I decided to take a little break and get in out of the cold by attending the 2015 Ontario Coaches Conference. Illustration by Lynne Sproule

Recently, I decided to take a little break and get in out of the cold by attending the 2015 Ontario Coaches Conference. Illustration by Lynne Sproule

It’s cold, it’s dark and there’s absolutely zero incentive to trudge the few hundred feet to the sanctity of the arena. The horses are too cold to do their jobs properly and so are the riders, and if truth be told, my own level of commitment after six weeks of -20-degree temperatures is questionable at best. Let’s face it, every fibre of my being is bent on reminding me that teaching any equestrian discipline during the winter months borders on absolute insanity.

So I decided to take a little break and get in out of the cold by attending the 2015 Ontario Coaches Conference. It was a great experience. There were loads of workshops to attend, a wonderful assortment of guest speakers covering a wide range of topics all intended to enlighten and inspire those of us dedicated to making our sport experience top notch. There were tons of networking opportunities and if you factor in the three days of complimentary breakfasts, lunches, and the Saturday night dinner (because the food is really the defining factor of any conference), it truly was a great bang for your buck!

With the abundance of information flowing freely down the education highway, what exactly did I take away from this year’s conference?

Well, I came away with an overwhelming realization that the equestrian industry is rife with fundamental and insurmountable differences when compared to standard non-riding sports.

I could relate to the workshops that addressed the challenges facing human athletes, but that’s only part of the puzzle when it comes to riding. The lectures which looked at the human aspect of motivation and development, the influence we coaches have on our athletes’ ability to soldier on, push through the pain, and pull forth that once in a lifetime performance were excellent, but again only applicable to half of the team in our sport.

For me, although the conference was excellent and incredibly informative, the information primarily served to accentuate the numerous unique challenges that face coaches within our sport. Scanning the agenda, we equestrians were hard pressed to find any relevant subject matter applicable to the other half of our team. Unfortunately there simply weren’t any lectures addressing the challenges of working with our adorable, overgrown, plushy ponies who can at times appear unwilling, mentally challenged, and just a tad too committed to getting their own way!

For a large majority of coaches attending this conference, the situations that equestrians encounter on a daily basis are totally out of their scope of experience. For fun, I shared with some of the other coaches just a few of the problems that equestrian coaches face to try to convey the gravity of our situation as compared to theirs. Things like the cost of acquiring a decent competition mount for clients or the challenge of finding a facility that’ll actually allow off-site coaches. The reality is that many times equestrian coaches are faced with the insurmountable expense of buying or building their way into the sport with an arena/barn combo pack. How’s that for commitment to your sport?!

Although horrified, the other coaches were intrigued to hear more about our unique sport so I delved further into the more intricate aspects of coaching equestrian sport. Things like the inherent dangers of messing up a distance, miscalculating your partner’s aversion to umbrellas, tents, and loud speakers, or, come spring time, the horse’s hormonal onslaught which can erode months and months of hard work and training. We also talked about the fact that equestrian coaches have to come to terms with the fact that at any moment and without any warning, our valuable clients have the potential to be launched from their mounts like rockets. This can and likely will happen through no fault of their own, and no amount of coaching on your part is able to prevent it. Interestingly enough, there weren’t any lectures on those particular aspects of the equestrian sport…

On the plus side, we did learn about conflict management and we all know that one’s gonna come in handy. Those skills are most certainly important to have when explaining to the disappointed, disillusioned, frustrated, and emotionally and financially broken clients that no, their partner is not behaving out of pure spite and is not capable of plotting against you… He’s just being a horse.

All of that being said, it really was a great weekend. I really enjoyed being able to talk with other coaches and learn about the challenges they face in coaching for their sports. If nothing else, I think I can safely say that the coaches who had an opportunity to chat with me came away with a newfound respect for the challenges facing equestrian coaches and perhaps a renewed appreciation for their own sport of choice.