This week’s blog should be on the next foundation lesson; mat work. Instead after struggling with whether to write about a recent clinic I went to or not here, I felt I must deviate from our foundation lessons for a more important lesson.

My goal as a trainer, teacher and human being is to keep evolving. As a trainer and teacher I continually work on improving my skills and my understanding of just how training works (by looking at learning theory and all those out of the box kind of learning that many horse trainers do not explore. ) To that end, I will, on occasion, go and observe at non-clicker clinics. I go there fully aware that it will not be a clicker clinic and try to have an open mind about what I might see. While I am not going to comment on the clinic I went to this last time, given by a well-known gentleman from the States who specializes in classical dressage the clinic, I will write about: Gurus, Grandstanding and Great Training

Why is it that many clinicians feel the need to grandstand and come across as a guru who is the ONLY one who knows ANYTHING? Good question!

Any trainer, clinician, instructor that is worth working with should be able to explain to you what they are doing and why they are doing it. You should be able to feel comfortable and able doing what they do or at least have a good idea how to get there and not feel like you have to keep coming back so they can ride and train the horse for you. Neither you nor your horse should be more confused, concerned or hesitant at the end of the lesson. They should be able to show and tell you in different ways how to do the exercise being asked for and be able to break it down into small enough parts so that you and the horse are successful. This goes for ANY good training system not just clicker training.

My goal as an instructor is to have my students go from guided and directed learning in the beginning, to having them become independent learners able to function and progress with only slight direction on my part. This is also how I want my horses to be. Yes, I want folks to take less lessons not more as they progress…not a great way to make a living!

Good training is good training, clicker or not. Good training and good teaching should be boring to watch. There should be no grandstanding by the teacher/clinician to impress the audience with their ability and if they profess that theirs is the ONLY way to train this you need to ask yourself how you feel about this…my way or the highway mentality.

Many of the people having horses today are starting later in life with them, going back to fulfill childhood dreams and do not have that lifelong relationship and experience to draw on that many trainers and instructors do. Many are middle aged and do not have the strength nor desire to be rough and tough to get the infamous ‘dominance’ over their animal. These riders are interested in a partnership that allows participation from both parties, not a dictatorship based on fear (usually labeled as respect. Respect must be earned, and that doesn’t happen in a few hours, it takes time to build a good relationship. Fear will be established very quickly and you will get animals that react rather than respond).

Now, I am not telling you to not go and watch and learn , but make sure you know what you are getting you and your horse into before you go to participate. Go and watch several lessons or clinics by the person you are interested in first before taking a horse to them. If you like what you see, can understand the teaching process, can see that the horse understands the teaching process and can understand the reasoning behind why they do what they do and AGREE with that reasoning then go back with your horse – a tall order to fill. If you do not like what you are seeing it is much easier for you to leave as a spectator than to leave once the guru has his hands on your horse and you and your horse were both wishing you were at home.

As Alexandra Kurland says, “Remember to go to people for opinions and horses for the true answers to your questions.”

You need to remember that you have hired this person to teach you. He is your employee and if he is not doing the job you want you can and should let him go. For some reason many of us are hesitant to do this. Heavens, most people are even afraid to ask trainer or instructors to explain something they didn’t understand because they are afraid to look stupid. (This goes all the way back to our school days.) And they will almost never ask the same question again if they didn’t get an answer they understood because they got ‘made a fool of’ when they asked it the first time.

Just take a moment to stop and think…If we can train wild animals like killer whales to perform without force or fear perhaps we should take another look at how we train our domestic animals. Doing what has always been done just because it seems to work does not necessarily make it good or right. And just because it works for them s not mean you need to do it that way if it doesn’t feel right for you.

Here is a link to a great clicker trainer and friend of mine Jen Digate on “How to watch a training session.” In it are great examples of what to look for:

And for more information on the Guru Syndrome check out this link from Effective Horsemanship:

Until next week Keep it Positive!