Adopting

There’s an increasing Americanisation of the UK, with us taking on many of their “holiday” traditions these days (that can stop, by the way – we don’t need Halloween or Black Friday, thanks), but I’m trying to bring something else into commonplace.  My favourite American custom is that of encouraging people to have a nice day, rather than just saying goodbye.

As a long-serving (suffering?) service industry professional, I’ve seen retail and food outlets adopt what many super-reserved Brits regard as being an over-the-top friendliness.  To greet customers or be the ones to initiate conversation is seen here as a combination of nosy and pushy salesperson-type behaviour.  When Starbucks began asking customers for their name when ordering drinks, they were met with stern opposition (and not just from the mocking Twitterati, who take delight in exposing spelling mistakes) at this supposed over-familiarity (side note: take it from a former-barista, this policy is saving lives – nothing more frustrating than the umpteenth customer asking if the stone-cold latte on the end of the bar is theirs, and then proceeding to take the extra hot triple decaf wet soya latte which clearly isn’t theirs instead).  No, the American custom I’m on a mission to expand within the UK is that of encouraging people to have a nice day.

Rather than leaving my customer sign off as, “thank you, goodbye”, I try my best to encourage people to have a good day.  It often surprises them.  They tend to say, “thank you” or at the very least smile in response.  It visibly lifts them.  And occasionally, I get the biggest win of all: they return the phrase.  Sometimes, it’s an unconscious, “you too”, but on other occasions it’s clearly heartfelt.  And that makes me smile, put my shoulders back, and glide back into the retail fray with a better attitude.

I don’t save lives, I sell merchandise.  I’m not a member of the emergency services who works unsociable hours, I work in a shop and often work unsociable hours (we won’t discuss my rota for December here, in case some kind of miracle occurs and I escape it, but let’s just say it’s far from good).  I’m no hero, and I can be on the receiving end of some abuse.  So when people are nice, or grateful, and happy, it’s noticed.

I do it as a customer too – partly because I know what it’s like to be the poor person behind the counter who has rotting milk in their hair, or the one on the till whose feet hurt and has been wearing an enforced smile for several hours, and faces a stock take once the shutters come down – and I feel sad when it isn’t a part of that worker’s culture, when it’s me who delivers that line to them (always, always earnestly), who has to try and make them feel better.

But it’s worth it if I change one person’s outlook.  And it’s definitely worth it when one of my customers smiles and tells me to have a great day.  Because now, I just might.

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Equine therapy demystified

I’ve been trying to write this post since I blogged on my retirement and change of direction back in March, but for one reason or another, I kept getting stuck.  I also intended to post this as part of my equestrian content… then remembered that equine therapy isn’t about equestrians, and that I should be attempting to reach my mainstream audience, so here we are.

The reason I’ve kept putting this off is that it’s a subject which is very important to me, and I was frightened of not getting it across correctly.  But I’ve spent the last few days explaining what equine therapy is (as I’ve started a new job and everyone wants to know why a childless 28-year old only works part time), so I’ve honed my description a little further.

I like the term “equine therapy”, although it’s not conventionally used within the industry as a descriptor.  The more accurate term is Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) or Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): the problem with EAP is that it can sound frightening, and the problem with EAL is that nobody knows what that means – they even get stuck with “equine”, because they’re so bamboozled by the words which follow it.  So I’ve started saying that I’m a trainee equine therapist (rather than an equine assisted learning facilitator – how pretentious!  And what a mouthful!) – the only occasional snag with using equine therapy as a term, is that people think I’m treating horses.  But that’s usually easily recovered.

So I say that I’m training to be an equine therapist – that it means I help people using horses, and that’s true.  In a nutshell, that’s what we do.  Experience and training have led us to develop a selection of games which we can play with our clients and the horses, in order to subtly teach various things.  Horses act as a mirror for people, and teach the required lessons in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental way: rather than being told by a therapist that someone is a bad parent, or has caused a problem, the horses demonstrate how a person’s actions impact someone else, which communicates the message in a friendlier way.

We don’t teach people to ride, but they do handle the horses: sessions with us typically start with grooming, in order to allow everyone a chance to calm down (visitors tend to arrive with a lot of energy, whether it’s excitement or nerves!) and get used to being in the company of the horses.  Groups will undertake exercises such as building an obstacle course and ultimately leading a pony sympathetically around it, or having to shepherd a pony into a box without touching it, but sometimes all that’s needed is for the parents or carers to unload and the children to run around in a safe open space.

