Thursday, April 11, 2013

Train the Trainer

Thank you to everyone for all your caring thoughts and sympathies over the news of Katchi's retirement.  We all wish they could run forever, because they really were meant to, weren't they?!  It means so much to have such wonderful friends, many of whom I've never met! Your kind words remind me why I love horses and the people who love them!

I wanted to take a quick moment to catch up on another (happier) topic that I've been meaning to write about for some time.  With purchasing the farm and trying to get myself set up with the facilities to help my horses and students (and me!) reach our dreams, the timing also finally came together to begin the USEA's Instructor Certification Program (ICP).  In December, I submitted an application for the Area II's awarding of the USEA Cindy Burge Memorial ICP Grant - and was selected as a recipient!  The grant contributed a nice chunk of the ICP program costs and I pulled some real luck when a new workshop date was announced in Area II - as a condensed 2 day version (versus the normal 3 day training) and one of those days was on a holiday!  That meant only one day off work and no travel expenses (although I did break down and stay at the lil' ol' Best Western down the road - which left much to be desired) - the stars had aligned and I was off to be a trained trainer!

The first 2-day workshop was in January and focused on dressage, with a bit of dressage over poles on the second day.  The workshop had 5 candidate instructors - the small number really surprised me as I think I expected there to be more like 20 "trainer-students" but they limited the numbers to allow us each multiple times to teach.  It was quite a different experience - much more like my old pony club days - and it was harder than I expected.  We each taught 3 lessons, and were provided with incredibly specific feedback.  The benefit of not only teaching my own lessons and receiving feedback, but also of watching others teach and hearing their feedback - it was incredibly insightful.  We all spend so much time trying to perfect our riding, so this was a real turn of the tables and gave me so much more to think about.

Two months later, I was able to join the same group of 5 candidate instructors (with one swap-out) for two days of jumping "train-the-trainer" sessions with Phyllis Dawson.  Phyllis was a pleasure to learn from and her enthusiasm for her horses, riders, and the sport was infectious.  We primarily taught her working students on sales horses, and she made each one arrive to their lesson fully braided (why not take the opportunity to practice braiding when it's 30 degrees and snowing outside?!?!) and she dutifully inspected each one. I suspect some riders had to repeat their braids later that week!  Phyllis emphasized the importance of empowering your riders.  Tell them what you want - then make them responsible for getting it done.   She also hammered on all of us to not talk the entire lesson - a little quiet is a good thing, especially 6 strides out from a jump when either the rider is a) listening to you and not paying attention to the horse and jump (bad thing) or b) not listening to you, in which case you might as well shut up anyhow!  She did caveat that you area allowed to scream "You're going to die!" at less than 6 strides out, should the situation warrant such an outburst.  Lets all hope I never scream that and you (or me!) never hear that!  I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we had a wonderful 2 days really picking apart our teaching, laughed some great laughs, and came away inspired and determined to become better teachers!

The USEA's Instructor Certification Program is still young.  It has some kinks to work out.  And I'm really happy I had the opportunity to participate.  It was tough.  It was specific and challenging.  It's not perfect.  But I learned an incredible amount and came away with a better sense of clarity about what it means to be a good instructor.  It's a solid useful program, and I think those who take its teachings to heart will come out at the end as better teachers.  Thank you to the USEA for developing the program - to lend a bit of credibility to those who say "yes, I teach" and a huge thank you to Area II for supporting my own personal development in the program!

At the end of both sessions, I (thankfully!) received a recommendation to proceed to assessment without further training or mentoring.  What a relief!  I'm not sure when the next local assessment will be held, but I'm hearing rumors about this fall.  So, don't be surprised if I ask a few of you if I can have ME videoed during YOUR lesson in the lead up to the assessment!

Phyllis Dawson leading the ICP jumping workshop.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Old Goals, New Goals, and Old New Goals

With everything going on with the start of spring, going through the USEA Instructor training program, and the excitement of starting work on the new farm - lots of people have been asking why my blog has been so quiet, when I obviously have so much to report! The honest answer is that I have known what the next post had to be, and I just haven't been able to make myself write it.  I've been trying for 3 months, and I couldn't get the words out.  But here goes.  Katchi has been retired from eventing.  I've just about gotten to the point that I can tell people without crying, but I feel the tears coming as I type.  It's the right decision.  If only it didn't hurt so much.  My entire team agrees that the time has come to move on.  But neither Katchi's heart or mine agree.   It has been incredibly hard to explain to Katchi that he can't be allowed to gallop and jump.  He loves eventing so very much, and he just doesn't understand.  But sometimes we have to make decisions with our heads, on behalf of our horses and in spite of our own heart - and theirs.

Over the past several years, Katchi and I have battled repeated soundness issues.  Never injury - never something that just needed time.  If he needed time, he could have all he ever wanted.  I'd wait forever for him.  But time is not working in his favor.  He has some basic structural flaws that we cannot change.  And the more I push him, the more those issues effect him.  In ramping up our training in preparation for Aiken, it became clear Katchi just wasn't holding up to the pressure, again.  It's not his fault.  He tries harder than any horse I've ever ridden.  He's my partner, my friend, and my confidant.  And he needs me to be all those things for him too.

Perhaps it's so hard to make this decision because of all the goals we didn't achieve.  Or perhaps because of all we did accomplish. Or for all we very nearly accomplished.  I've never worked harder with a horse - or enjoyed the journey more. I owe him so much for all he's taught me about riding and horsemanship - and lameness diagnosis and veterinary medicine!  I'm heartbroken that I finally just figured out how to ride him over those darn colored poles, and now we have no more colored poles in our future.  I'm heartbroken that I'll never gallop through another finish line cheering and patting my "GOOD BOY KATCHI!" all the way home.

So what's next for Katchi?  He has a forever home with me.  And we are all hopeful he has many years left in him to do a little "horse ballet" in the sandbox.  I still have my eyes on those flying changes and a USDF bronze medal. I still have big goals for Katchi - so long as he tells me he can.

After 3 months being confined to the rectangular sandbox... while I love it, one thing is for sure... I am an event rider through-and-through.  While I'm letting go of some goals, and setting new goals... I also have the same goals.  Eventing.  Jump all the jumps.  When one door closes, another is sure to open - and sometimes things that seem tragic at the time actually lead you down a path you might have never pursued otherwise, but end up taking you places better than anywhere you could have ever imagined you might go.  I'm looking forward to that new path.

Good Boy Katchi.