In­side Your Ride

Prac­ti­cal •ugge•tion• to keep it po•itive and pro­duc­tive

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Tonya John•ton

Men­tal-skills coach Tonya John­ston and Olympian Adri­enne Lyle delve into fac­tors that can con­trib­ute to a long-term, suc­cess­ful trainer– stu­dent re­la­tion­ship.

What are the most im­por­tant things you can do to keep your re­la­tion­ship with your trainer go­ing strong? Per­haps you have an an­nual goals meet­ing. Or you make sure to let her know what you ap­pre­ci­ated most at the end of a les­son. There are so many facets to a healthy, long-term coach–ath­lete bond. It can cer­tainly be tricky to keep your eye on them all. From time to time it is use­ful to take a step back and ex­am­ine your role in the part­ner­ship you have with your trainer and what you can do to keep it func­tion­ing op­ti­mally.

I thought it would be use­ful to high­light some tips from some­one with a long and pros­per­ous re­la­tion­ship with her trainer and men­tor—Olympian and World Eques­trian Games dres­sage com­peti­tor Adri­enne Lyle. Af­ter start­ing as a work­ing stu­dent and haul­ing in for lessons while in col­lege, Adri­enne has trained with Deb­bie McDon­ald for more than 13 years. They are an in­spir­ing ex­am­ple of a trainer–stu­dent re­la­tion­ship that has grown and blos­somed through­out the years. Adri­enne of­fers valu­able ideas that can help you strengthen the con­nec­tion you have with your trainer.

Be­lieve in the Sys­tem

“The first thing is to be will­ing to be truly open to learn­ing your trainer’s sys­tem and not bring any ego with you,” Adri­enne

ex­plains. “If you are go­ing to be in some­one’s sys­tem you have to re­ally be­lieve in that sys­tem and com­mit to it 100 per­cent. I think a lot of peo­ple make a mis­take of ‘trainer-hop­ping.’ Not that you can’t get out­side ideas or go to clin­ics, but es­pe­cially when you are first in a sys­tem, you have to stick with it un­til it is re­ally con­firmed and un­der­stood … . Con­sis­tency is key. I im­mersed my­self in Deb­bie’s pro­gram when I started with her. I lis­tened and soaked up all the in­for­ma­tion I could. Now af­ter all these years, we have cre­ated more of a re­la­tion­ship where we talk back and forth and brain­storm. But I think if you come in with too much of that ini­tially you lose the abil­ity to ab­sorb some of what they are say­ing.”

Be open and trust your trainer and her sys­tem. This may sound straight­for­ward due to the fact that when you hired your trainer you (hope­fully) did some due dili­gence to make this de­ci­sion. There­fore, you know a lot of sig­nif­i­cant, pos­i­tive things about her style, abil­i­ties and phi­los­o­phy. But how do you specif­i­cally build trust within your work­ing re­la­tion­ship? Ac­tion Steps: 1. Lis­ten care­fully and com­mit to ex­e­cut­ing your trainer’s in­struc­tion while in a les­son. Right af­ter you are asked to ex­tend the trot is not the time to say, “I get so frus­trated work­ing on our ex­ten­sions at the be­gin­ning of the week.” Put your full ef­fort into en­act­ing your in­struc­tor’s train­ing con­cepts while on your horse. Try to save com­ments or ques­tions for the end of the ride or away from the ring.

2. Make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween “how” and “why” ques­tions. Ask­ing your trainer ques­tions can be tricky be­cause in an ef­fort to un­der­stand some­thing in a deeper way, you can ac­ci­den­tally sound like you doubt her. When you need to ask a “how” ques­tion to help you un­der­stand or clar­ify what you are sup­posed to do, make sure you let her know that you are on board and sim­ply need more in­for­ma­tion. For ex­am­ple, “I un­der­stand that he needs to be straighter; I just need more help on what se­quence of aids you want me to use as we come out of the cor­ner.”

3. Make sure you con­tinue to learn your trainer’s sys­tem by watch­ing her teach lessons to other rid­ers at var­i­ous lev­els, ob­serv­ing her school your horse or oth­ers and look­ing for ap­pro­pri­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to have con­ver­sa­tions about her tech­niques, phi­los­o­phy and meth­ods of work­ing with horses.

Re­spect the Process: Do Your Home­work

“When I first had lessons with Deb­bie, I hauled in and could only af­ford a cou­ple of lessons I had saved up for that sum­mer,” Adri­enne says. “So I took one les­son and I was go­ing to take an­other a week later … . I re­mem­ber how much she was im­pressed that I had fo­cused and im­proved on what we had worked on in that first les­son. It is re­ally im­por­tant.

Lis­ten care­fully and com­mit to ex­e­cut­ing your trainer’s in­struc­tion while in a les­son.

Don’t just ride and count on your trainer to tell you what to do con­stantly. She may say some­thing once or twice or a few times, but then it is your job to say, ‘OK, now how do I re­ally fo­cus on this and build a habit for me to do it the cor­rect way?’”

