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Coaches Corner: Knowing when to stop

Knowing when to stop.


Teaching other people’s children is a responsibility, and then we put them on horses!!!!

It is also enjoyable and very rewarding, to see them improve, gain confidence and develop skills and achieve in what is quite a difficult sport.

When instructing, the art to building their confidence is often knowing when to stop. When to finish an exercise or a lesson.  Have them going home excited for the next rally day or competition.

What you want to hear at the end of the lesson is “can we do it again, can we jump bigger or just one more time, pleeease”.    That is great and that is what you want to hear at the end of the lesson.  Not “I didn’t like that, or I don’t want to do that ever again”.  Finish when they are still wanting to do more.

Sometimes doing something too many times, getting a bit carried away with the length of a lesson or being influenced by others you can end with a bad result or accident. Children and some parents can make you feel bad by not continuing but remember it is your lesson and the horses and riders are your responsibility in that lesson, so you make the decision to finish when you feel it is appropriate. You may have an hour for a lesson but by 45 minutes they have done enough.  Safety for both horse and rider, is your number one priority. 

The longevity as athletes in equestrian is many more years than most other sports, so there is no rush to jump bigger, go faster until both horse and rider are really ready.  As I always say you are not having to get them to the Olympics, that is not our job at Pony Club.

The old saying “finish on a good note” needs to be adhered to and instructors need to stand by their decision.  Don’t finish the day, by wishing you didn’t get the riders to do it that one last time.

Particularly after a long and possibly hot day horses have had enough.  When some horses are tired, hot or bored they will start to misbehave.  Then all the good work that has been done is undone very quickly, resulting in horse and or rider losing their confidence or possibly having an accident. This can then take weeks or months to regain their confidence and sometimes never.

We must also teach riders to have a sense of empathy towards their horse and know when their horse has done enough. Riders must learn to recognise all the good things their horse has done for them through the lesson or day and reward them by finishing.

These days more than ever there appears to be a lot of horses that don’t get worked much during the week and are not very fit, so a full day at Pony Club will tire them quickly.

Another aspect of knowing when to stop is if you feel a horse is showing discomfort.  There are numerous ways a horse will display discomfort.  These can be signs like throwing their head excessively, stepping short or unevenly, hollowing their back and carrying their head very high, bucking, rearing, generally out of sorts.

If a horse’s behaviour is out of character this needs to be investigated.  We need to teach our riders to be aware of why our horses might be doing what they are doing and be a good horse person by not continuing to ride a horse that might have something wrong or working out the problem and fixing it.

Have the courage of your convictions.  If you are asked, why you finished then or why they couldn’t have another turn explain your reasoning.  Often children are not aware of many of these reasons so it is an important lesson knowing how much horses can do.  Don’t assume riders or parents are aware of these issues.

Always make sure the welfare of the horse and rider is your main priority and knowing when to stop is sometimes all it takes.