Sometimes, there still isn’t an awful lot of science to what we do, and part of that is due to the fact that you can’t control the reaction you’ll get: I spent about eight weeks doing the same exercise repeatedly due to the number of new clients we received, and I haven’t yet seen two groups react to it in the same way.  So as a therapist, it’s fascinating work.  It’s a puzzle for us too, figuring out what someone needs in order to get the help they require.  Watching the horses teach just by being horses is fun, and I often wonder how I was ever effective as a horseperson and as a human being before I knew what I know now.  Somehow, I managed, but I know I’ve improved since switching gears, and the fact that I’ve improved is what motivates me to help other people.

I knew a long time ago that I would never make a doctor, nurse, dentist, policewoman, fire fighter or any other traditional “helping” career.  It’s taken me a long time to match my favourite activity with a desire to help others, but I’ve found the answer, and hopefully it’ll keep taking me to places I had no idea existed.

A bit of both

“I’m actually quite shy,” I once asserted.  The person I was talking to – a woman who worked for my university and, essentially, hired me on a freelance basis to help run open days and other faculty events when I was a student – laughed.  Hard.

She’s not alone.  Few people who’ve met me – particularly those who have known me for a while – would regard me as shy or introverted.  And largely, I’d agree with them.  The quick judgment that anyone would make of me would be that I’m extroverted rather than introverted.  In much the same way that I’m very definitely a brunette rather than blonde, people see it as an easy distinction: “Becky is confident in expressing her opinion, is happy talking to other people and being in company, therefore she is extroverted.”  Wrong.  And even I only figured out exactly why very recently.

I’m an ambivert.  That is to say, I am both introverted and extroverted and, for me, whichever of those characteristics I display relates to how far within my comfort zone I am.  For me, being ambiverted isn’t to say that I am neutral (I don’t think anyone who knows me well would describe me in that way!), it just means that I switch gears depending on a few things.  It’s heavily related to how comfortable I feel in a given situation, but can also be tied to how I feel in general.

So what are my comfortable situations?  They’re times when I feel safe, relaxed and happy for a start.  It also tends to be when I’m with close friends or undertaking an activity that I enjoy and know I’m capable of – so many of my most extroverted moments relate to being around horses.  However, even the equine world – my favourite place – can render me introverted.  My introversion usually relates to the unfamiliar – I hate big crowds of strangers, and will immediately gravitate and cling to the one person I know if I’m in a large group.  Back in the equine world, if I’m doing something new or that I don’t feel confident in, I’ll become much more introverted and uncertain, seeking approval and advice, as well as feedback.  I think this is also my way of helping me to focus and concentrate.

I view being an ambivert as getting the best of both worlds – I can command attention and be authoritative on a subject when I need to be, or I can take a step back and give myself a bit of a break when I need more time to digest information and grow.  I struggle to rein my extroversion in on demand if I feel highly confident, but if there’s a situation where I believe a greater authority is present, I can hold back.  The only down side as I see it is that my switchy behaviour can be confusing to some: if people are accustomed to seeing Becky the Extrovert but Becky the Introvert shows up, they get confused, and are liable to push me beyond a point that I’m ready to be pushed, which is why I’m offering an explanation!  Sometimes, I too need a little extra time to stop and think.  Or be quiet.  But mostly, I’ll be in the thick of it making my voice heard.

Happy birthday #HorseHour

All of a sudden, it’s been a year since a group of people started Tweeting weekly and sharing our horsey experiences.  We’ve discussed everything from bridle bling to how to choose a riding instructor, and I’m sure that most of us can’t remember what we used to do at 8pm on Mondays.

Participating in #HorseHour has allowed me to get in touch with horsey people I possibly otherwise wouldn’t have met.  The horse world can be very insular and technophobic, but the next generation are breaking down those barriers on Twitter: there’s a friendly atmosphere or people sharing opinions and advice, with the opportunity to get to know other equestrians around the world.  #HorseHour has introduced me to other bloggers, those working in the industry who are a source of inspiration, and people who have become friendly faces.  I can’t remember who exactly joined in at which point, but to name just a few, I’ve met Wiola, Ceri, Susan, Susy and many more.

