Learning will only happen in certain conditions. The most important of these is mutual respect - between horse and rider, between teacher and student. Respect does not, ever, involve intimidation. Respect does not mean blindly following a guru figure. The word goes back to the Latin verb “respicere” - meaning: “to look thoroughly” or: “to see clearly.” Respect means taking the time to listen to someone, to consider where they come from, before accepting what they have to say - or before deciding it’s not for you. Respect means giving someone else your full attention, to try to understand the other person to the best of your ability before making a judgment.
How does this look in a clinic situation?
When I try to help someone get along with their horse, my first concern is to respect the horse, who can’t speak for himself. Listening to the horse overrides any other goal the owner or I may have for the lesson. If the horse is uncomfortable, tense, or upset, I will address these issues, because a tense horse can’t learn. If the horse is not ready to do anything more than walk, we will do that. If the horse needs time on a lunge line, we will do that. Being fair to the hore is my, and any other horse professional’s, first obligation. It overrides all other considerations.
My next concern is to respect the rider. Taking instruction takes courage. Showing up to a clinic means exposing your horsemanship to the view and judgment of others. A tense or intimidated student won’t learn. I know, because I’ve been that student in plenty of dressage clinics. All I learned was how to have full-blown anxiety attacks. This is not what I want my students to learn. Clinics have no place for raised voices or snarky comments, from teachers, or from auditors. We - horses and people - can only learn in an environment that feels safe enough to let our guard down.
Lastly, respect is mutual. For learning to happen, I don’t need my students’ unconditional approval. I don’t need anyone to blindly accept what I believe in. What I do need from my students is their willingness to hear me, and to ask questions, before deciding whether or not my approach is right for them and theirorse. Like respect, teaching is always a two-way street. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. With horses, it’s a three-way conversation that involves the horse as much as the rider and the teacher. Respect and consideration need to be the basis for these relationships. If respect is missing between horse and rider, between teacher and horse, or between rider and teacher, learning won’t happen. It sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple: if we really, really look at each other without quick judgments, we’re halfway there.