able to help more horses.  Which is when my friend had to get involved and tell me to have a word with myself.

It took a day or so for the message to really sink in, but my realisation was this: the responsibility isn’t mine alone when I’m working as part of a team.  If something isn’t working, we all have a duty to change it and improve.  I’m happy to help, but it’s not up to me to fix everything, it’s not my job to be the solution.  With horses, every handler has the responsibility to behave consistently and ensure that the horse is treated and behaves in the appropriate manner.  One person twiddling a rope for half an hour per day isn’t going to cut it: it’s about the way the horse is approached, handled, tacked up, led, even spoken to by everyone.  Otherwise the positive voice and actions get lost in a sea of white noise.  How is a horse supposed to sort through the inconsistent actions of over 14 different people and figure out what to do in order to be treated properly or praised?  It’s no wonder they do what they think is best, not what they know is right.

This isn’t the end, and it’s not a surrender.  It’s a realisation of what I can achieve within the current limits.  A philosophy I was told about a few months ago was that when faced with a challenge, one should find a way or make one.  So that’s what I’ll be doing next, because I can’t accept the current situation as best practice.

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