Saturday, November 15, 2008

When the student is ready, the buffalo will appear

Thanks to Row for the title of this post.

I was teaching this guy a few weeks ago. We were getting on fine but he must have picked up on the fact that I wasn't quite telling it how it was. He turned to me and said, 'Look Tom, I've paid my money so tell me the truth ok. I'm rubbish aren't I'.

That got me to thinking about teaching. It is a subject I am very interested in anyway, and I have watched a lot of people over the years trying to pass on information to their students in various different ways.

There is a bit of a tradition among a section of American horse trainers that they are slightly blunt, almost rude, or sometimes, downright rude to their clients. This is justified by the argument that you have paid your money so you deserve to be told how it is. I once heard a trainer tell this girl, 'You think you have good hands don't you, but your hands are rubbish. Your horse will hate your hands.' I don't like this approach at all - and I'm not so sure it's about helping the student learn, so much as making the teacher feel Big and Powerful. But on the other hand, and this is where I do worry a bit, I know I like people to like me, so it's not good tactics for me to make myself obnoxious, even if I do feel it is the best way to pass on the information my client is paying me for.

I am getting better at telling the truth. If I think it will help then I will say it, but I do still go out of my way to be as polite as possible. It's just a terrible ingrained habit that we English people have.


  1. Tom, telling the truth is not the same as being downright rude. Finding a way to tell the person the truth in a way that does not make them feel like shi*t, that they are a loser, just shows tact and consideration for their feelings.

    There are people who are 'teachers' because it puts them in a position of power, that makes them feel they are 'better' than others - just serves to stroke their egos. But if you genuinely want to help people, you find a way to convey to them that they need improvement without destroying their self-confidence.

    Stay polite - in the long run, it will serve you much better than being an ass.

  2. I completely agree with you.

  3. So tell me... you really think my blog is rubbish. Do eet.

    (kidding... hugs always.)

  4. Ponygirl - I agree with you completely - there is just a nagging doubt in my mind that with some people, they may actually learn from being told something in a way that affects them emotionally. Sometimes we get to work with people for week after week and they just don't seem to get it. They pay their money and we try and put something across in so many different ways in the hope that somehow it will get to them, and just sometimes, you want to say, 'Look, you're paying your money, I'm telling you what you need to know, but you're not hearing it. For god's sake effing well listen will you!'.
    Now I know that you can't teach anyone anything - all you can do is provide an environment which is helpful to them learning something, if they want to, or if they are ready to, but like I say, just sometimes, might it be beneficial to just shock them a bit with some plain truths.

    Vicus - you are in an unusually agreeable mood today!

    Kindness - I like your blog and I'm not just being polite. But see what I mean, when someone is always polite it's difficult to know what they really think.

  5. Well, it's a very difficult one, & I can see your dilemma, or your point.
    I don't trust praise. I can't help it, it's just me. So someone says 'you did a good job' I cringe & think to myself, 'I wonder what they're really thinking'.
    I'm much more prepared to believe it if someone says I'm rubbish.
    Some people don't appear to see the buffalo, even when it charges straight at 'em.
    I'm highly intuitive, me; it just takes a herd of stampeding wildebeest, going back & forth, only a few times, well perhaps five or six, and I see them alright.
    Should you ever say to anyone that it's a waste of your time and their money teaching them? Is it your job to do that? Will they just think 'well he's no good' because they don't understand that it's them who WON'T learn, rather than the teacher not teaching them.
    There's no definitive answer because horsey people are the weirdest people in the world (except me of course, and perhaps you...._)
    The only solution is to be true to yourself, say what you want, and don't do or say anything that leaves you feeling bad.
    In the Parelli system they actually discourage negative comments believing them to be counter productive. Ignore the bad & praise the good.
    I was very cynical about that to begin with but find it fits me OK. If I'm being praised on that basis it's because I got THAT right. Up to me to work out what I was getting wrong, but at least I am in a positive frame of mind!!

  6. Tom,

    That's not really a habit. I could mention a few ingrained national habits about Spaniards a lot worse than that one.

    British politeness is well known by continentals, and it's very nice, but sometimes it seems to others who are not so polite -like me- that a part of the truth may be hidden behind it.

    Americans are more direct and they're used to be told things straight to their face. And sometimes it's not that bad.

    Anyway, sometimes it's not what you say, but the way you say it. I think you can say almost everything if you do it tactfully.

    So if I were you... I wouldn't change much. ;)

  7. It's not so much about politeness as not hurting people.
    Mention both good points and failings and give respect and constructive criticism.
    Bloody Hell - I sound like a new age guru or summat.

