My Training Day

Today I had an early morning start to go on an ITT training day. I wasn’t really sure what to expect really. When I booked it I just requested that we covered as much of the ITT syllabus as possible. I suspected it would be one-to-one, and knew there would be lots of practice teaching. I wasn’t even sure how long a day it would be, or how long the journeys would take. But at worst I would at least meet the staff and some horses, and feel a bit more comfortable at the exam venue. Plus I would also know where I was driving on exam day!

I’ve left tonight free of revision, as I thought I may have saturated my brain, but now I’m back a bit earlier than expected I’ve got chance to digest and reflect on today’s training.

Let me briefly run through the exam syllabus.

  • Theory section on equestrian business management.
  • Theory section on the principles of equitation and coaching.
  • Teach a lunge lesson.
  • Teach a private flat lesson (elementary standard).
  • Teach a private jump lesson (discover or BE100 standard). This is either showjumping or cross country.
  • Teach a group of riders on the flat.
  • Teach a group of riders a gridwork lesson.
  • Give a ten minute presentation on one of the nine subjects prepared. And no, you can’t choose which presentation.

First of all I sat down with the coach who was training me, and we ran through my lesson plans. These are annoying pieces of paper which prove that I have pre planned my lessons. The trouble is that I don’t know who I’ll be teaching or the lesson brief, so the plans feel quite vague and generic. But the secret of winning over the examiner is to use key words like “discuss”, “position”, “improve”; and incorporate the scales of training into the plans. With all my lesson plans checked off, I just have to do an extra one to cover a simulated cross country lesson. 

Then she checked my presentations, the area that I feel weakest on. I don’t like standing up and talking in front of groups of people, and it’s really hard to practice a discussion, despite my numerous, lovely volunteers, when the subjects are quite specific to coaching. Which means my volunteers find it difficult to interact with me, and so the ten minutes drag. I did learn today that my prompt sheets are very important in proving that I actually know all of the syllabus, and aren’t winging it. What, me? Wing it… never … 

While we finished our tea and toast she explained how the theory sections are run. They’re more like discussions, so I need to make sure I don’t feel intimidated and go mute, like I’m prone to do. She mentioned a couple of theory areas that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with, such as the BD gold, silver and bronze sections, and I’ve made a note to read up on those weaker topics. A few of my questions answered, we were done with theory. She didn’t seem to want to find out what my knowledge was like, but that’s fine as I can read up and I’m practically fluent in equestrian anyway!

The first lesson I taught was a student working towards her Stage IV on a dressage schoolmistress. The brief was that this rider wants to start going out competing, and can I advise at which level she would start at. I watched her warm up and the mare was very stiff over her back so I encouraged light seat and an early canter. Then I noticed the mare kept changing behind. I thought it was because she was still quite tight so I suggested that we began with some transitions within the gaits to get the mare connected, and it was a good starting point to assess their capabilities in terms of riding a novice test. The medium trot developed well so we repeated the exercise in canter. The mare still changed! She shortened the canter, blocked her back and changed behind at almost every corner! It was very frustrating! I suggested my rider checked her position, exaggerated inside bend, and didn’t let the canter get too short after the medium. It was better, but she still kept changing. 

In the discussion afterwards, my trainer explained that the mare always does this and is very frustrating, and that I’d said the right things to the rider, which would work with other horses, but this horse was atypical. She also told me that I needed to move around the school more, to view the rider from different angles, and to check straightness. I was aware I needed to move but I also only have one working leg so I think I just minimised my walking without realising. I also need to state the obvious to the rider to prove to the examiner that I have the knowledge. So even if they know how to ride leg yield, still explain it to show that I am capable of teaching it. And I should also point out my observations, such as the rider being  crooked so the examiner is in not doubt that I have noticed, and they don’t need to ask me questions to assess my knowledge. We finished with some leg yield and straightness work. The rider gave good feedback though, and I’ve come away from that lesson knowing that I need to warm myself up and get more confident quicker because I can get a bit intimidated by the situation, especially with a confident and competent rider. 