There are times when I haven’t participated in #HorseHour as much as I’d have liked to – mostly when I was in the US over the summer: although I spent the majority of my summer on the east coast, meaning 8pm in the UK was 3pm for me, I was almost always working at the relevant moment.  It was nice to duck in whenever I could – if #HorseHour happened on my day off and I was near wifi – in order to say hello to the virtual friends I missed catching up with.  Although I wasn’t always directly present, I tried to be part of #HorseHour in spirit – the beauty of being able to use a service for pre-setting your Tweets!

Many equestrians also use #HorseHour as a promotional tool.  For me, as a blogger, this has meant that I’ve used the time (and hashtag) to raise awareness of my writing.  Sometimes, as with this post, I’ve written pieces to coincide with #HorseHour, but I mainly promote posts from my archive or my most recent horsey offering.

The geek in me loves looking at my blog’s statistics, but I’m guilty of remaining fairly short term in my horizons.  As #HorseHour celebrates it’s first birthday today, it felt like a good time to take a longer look back, and celebrate what’s been big on my blog this year.  When I looked at the stats for the year from today’s date, I discovered that most of the very popular posts were ones from the “non-horse” category on my blog (with several of them being my recent photo posts covering the summer of 2014).  Below is a rundown of my most popular horsey posts.

Fifth place
I’m very pleased to say that my post on International Helmet Awareness Day made the top five – thank you to everyone for recognising the importance of this topic.  Did anyone make the most of any of the retailer discounts?  I still need a new helmet, but sadly wasn’t in a position to spend that kind of money (even with discount) on the day

Fourth place – a three-way tie!
As these posts all have the same number of hits, I decided it was only fair to mention all of them.  You all enjoyed “Help me, I’m poor” (on the struggle with the expense of equestrianism), “I’d like you to push him” (a tale of woe about a riding lesson – how things have changed!) and “My kind of baby” (photos of a nearby Shetland pony foal) in equal measure

Third place – yellow rosette, please!
A post I wrote after a #HorseHour discussion on how to choose a riding instructor!  There were lots of opinions during the Twitter chat, and I came back with “Weights and measures”

Second place – taking home the blue rosette (just to confuse the Americans)
“Quit and cross” – timely, given that #NoStirrupNovember is fast approaching.  Anyone taking on the challenge this year?  If I can get the saddle time (and enough exercises), I might be tempted…

And the winner is…
“Being stretched”

Thank you to everyone who has supported my blog, especially if you’ve been here since the beginning and have stuck around!  #HorseHour continues to be a pleasure – I’m glad I’ve met everyone, and look forward to finding out about the people I haven’t yet introduced myself to.

Paging Dr Freud

I’ve long thought there’s no room for ego in teaching, particularly if your subject is a physical skill. It’s all too easy to get frustrated, or simply and naively believe that you are offering a demonstration by stepping in and literally showing your student how it’s done when they get stuck.  I’ve witnessed riding instructors who order their student from the saddle, hop on and proceed to perfect the desired manoeuvre with ease.  I’ve also seen it backfire, with the mount continuing to refuse to offer the required movement – and these days, I view that from the perspective of horsemanship and relationships – and the situation descending into chaos, which can involve anything from quiet chuntering to out and out violence.

There are other reasons as to why offering students a demonstration doesn’t always work.  For one, many people aren’t visual learners, and won’t be able to spot the differences in their teacher’s technique in order to replicate them.  Even visual learners might struggle sometimes, as many cues are almost invisible to the naked eye without the aid of video analysis or other technological tools.  Another key reason for demonstrations failing is that you are at serious risk of damaging your student’s fragile ego.  When a person is struggling to achieve something, they are already psychologically in a precarious position, and more often than not, what they need is building up rather than bringing down.  And given that a fundamental part of teaching human beings is the skill of communicating verbally and explaining the topic you are allegedly an expert in, the inability to do so is surely a failure on the part of the coach.

