This month as the challenges of Covid 19 continue I am going to talk about the very topical issue of remote or distance horse riding and coaching.
The current lockdown looks set to continue for possibly many months ahead in one form or another. I know my level of involvement with riders directly has dropped to virtually nothing. Changes to the ways in which horse riders and horse rider trainers do things are going to happen which might be around for a long time, things will in my view either never be the same again or it will be quite some time before things are anything like they used to be just a few short months ago. It is going to be a big challenge to us all.
Coaching for riders
Currently the most popular ways in which people consume coaching and instruction falls pretty much into two broad groups. There are the traditional one on one scenario lessons which can be extended to a group up to maybe four if reasonable achievement is to be reached by all the group with an experienced competent trainer on the ground. There is much debate upon how many riders a group riding lesson should consist of but we can have that debate another day. These formats are also used for the professional training bodies for assessment of coaching candidates. Secondly there are the now very popular, clinic riding camp style, training experiences, usually at weekends. These are very popular with competition riders as they can be set at locations where events take place and horses and riders can orientate themselves to the environment. Again there is a debate on the efficacy of these ‘experience’ scenarios to deliver qualitative learning, however that is not the subject of this article. Whilst the ‘clinic/camp’ scenario is a relatively new consumer orientated concept we can safely say horse riding lessons have remained virtually unchanged for a very long time.
Will things change with social distancing ?
Things are definitely going to change, from where we are now. How permanent or partial those changes will be nobody knows as we are in a fluid and unique period of time.
When I was researching for this article I went online to see what some well known and not so well known trainers were offering. Again there were two distinct formats. One involves a demonstration of a trainer riding a horse through some training routines and others with groundwork trainers demonstrating their own ground training styles and methods. Some are very enjoyable to watch, however how much of a genuine learning experience these scenarios create is at best limited and at worst non existent. They are for spectators not active learning participants. Essentially what works for one horse will not work for any or all other horses so this format of demonstrating does have its limitations. The other format for distance learning appeared broadly to be polework drills and or a list of riding challenges for people to attempt with their own horse. A sort of try this at home style of delivering ways for people to train their horses remotely. The major challenge for any of the traditional based training styles is how to create and use feedback.
Picture the scenario… somebody is say riding a horse and they are sitting more on one side of the horse than the other, they will carry on doing this without the, ‘live as it happens’ correction from a trainer on the ground with experience and a good ‘eye’. So the issue will not be corrected in real time or at any time in the near or distant future as the trainer will not be able to see the error and the rider will not realise they are doing it.
The challenge for remote horse rider training
Going forward there is a big challenge facing riders and riders’ coaches if the standards for excellent delivery of quality learning is to be achieved. A lot of livery yards have closed access to visiting professional or severely limited that access, which is clearly impacting upon the industry. Livery yard owners do not gain much from outside instructors attending to teach and it is easy to see instructors being impaired in their attempts to make a living. There are already instances of trainers facing the bleak prospect of having to find an alternative source of income. There will only be one loser here and it is the standards of horse and horse rider training. I am currently working on my own version of remote training which is a challenge. I have for the last twenty years however been involved in the creation of and the delivery of remote training packages to mounted police forces in both The USA and the Middle East. It is not easy but the good news is it can be done and it can also provide expert training at a fraction of some of the costs people are paying for their current training.
In short, the current situation creates both challenges and opportunities, here’s hoping we as equestrians can rise to, and overcome what is ahead of us, I am confident we can as we are a resilient bunch and so are our horses, Stay safe everybody and good luck Brian.