Telling your storiesfrom the stables to the fields

11 March,2018

What Makes A Great Coach?

Last year, I went on a coaching course through British Dressage and we talked a lot about what it is that makes some coaches great and others, well, not so great. For sure, there are definite traits and skills that good coaches learn and possess but its also a really personal thing and a coaching style that suits one person wont necessarily suit the next.

First up, how does a riding coach differ from a riding instructor? Well, a riding instructor does what the title would suggest, they instruct,  issue commands and they tend to do a lot of telling. Its how riding has been traditionally taught in the UK (and weve all turned out ok!), but there is a feeling within the equestrian industry, and throughout sport in general, that this approach is now outdated. A deliberate move away instructing and the adoption of coaching in its place has been filtering into equestrianism over the last few years.

I think this is the definitive difference between being an instructor and a coach. In the instructor-pupil relationship, the instructor takes full responsibility for the learning. They decide what youre going to learn in your session and they instruct you through a series of exercising to meet that goal. A riding coach, will agree aims with you and involve you in the learning at all times. Youll be asked lots of questions by your coach and theyll check that you understand why youre doing what youre doing. Of course, there will be times your coach will impart knowledge and explain an exercise to you but crucially, youll be given time to try and assess whats working and what isnt. Its through this practice and analysis that we learn and our coach is just there to help us get the most out of the session. Good riding instructors have always been coaches in essence anyway, but its really refreshing to see this approach being rolled-out throughout all riding establishments.

For me, I like a coach who is encouraging, who is truly engaged with me in the moment and who helps me improve as a rider as well as how my horse is going. Over and above that, I want to come away from my session feeling motivated, like Ive made progress, have a clear plan on how I can replicate the work by myself at home and an understanding of why, and that Ive had a great time – this is meant to be fun. Finding a coach who can consistently deliver on all those points can be really difficult to find, in fact there have only probably been a couple I have worked with over the years. One no longer works in my area and the other Ill definitely be going back to when Ive got the horses back in work properly.

Ive tried a lot of big names, well respected and visiting trainers too; one who made my cry (Believe me, Im not a crier and I waited until I left before I let myself! – thats a whole other blog!) and another who spent my whole session sitting in the corner playing on his phone! Neither of these coaches were cheap and I came away from both feeling pretty rubbish.

A lot of riders really rate the lady who made my cry – her tough lovemethods just werent for me! I think you need to know yourself and what you need from a coach when choosing who to book in with. I know Im highly self-aware and self-critical so what I dont need is someone else picking at my even more. Thats not to say I cant handle criticism – I can, but I need it done with kindness and with a solution at the ready. Telling me Im shit (Im paraphrasing!) isnt going to motivate me or want to come back.

As a coach myself, I am who I am. I coach as Id like to be coached. I think Im pretty good at judging when my clients need a wee push and when they need their hands held a little bit but Im never going to bully you into anything. There will be riders who like that kind of coaching and Im not for them, and thats ok – Ive got a few numbers I can give them!

What do you look for in a riding coach? What makes you book your next lesson? And what makes you not go back?

Karen x

Please visit: KA Equestrian


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