There are, of course, subtle ways of demonstrating your point, without taking over and literally showing off.  With many sports, it’s possible to physically guide your student through the process – this has to be managed carefully, particularly if your student is a child, but at camp we’re advised that touching in order to teach sports or other activities is fine providing we’ve explained what we’re going to do and sought the child’s consent.  A person being on a horse isn’t a barrier to an instructor helping them to improve by guiding them physically: you can reposition a rider with them in the saddle and yourself on the ground; many establishments have mirrors so that you can show your client what their body looks like and, if mirrors aren’t available, there are the good old fashioned riding instructor series of squat poses in order to demonstrate what your client looks like on a horse (NB: it’s not always pretty).  When it comes to kids and horsemanship, I’ve often found myself holding a child, a rope (and therefore a horse) and a carrot stick and waving four arms around in order to direct an animal who is at the other end of a three metre line – I’m positive that it doesn’t look elegant, but I’m just as certain that it works.

What I’ve learned recently is that ego can pop up during teaching in another way: it also relates to progress.  Whilst it’s important not to show off in front of your clients, it’s also critical to manage their progression in a way which supports them rather than harms them.  It’s a common situation: a client has a goal in mind and, sometimes, they will drag you towards it rather than allowing you to guide the process.  Sometimes, it’s not just the student who makes use of pester power – they may have a significant other putting a deadline on them, or a classic pushy parent in the wings.  Keeping clients in check is an important skill not just for their confidence and your sanity, but also for their safety.

I figured this out having made the error a couple of times recently.  Sometimes, it’s just hard to think to say “no” rather than “yes”.  Sometimes, I too am eager to reach the mythical finish line.  A horsemanship student I know very well asked if he could move on to the next exercise.  My gut quietly muttered “no”, and my ego excitedly squealed “yes, do it, today’s the last day, let’s go out with a bang!”  Of course, things ended with a splat, and it wasn’t me who suffered.  I failed my student by letting him take charge, and it’s my job to fix the situation.  And I can fix it, but I also can’t let it happen again.

Wordless Wednesday

I was pottering around on the internet (stick with me, it’s safe) looking for one thing and found another.  What I found is this article – a throwback to London 2012 which is part of a series of guides to each Olympic sport.

The most entertaining part for me is seeing equestrianism through the lens of what non-equestrians need or want to know.  I’d argue some of the “facts” (apparently we only trot or canter in the dressage arena – who knew?), but thought I’d share.  There’s always something to learn! Olympic Dressage according to The Telegraph - image courtesy of The Telegraph via Google

Olympic Showjumping according to The Telegraph

Olympic Eventing according to The Telegraph

Of course, it’s a tough job summarising a sport within one picture box.  All three images created and owned by The Telegraph.

Getting social

Facebook and I fell out in 2012.  More accurately: I threw my toys out of the pram.  I couldn’t relate to the stream of updates about weddings, pregnancies and home ownership, and gave up altogether.  I was surprised by how long I stuck it out – almost a year – before reluctantly returning, only to find that the impossible had happened: things had got worse in my absence.  I persisted, because I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had something interesting to share, although my version of interesting was very much the same as it had been for the previous six years, revolving around new places, nights out, fun experiences and the mother of all holidays, rather than night feeds, guest lists and stop cocks.

My return to Facebook was triggered by spending the summer on a different continent to my existing friends and family – much like my blog, it began as proof of life, but has evolved into something different.  I now have friends in multiple countries to keep track of (I still don’t relate to the babies, houses or nuptials), and the figure is growing steadily as I approach my second summer at camp.

As well as keeping in touch with camp staff I’ve already met and know, Facebook is connecting me to new ones.  My camp sets up a staff group each year and soon after we’ve all left for the season, the next one begins and on it goes.  There’s a huge influx of new members when international recruitment takes place throughout January and many introduced themselves, leading me to find three newbies from my department.  We made friends, but didn’t speak, though I may or may not have stalked their profiles a little, as I’m sure they did mine.

Last week there was another influx, possibly because flights are being booked and some staff are turning to social media to distract them from their studies as the academic year grinds to a halt for university students.  I gained another three friends and, because excitement is increasing, have actually spoken to most of them now.

It’s like talking to myself a year ago: I’m happy to answer their questions and pass on some of my seemingly-random knowledge (top tip for horseback staff?  Buy two pairs of wellies on your supermarket trip – your first pair will break and you’ll have wet feet for a couple of weeks before you are able to shop again).  I can feel the combination of anxiety and excitement through their words and endless stream of questions: what’s the dress code; how much will we ride; how many horses are there; who mucks out and when; what’s the schedule like?  All at once, I want to reassure, encourage and inspire.