Do­ing your home­work demon­strates that you are a se­ri­ous stu­dent, you re­spect the process and you are will­ing to put in the de­tailed work to im­prove your con­nec­tion to your horse—all of which will strengthen the bond you share with your trainer. How you go about do­ing your home­work be­tween lessons can take many forms, but first you have to clearly iden­tify what goals and themes you are work­ing on to­gether. Are you ad­dress­ing a large goal, such as get­ting your horse to re­spect your leg and to go for­ward eas­ily and will­ingly when you ask? Or im­prov­ing on a small phys­i­cal goal, such as keep­ing your fin­gers closed on the reins? Ac­tion Steps: 1. When you ride on your own, make sure to prime your fo­cus with your goals be­fore your rides to stay fo­cused and put in qual­ity work on the things that your trainer has high­lighted. Af­ter look­ing over one or two goals that you es­tab­lished with ideas from your re­cent lessons, cre­ate some spe­cific ex­er­cises to work on them. For ex­am­ple, rid­ing three fig­ure eights while fo­cused on main­tain­ing a con­sis­tent rhythm at the trot (to work on keep­ing your horse in front of your leg) could put into ac­tion some­thing you have been hear­ing of­ten from your trainer.

2. Process what you are learn­ing in your lessons through notes, voice memos or talk­ing it over with a friend so that you can be re­spon­si­ble for train­ing themes you are work­ing on. Track­ing your goal ef­fort and progress be­tween rides is a valu­able way to hold your­self ac­count­able while mea­sur­ing your achieve­ments.

Role Clar­ity: Main­tain A Healthy Coach— Ath­lete Re­la­tion­ship

“When you get in the sad­dle, it’s a pro­fes­sional set­ting. It’s no dif­fer­ent than an NFL player and a foot­ball coach,” ex­plains Adri­enne. “At that point she’s not your friend, she’s your trainer … . You know you aren’t go­ing to get your feel­ings hurt if she says some­thing strongly. You know her job is to push you and make you bet­ter in that mo­ment re­gard­less of any­thing that is go­ing on out­side of it. I’ve al­ways been very good at sep­a­rat­ing that [re­la­tion­ship] out.”

There are so many things that can cre­ate a bond and friend­ship be­tween you and your trainer in ad­di­tion to your com­mon love of horses. They in­clude train­ing break­throughs, goals ac­com­plished, long days, hu­mor­ous mo­ments, travel, so­cial events, meals shared and an abun­dance of time spent to­gether. These will all add depth and breadth to your re­la­tion­ship. How­ever, for you to be suc­cess­ful to­gether with re­gard to your rid­ing and train­ing, it is im­por­tant to cre­ate and main­tain a

true re­spect for the learn­ing process within the friend­ship. Ac­tion Steps: 1. Cre­ate struc­ture to sup­port healthy bound­aries. For ex­am­ple, you may set a rule for your­self that when you en­ter the arena you are in your pro­fes­sional role with your in­struc­tor. The mid­dle of your ride or les­son will not be the time to talk about how your neigh­bor’s dog kept you awake last night or how your car is mak­ing that weird noise again and you are wor­ried about pay­ing for a new trans­mis­sion, for ex­am­ple. Not only can those types of top­ics wreak havoc on your own fo­cus, they can com­pro­mise your trainer’s time, ef­fort and per­haps mo­ti­va­tion.

2. Take in­struc­tion, stay hun­gry and wel­come con­struc­tive crit­i­cism. Pe­ri­od­i­cally ac­knowl­edge the fact that if you had a trainer who was sim­ply your

Take in­struc­tion, stay hun­gry and wel­come con­struc­tive crit­i­cism.

friend and told you all of the time how fab­u­lous you were, it might be hard to learn new things. How would you progress? Re­mind your­self that it is a bless­ing to have a trainer who will show her ded­i­ca­tion to you as a rider by ask­ing you to im­prove and will con­tinue to help you raise the bar through­out the span of your re­la­tion­ship.

3. Rid­ing is a sport that we throw our whole heart into. The peo­ple who teach and sup­port us are cen­tral to this pas­sion­ate jour­ney. Cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive, healthy, long-term re­la­tion­ship with your trainer en­ables you to en­joy a deep sense of trust and stead­fast com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which are es­sen­tial for your devel­op­ment as an ath­lete.

Think through the many as­pects of the con­nec­tion you share with your trainer, use these tips to get you started, put some main­te­nance and at­ten­tion into it and you will be well on your way to en­joy­ing a long and suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ship.

Olympian Adri­enne Lyle has flour­ished from a strong re­la­tion­ship with her long­time trainer Deb­bie McDon­ald.

An eques­trian men­tal-skills coach and A-cir­cuit com­peti­tor, Tonya John­ston has a mas­ter’s de­gree in sport psy­chol­ogy. Her book, In­side Your Ride: Men­tal Skills for Be­ing Happy and Suc­cess­ful with Your Horse, is avail­able in pa­per­back or e-book edi­tions. For more info on Tonya’s work, go to www.Tonya John­ston.com.

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