Next up was a group flat lesson. From my assessment I thought they were all pretty weak riders, so after asking a few questions about rhythm, suppleness and contact to get the riders involved and find out their understanding, I took their stirrups away. The guy I taught was good at answering my questions and giving feedback, but the other two ladies were monosyllabic in their responses. One of them kept walking or avoiding doing the exercise which was frustrating, and it meant that I asked her less questions (because each time I was about to, she wasn’t doing the exercise!) which my trainer picked up on. I knew I was favouring the other riders, but they were more rewarding. We did serpentines and transitions without stirrups then I realised I needed to canter them! 

Again, they gave positive feedback, and more importantly my trainer said that they were actually very difficult people to teach, so the fact that I’d got them on side was a bonus to me. I do need to keep track of time though with the group lessons, and perhaps structure the warm up a bit more because it was slow to get going. But overall I felt quite happy, and was getting into the groove.

After another cup of tea I had three lads for a gridwork lesson. All were a bit weak over fences, but really engaging so easy to teach. Again, a range of personalities, and the horse’s were totally different. None of them could stay straight so I kept the fences as crosses to tunnel them. I was a bit slow to use poles to create a corner to support their outside leg on the turn onto the approach, which did help their straightness. My trainer also told me to put a perpendicular pole between the first two elements to help one of the boys in particular. I was reluctant to do so because last time I did that a pony took umbridge and the rider fell off! Apparently by checking with my riders that their horses will be ok, and telling them it’s there covers my back. I also need to get more autocratic quicker, especially when one of them forgets to give with his hands – resort to shouting to him! I had been really confident with my grids, but today I didn’t feel quite so happy with them. The distances was fine, but I wasn’t progressing the lesson as efficiently as I have in previous clinics. Perhaps it was because the boys took a while to grasp it or find their rhythm, or perhaps it was me being slow to assess and improve them. Sorry clients, but there will be a few more grid lessons in the next few weeks!

One of the boys kindly said that he’d guinea pigged for a lot worse ITT candidates than me … thanks. I think! But again positive feedback.

Next up was the private jump lesson, and it was showjumping. This rider has her Stage IV next week so it was very realistic. She was very honest with her assessment of her horse and her, and after warming her up and getting her to improve the quality of the canter on her approaches they started jumping well. The problem was that they lost the energy about five strides away from the fence, and my rider wasn’t quick enough or effective enough with her leg to get the mare back in front of the leg so she chipped in. We linked the fences together and it soon flowed. I also pointed out that this rider tends to lean on her hands over a jump, which restricts an already backwards thinking mare. Once she freed the shoulders, the mare jumped beautifully and I hope we finished on a good note ready for her exam. She gave positive feedback, and my trainer thought I’d done well; quicker to get involved and then leave my rider to try it on her own. I felt quite happy with the way this lesson had run. Next weekend I’ve got some simulated cross country guinea pig lessons so will have a good practice for that jump lesson option. For that I need to focus on riding the correct line to fences and the different types of canter.

Finally, I did my lunge lesson. I enjoy lunge lessons but this horse was idle to say the least. I got after him and got him forwards before the nervous rider got on but he hadn’t quite accepted me as in charge. Next time though, I’ll be a bit tougher on him quicker as it’s highly likely that he’s used in the exam. This rider had a lovely position but lacked confidence so after assessing her I took her stirrups away and did some hip flexor stretches in walk then sitting trot. Once her stirrups were taken back I took her reins away as she slightly dropped the right shoulder. We did some twists and stretches again to make her aware of stiffness and to straighten her up. Working without reins also stopped her tipping slightly in front of the vertical. My trainer said that I’d managed the situation well, pushed as much as I could with a nervous rider, and made improvements. The rider was really positive; the stretches meant her legs weren’t sore after no stirrup work, which is a problem of hers, and she felt straighter in the saddle and more confident.

In all, I was pleased with today. I’ve been to the venue, met some of the horses and riders so feel a bit more confident in my surroundings, which should stand me in good stead for the exam. I’ve got bits and pieces to improve, but overall this trainer was pleased with my performance, which means I’m feeling a bit more confident about the whole thing. 

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