Do I tell them what it’s really like?  Yes and no.  Some things just can’t be described.  I don’t want to scare anyone, even though it’s too late for them to pull out now.  I don’t want to disappoint anyone, because really, how much do I know?  Yes, I’ve lived it already, but who am I to say that certain things are impossible to achieve?  The staff could well have the passion, enthusiasm and knowledge required to make improvements.  So I keep it neutral, answer questions as best I can and wait.  And try not to judge them based on what comes up on my news feed over the weekends.

Lost in translation

With less than 70 days to go until I return to the USA for the summer, I’m thinking more and more about how the experience was last year, how I hope it’ll be this year and what undoubtedly won’t change.  What surprises a lot of people is how relatively-few adult Americans I interacted with for most of the summer.  Camps largely recruit staff who aren’t American (there were a large number of Mexicans at camp, but only one Canadian that I know of – make of that what you will!), so the result is that many camps resemble an international village in terms of the adult cohort.  All of the main owners and directors at my camp are American, but even from heads of department downwards, there are more international staff than from within the US.

We teach each other and the kids a lot about our cultures – the two largest groups represented are Brits and Australians, but we had significant numbers from New Zealand and Poland, with smaller numbers from other countries such as South Africa and Slovakia.  Prior to arriving at camp, I assumed that most of the questions I’d get from kids (and maybe adults) would be about a certain boyband, the world’s most famous wife and our capital city.  I actually didn’t get many questions about life in the UK, but my vernacular did generate a few queries.

I’d known for a long time that Brits and Americans have different words from the same items – two countries separated by language – and was aware this would cause confusion.  But I hadn’t factored in how much slang (both child-friendly and adult-only) differed, as well as other turns of phrase.  It’s only since I looked up a recipe when I got home to try and re-create a dish that I’d had on holiday that I had to discover what Americans mean by “green onions”, for example (FYI – many websites will tell you that we call these “scallions”.  The internet lies, which is shocking, I know.  I’ve only heard them referred to as scallions in Ireland, every single person I know calls those “spring onions”).

About halfway through the summer, one of the other girls in my department recounted how she’d walked past someone she knew on her way to the barn, smiled and called out, “You alright?” as we Brits do.  The other person had looked at her in horror, assuming that they had some outwardly-obvious but unknown problem.  The Brit hurriedly reassured them that this, for us, is merely a form of saying, “Hi, how are you?” in a passing greeting.  We all genuinely had no idea that this statement was so confusing for other people!

Despite having a very close Kiwi friend, I will never, ever refer to a flip flop as a “jandal” (thank goodness she’s technically British and speaks fluent Brit) and I am loathe to even type football in the American fashion (using the word which begins with S – because I’m definitely in the camp who would refer to what you call football as rugby in armour), but I have learned that in restaurants I need to scour menus carefully for any mention of cilantro (I can’t bear the stuff – it tastes like soap).  I’ve also been coached in how to pronounce Australia like an Australian (leave off the first two letters and don’t pronounce the L – it’s, “straya”), although I always ducked out of pronouncing New Orleans like Americans do – it definitely wouldn’t sound right with a British twang!  Some of the toughest times are struggling to come up with an appropriate equivalent – the situation which comes to mind is “chav”, and the closest my friends and I have usually settled on is “redneck”, but we’re not entirely sure we’ve hit the spot!  Next time, we might have to resort to YouTube clips to accurately convey our point.

Although “you alright?” didn’t catch on among the international community, I did manage to pass on one of my favourite (child-appropriate) gems: numpty.  When my Aussie friend heard me use it for the first time, she fell about in fascinated laughter, before requesting a definition and proceeding to master use of it very quickly.  I smile whenever I hear her shout it at someone (because, as an Aussie, she only has one volume and that is “loud”), and can’t wait to hear it all summer.  I’m not sure I’ll top that particular gift, but I’ll spend the season trying.

Have you ever used words you wouldn’t ordinarily consider to be unusual but been met with confusion from others?  What were they and is there an equivalent?  What word or phrase should I try to introduce (current ideas are “eejit” and “workyticket”, with the latter not being common use even in the UK, I’d relish the challenge)?

Back in the classroom

I’m doing a lot of learning at the moment, having dipped my toe into the water of a different method of working with horses, but today I’m switching roles again and playing at being the teacher.  In fact, it’s a big change: I’m off to the university I studied at.