  8. Having had different teachers I've found I tend to learn in different ways- you're pretty direct actually, but you say the stuff that needs to be said. "Just get in there and get it done" is one of the phrases that I regularly use to remind myself of how I need to be working.

    Steve Halfpenny will understate things, which seems to be partly an australian trait, but he is quite socratic in his teaching- rather than telling you that you're getting something wrong he'll just ask questions about it "why did your horse do that?" "Is that what you were asking for?" and kind of guide you to find the answer for yourself. It's memorable, but I wonder whether sometimes we don't find the conclusion he was hoping we would.

    Julian, our riding teacher, tends to really accentuate the positive. He'll suggest corrections but a lot of the time he'll just be really pointing out the things you are getting right and typically suggesting improvements rather than pointing out failures. It would be fair to say that he wrote the book on teaching people to ride and it certainly works well for us.

    I find all three methods very helpful and I've gained a lot from all of them. I think that the problem with someone who tends to use a more negative approach is that actually the single biggest problem most people have in their horsemanship is confidence, in one way or another. A huge number of people seem to be afraid of their horses and although I'm not aflicted that way, in order to be effective I need to be confident that I'm doing the right thing by the horse. These days I'm broadly alright with that, but it's still a matter of confidence. I think a teacher that breaks that down is going to risk making that worse for a lot of people.

  9. I think Glenatron hit the nail on the head.... it is confidence that needs to be instilled in the student, but not falsely, in order for them to really learn properly.

    By using tact, and conveying what you really need to say in a way that does not destroy the student's confidence, you create an atmosphere that enables more indepth learning.

    Riding a horse is inherently risky and a lot of people are nervous about that, simply because they know the horse can really do whatever it wants, given its size and strength. By being told they are being useless twits and not getting anything right, what little confidence they may have had will be left in the dirt, preventing absorption of any new information.

    You can be more forceful in what you say to a student to get your point across (as some people really do have thick skulls and just don't seem to 'get' it), but you can still do that in a way that is not cruel or demeaning.

    That is the skill of a great teacher - to be able to get your point across to just about everyone - without losing it.

  10. Take a read of this - it kind of sums up what we are discussing here.

  11. Now there is a formidable lady who doesn't mess around. She's right there with Marthe Kiley-Worthington and maybe Leslie Desmond on the list of people from the equestrian sphere whose books I value but I would probably be terrified of were I ever to meet them.

  12. I doubt telling someone they are useless would really help much.

    I've heard many people talking about teaching people and finding them going off to another teacher and coming back and talking about their lesson and how the other teacher told them x, y and z. X, y and z is what their usual teacher has been telling them over and over again but they haven't been hearing it. Maybe the new teacher has put it in a slightly different way, or maybe they were just ready to listen or maybe having another person say the same thing made them take notice. Whatever the reason, all the original teacher can do is agree that it is a good idea and be pleased that the message has got through at last!

    People learn in different ways. Some people learn by watching, some by doing and some by listening. Most people learn by a combination of two or three of those mechanisms but some people are quite biased in favour of one or another of the learning modes.

    I did a test a while back on an NLP coaching course which showed that I learn by watching or doing and I scored zero on listening as a method of learning. That explains why I find riding lessons irritating when the teacher stops and talks to me for ages. To make progress I either need to see someone else do what I'm supposed to be doing or do it myself and feel what it is supposed to feel like.

    So, if someone isn't getting what you are teaching maybe putting it in a different way, using visualisation etc might get the message across. It helps to know how the person learns before you start!

  13. personaly I would just like to be told how to be better - I don't mind being told how it is and then how it should be but I would curl up and die if someone was plain rude and aggressive.

    People who seek a trainer already know they need help - clarity is what they (I) seek - much like the horse!

    Incidently do we get Pocahontas as well as the buffalo?

  14. Sometimes it almost seems as if this world is no place for a nice man like yourself...but in the long run you you will win the hearts and minds of your students.

    Where does it get you being blunt? I'll tell you..
    A; a type A personality will flare up and either punch you in the nose or stomp off..
    B; for a Grade A passive-aggressive like myself the sting will fester and be carried forward to the grave and beyond if possible..
    which would mean that the perp is in for a haunting and can expect to find some ectoplasmic scribbling on their walls.

    Many of us try to put on a teflon exterior and pretend that we can take criticism and sometimes we can from someone of consequence..depends what it is too.

    You're a nice human being don't change a thing Tom.

  15. I think you can tell the truth--mixed with a wee bit of human compassion and not eviserate another human being that you're attempting to help.

    Tommy m'dear, I think you're always nice.

    And how come vicus is being nice? Has he taken ill? :)


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