If there’s one thing I pride myself on being, it’s a good student. That doesn’t necessarily mean I always enforce or enact the lessons well, but I’m good at learning from people. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 23 consecutive years at this point — I damn well better be.
Luckily for me, this has carried over into my riding. I think that riders have a huge responsibility to be good, teachable students*, since more than just our learning is typically at stake. Sure, a good teacher can teach a huge variety of riders. But a good student can learn from anyone. It’s not easy, and it’s often frustrating or upsetting, but it’s ultimately way better than being intractable or limited to one kind of teacher.
That doesn’t mean I love all trainers or teachers equally. Some are easier to learn from than others, both literally — in terms of their ability to convey concepts or explain ideas — and in terms of the effort that you have to put in to understanding them. I’d like to think I can get something (or a lot of somethings, if I’m paying for them) out of every trainer, but it doesn’t mean I always want to have to work double time to do it.
There is a lot to being a teachable student. A big part of it is being humble, and opening yourself up to real critique and criticism. This is probably the hardest part — to sometimes have to accept that you’re not what you thought you were, and take the advice to improve**. Or those times when you are exactly what you think you are, but that isn’t what your trainer wanted you to do (or be). It means you can’t make excuses for yourself or your horse (“he’s still young” only lasts for so long, after all), and you have to own up to the things you have and haven’t done for yourself and your partnership. There are times when I’ve seen the huge, gaping holes in Murray’s training that I’ve failed to fill just because they weren’t necessarily “urgent”, and it’s waaaaaay too late from stopping the clinician from seeing them and I just have to take the hit.
Thanks to a no-nonsense household growing up, I also learned not to question my teachers and to just do as I’m told. In terms of riding, this mostly translates to trusting that the instructions will work. And for the most part I find that if I shut up and do it, it works out. On the other hand, if I don’t understand something a trainer is trying to tell me, I don’t let it go until I do understand it. And if it contradicts with something I thought I knew, then I bring that up too. I’m not trying to sass anyone, but if I really think there’s a contradiction with my previous training, I want to understand a) whether or not that contradiction really exists and b) why things have changed.
Importantly, I know how I learn (i.e. rapaciously and with great enthusiasm). I know when I want and need more information to function, and when I have absorbed as much information as I possibly could and just need to practice. I know how to get just a little bit more out of a trainer or exercise to enhance my understanding and make it so that the exercise remains useful for me even after my lesson. I know the type of repetition that works for me, and the types that don’t. And I don’t lie about my understanding either — if I don’t get it, I say so. I’m not doing anybody any favors if I don’t.
I like learning. A lot. From horses and people, actually. And I truly think that the larger burden of responsibility for learning lands upon the student. You are, after all, the only one who can really say whether or not you’re getting it.
** Writing about honest feedback made me think about these incidents. Yves told me I needed to stop being so silly and start being more serious when I ride, Hawley told me that if I’d just put my leg on and ridden properly we wouldn’t have stopped, and Daniel Stewart told me that I wasn’t following instructions. They all sucked to hear at the time, and made me feel some level of disappointment or shame, but now that I’ve learned from them I know I’m better and stronger for it. I just hope they don’t remember those incidents as clearly as I do when next I see them!