Periodically since I graduated, I’ve returned to assist with classes and, on a couple of occasions, I’ve even been on the lookout for staff.  It’s 11 months since my previous trip – longer than I’d wanted, as I was invited to go in October but ultimately wasn’t able to make it – and I’m in a similar situation than I was last time.  Last April, I was on an extended holiday, technically between jobs and enjoying not having one eye on a blinking BlackBerry and the other on the clock which showed how many hours before I was expected to return to my desk.  I was nervous about what my forthcoming summer in the US had in store, but feeling much happier having extricated myself from my job in London.  But I told the students none of this: I presented myself as a freelancer.

My logic was that they would hear only part of what I said when introducing myself if I was explicit regarding my situation: they’d have heard that I wasn’t in an event management role, and that would’ve resulted in me losing any potential credibility as a source of information and support.  Admittedly, there was some vanity and embarrassment involved on my part – I didn’t want to have gone all that way for them to ignore me, and I was in a position of huge uncertainty in my life whereby I didn’t need a group of students probing my career choices.  So I protected myself, made a quick but necessary introduction and proceeded to do my best by them.

The classes are exhausting, as the ones I assist with are in a speed dating format: various guests are brought in, the students work their way around in small groups and the guests answer questions.  You spend two hours talking.  My message is usually a no-nonsense, “pull your finger out if you want to get a good grade”, but I have had some challenging questions which test my brain (and my memory of textbooks and theories!) and it means that I end the session mentally exhausted, though realising I know more than I thought I did!

Beyond “work hard to get a good grade”, “make sure you get a job which makes you happy” and “enjoy your final few weeks as a student – it’ll be a long time before you have it this good again”, I don’t know what I’ll be saying today.  It’s possibly because it’s a year since I was in an events role, but I definitely feel rusty going into this class, and I’m glad it’s not a case of preparing a slide set and giving a didactic lecture.  What I am focusing on is coming up with a way of being more explicit with the truth of my own situation, whilst getting across that I know what I’m talking about and that I’m qualified to do so, even though it’s not what I do at the moment.  Here’s hoping I can convey the message.

Does older equal wiser?

Whether people see themselves as religious, spiritual or neither, many believe in natural talent – that some of us are born with certain gifts which we are then easily able to hone into a higher level of skill.  Some of those things are physical abilities, some are more academic.  It’s often regarded that, if you are an absolute expert on a certain topic, or that you have great ability in terms of a physical skill, then you are also able to easily pass these attributes on to others – that you will be a good teacher (I’m going to stick with the term “teacher” throughout this post for the sake of simplicity, but please recognise that I mean this in terms of coaching both academic, emotional and physical skills) as well.

The critical point that most people miss is that, in order to be able to impart knowledge (and/or skills), one must also be the master of two incredibly difficult additional skills: communication and relationship-building.  For me, these are the “X factor” of skills – you’ve either got it or you haven’t.  Of course, delivery is a teachable skill, but one which is distinctly different from communication.  One can be taught to enunciate, engage or entertain (to an extent).  But I don’t think that charisma and empathy are trainable.

So, which is more important: expertise or personal social skills?  My opinion is that it’s the latter.  Many of us are blessed with the ability to read – to study, to gain basic knowledge.  Fewer possess the gift of imparting it.  Anyone who has attended several schools throughout their life will have experienced a wide variety of teachers.  Which ones did you learn the most from: those who were book-smart, or those who had the power to tap into the learning style of each individual in the room, and ensure that they weren’t just able to regurgitate the information, but could understand it in their own terms?

Hopefully, that’s one issue explained (if I have communicated it accurately!) – my stance on the ability to teach.  The next element I want to discuss is progression and hierarchy.  Because, believe it or not, the two things are linked.

Something which frustrated me about many companies I have worked for is box-ticking.  Our society is built on our understanding of hierarchies, as they provide a natural chain of command: an army of people paddling away at the bottom, supporting the minorities who direct operations from the top.  We are taught, as juniors, that we too can make it to the lofty pinnacle, if we make our way up the pyramid, step by step, paying our dues at each level.

