so says Henri Frederic Amiel.

I had the pleasure of observing a dressage clinic today. (Fancy English flatwork for those who aren’t riders). The clinician today impressed me no end. In the horse world I came from horses weren’t maliciously abused but the foundation was really about working both horse and rider hard. I had broomsticks rammed behind my elbows as I rode to encourage better posture. I cleaned rooms full of tack on days I missed striding to a fence. I watched horses being smacked around when they couldn’t understand the aids of their green (new) riders. Spurs on riders that couldn’t hold a steady leg. Riders with unsteady hands on reins attached to sharp bits. Not all riders, not all instructors but many. Last summer I had a really positive experience riding with a lovely instructor who let me work in my own way with lots of breaks and rewards for good work.

The clinician today was awesome. She watched horses struggling with the basic concepts of self carriage and never got the least bit frustrated. She watched riders having trouble following her suggestions and she simply adapted her frame of reference. I constantly heard “nice work, give the horse a pat”, “good work, share the good” and so on. Every horse and every rider finished their lesson feeling good about the work they had accomplished and with concrete things to move forward with.

Of course I reflected on the dog, and agility, trainers I see. Finding the balance between play  work and learning and humans and dogs is tricky. It’s a fine art and one few instructors I have seen have perfected.

The fact there are 2 learners present complicates things. What might work best for the human might not be the best strategy for the canine partner. The human might not be able to do what the canine needs. A complex cycle indeed. Teaching (anything) is a delicate matter at the best of times but with two students who may or may not be communicating well the path to learning can be fraught with peril.

Perhaps that is why so many instructors are excellent at half of the equation. They may isolate the things the animal playmate does and be positive but they may leave the human wondering about their habits.  The coach may offer praise and feedback to the human half but ignore the canine unless there is a breakdown in communication.

It took watching excellence in action for me to really understand this extra challenge of the animal/human coach.  Gives me new understanding  as I reflect on the coaching I often see around me.