But what if that doesn’t suit us?  What if we get stuck, marooned on the side of the pyramid?  Do we abandon ship, jumping off in the belief that this particular pyramid isn’t for us?  Or do we paddle on, mistakenly believing that our debt of time will have been paid and our chance to advance will be given?  For me, this logic regarding upwards progression is flawed.  I don’t think people should make it to the top because they are good enough at every level, or because they can jump through hoops.  And the top isn’t for everyone.  We are all different.  Some people belong in the middle and are content there.  However some people belong at the top, but can’t get there because they are stuck in the middle.  But convention dictates that skipping levels is not allowed.  So what’s a person to do?

It’s time to marry my concepts.  Whilst I believe that the ability to communicate with and relate to all kinds of people is vital to one’s success as a teacher, I also believe that not everyone is suited to every level of a job.  For me, time spent doing an activity does not equal the ability to teach it at an advanced level.  Similarly, being at a junior level within a job does not mean that you are suited only to junior tasks – or, to return to the teaching-specific case, that your inexperience relative to others doesn’t mean that you are only suited to and should only practice your teaching on beginners.

Now I’m going to get personal, sticking my head above the parapet and preparing myself for cries of “that’s so arrogant!”, but it’s okay, I’m ready.  Because I also know I’m right.  Next month, I’ll have been riding for 23 years (I’m still getting used to being old enough to be able to say that).  I’m not an expert.  Although it is only ever a small percentage of people who experience an elite level of their chosen field (not to mention success within it), I still would not consider myself an expert.  I recognise that, despite my years of involvement, I still have an almost infinite amount to learn.  But I’m also not a beginner rider.  I am a beginner riding teacher.  I have taught many other things (some more successfully than others – texting will always elude my Grandma; remembering to charge her mobile phone will almost always escape my Mum, though we have seen improvements in her ability to purchase milk on command).  Does it follow that, because I am a novice teacher, I should be good at teaching beginners?

Actually, the more you think about it, the more absurd it seems.  I was four when I learned how to get on a pony.   At the same age, I learned to balance in the saddle, make a pony speed up and slow down, ask him to turn.  I have no idea about the language which was used, the way in which that was all explained.  I do those things unconsciously (I often say that I ride better than I walk), those actions are much like inhaling and exhaling to me – repetition has bred an inexplicable familiarity.  Fundamentally, I can also be pretty impatient.  So when a new student can’t read my mind and know that, by standing on a horse’s off side, holding the reins and the stirrup and raising an eyebrow, I am waiting for them to put their left foot in the stirrup and swing gently into the saddle, I can get a little short.

I’m possibly being a little hard on myself.  With a bit of thought, I’m perfectly capable of talking someone through the basics.  What I’m not so hot at is explaining it repeatedly until it sinks in for each person.  Because I know it already.  Why am I having to tell them over and over again?  Why have they not absorbed that information (oh.  Maybe I didn’t use the right words…)?

What I’m getting at is: does the above make me a useless teacher for all students of riding?  I know that the answer is “no”.  Because last summer, I taught somewhere between 80 and 100 kids of varying abilities and skill levels.  Some of them improved, some of them didn’t.  The kids, horses and I will not have been the only three variables in that circumstance.  But we’re a good percentage of it.  The fact that I saw some improvement means that I know I can do it.

Here’s the rest of what I know: I’m good at explaining complex concepts.  I’m strong where my students are engaged and enthusiastic.  I like to receive detailed feedback (which probably means that I like to teach good communicators – or those whose delivery I am able to coach).

I know I’m not alone in preferring to teach the more exciting stuff, things which involve more than the basics of steering, speeding up and slowing down.  That said, if someone’s excited by simply being able to make a horse step forwards, and I get them to that point, that can be highly satisfying for me.  But generally, why play to your weaknesses for the sake of “fairness” amongst a team?  What’s wrong with setting yourself up for success and satisfaction?

Admitting that you’re not the best person for the job – yet, given that the person asking for your help may one day be ready for it – and pointing someone in the direction of another person who is able to help them, is often the best thing to do for yourself and the student.  You will stay sane, they will stay enthusiastic, the world will be a happier place.

This is far from the only area in life where society gets it wrong, but it’s one which I have identified already and hope to continue to challenge.  If I refuse to teach you, it’s not because you can’t do it, or because I don’t want you to do it.  It’s because we can’t do it…yet.  You can do it with someone else’s help.  And when you and I are ready for each other, it’ll be brilliant.

Over to you – do you agree with my assessments of teachers, hierarchies or the link between the two?  What works best in your experience?