Lighting the Fire

You go in and put in a mediocre round. There were some decent moments, but overall it was not your best riding and it showed. You come out of the ring and debrief with your trainer:

Scenario One: “Good use of your corners and I liked your controlled release going into those tighter turns. Next time remember that outside leg and push a bit harder for the striding and things will click into place more.”

Scenario Two: “I need you to focus and be more present, because this is not the kind of work I expect from you. Get it together and go do better. Here’s how we’re going to do that…”

You’re kinda nervous about tackling a bigger oxer. You pop over it, but knock the front rail. You land with a big smile. You look at your trainer for feedback:

Scenario One: “Great job! We’ll polish it up as we go.”

Scenario Two: “Again, and this time wait with your shoulders so he doesn’t knock the rail.”

Which scenario would you prefer? I promise I’m not setting anyone up to look bad here, because I can honestly tell you that I very much prefer Scenario Two.

This is what works for me. I need the fire lit. I hate being told I did a good job if I know it wasn’t good work.

Listening intently. Tell me everything.

For example: one time when I was about 11 I went to a horse show with some of the girls at my summer camp. I went in for my crossrails round and broke to trot in places, missed my leads, and generally flopped around the ring. I came out and my counselor said, “Great job Olivia!” I promptly asked to switch lesson groups because I no longer trusted her as a trainer.

Even as a child, I had no patience for that crap. Tell me how to get better or GTFO.

My trainer has other clients that are more uncertain. They are the ones that she congratulates for making it around the ring- because that’s what they need. They need to know that they can get the job done before they start working the kinks out. They are still unsure, so adding too much pressure would make it even more intimidating. These are the clients for whom she emphasizes the good parts and endlessly encourages.

But over the last two years, she has learned that I can take a little bit of heat. She knows I need some pressure in order to perform. She will always be constructive with her feedback and discuss how to improve, but she also won’t sugarcoat anything. She knows I have big dreams and she knows that I’m going to have to work my ass off to achieve them, so she makes me work my ass off. Because she believes that I can get there and she’s going to do everything she can to help me there.

LB_sun_warmup down
Including but not limited to physical labor in the sun at every warmup ring

Because another piece of the puzzle is that she wants us to achieve our goals, whatever those may be. If someone’s goal is to make it around a 2′ course of 8 jumps without wanting to vomit from nerves, she builds confidence slowly and surely with tons of positive feedback and sets them up to achieve that goal. If someone’s goal is to make it to the 1.10m classes (hmmm wonder who I’m talking about), she is going to demand precision, because misses start getting dangerous at that height. And at the end of the day, horse and rider safety is paramount.

So from my musings I think these different training approaches come down to two main components:

  1. What coaching style the client responds best to
  2. What type of goal the client is trying to reach

In my case, I respond best to someone pushing me hard and I have admittedly “reachy” goals. For the safety of my horse and for my own safety, we need to demand accuracy above anything else- including my ego.

Frankie heads to the showgrounds today and I’ll follow tomorrow, and I absolutely can’t wait for another weekend of learning and improving under her guidance.

But like I said- this coaching approach doesn’t work for everyone! So tell me:

What type of coaching style do you respond best to?

35 thoughts on “Lighting the Fire

  1. K 08/18/2016 / 9:27 am

    I like the high pressure trainer, but I will come out of the ring and tell you exactly what I did wrong. Then my trainer will tell me how to fix it. She won’t praise me unless I deserve it… but will also tell me when I’m beating myself up too much.

    I have the same goals- 1.10 m, so I like the high pressure, constructive criticism trainer now that my confidence is less shaky.

    I’m a weird one to coach. Heavily internally motivated to the point I need a coach to tell me to quit nit-picking.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 9:47 am

      That’s a tough balance for a coach to maintain- putting the pressure on a bit while convincing you to take some pressure off yourself. Sounds like you’ve got a good one!


  2. Amanda C 08/18/2016 / 9:59 am

    I absolutely hate having smoke blown up my ass. But also I’m super hard on myself and very critical, so I need a little bit of a balance. If they pile their doom and gloom upon my doom and gloom, it’s pretty depressing. But if you’re like “so great!” when it was a shitshow, I am going to assume you’re a lying asshole.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 10:04 am

      Agreed totally. I think there can be a fine line between constructive criticism and straight up gloom, and only one of those is truly productive.


  3. Sarah 08/18/2016 / 10:07 am

    I need some sort of balance. Don’t let me ignore what I’m doing wrong, but please tell me when I’m doing something RIGHT. Especially if it is something I’ve done wrong lots. ha. I take lessons from someone who’s policy is that if he stops yelling at me about something that I’ve previously been fussed at for, it means I’m doing it right…


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:18 pm

      That’s so important! Pointing out what we’re doing right so we can do it purposefully every time.


  4. Stacie Seidman 08/18/2016 / 10:23 am

    I think I like it somewhere in the middle. I’m not the most confident person, and I need to know what I did right as well as what I did wrong. But I agree 100% don’t tell me it was good when it wasn’t. DO point out what was correct and what was positive, but make sure I know what I did wrong and how to fix it. I love that your trainer is able to read her students and know who needs what approach. A lot of trainers just do their thing and it either works for the client or it doesn’t.
    I grew up riding with a trainer who only ever told me how bad I was doing and that I would ruin my horse. Never-mind that it was her job as trainer to make sure that didn’t happen. To this day, I will under-ride and second guess every decision for fear of ruining my horse. My current trainer has assured me time and again, that her job is to fix something with my horse if things are going south, and that I need to make mistakes to learn and improve.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:20 pm

      That’s definitely been a tough pill for me to swallow- that mistakes are part of learning. Sounds like you’ve got a good trainer on your side keepin’ it real 🙂


  5. Centered in the Saddle 08/18/2016 / 10:25 am

    I like somewhere in between. It’s easy for me to start getting really stuck in what needs to be fixed so a little perspective that SOME things did go right is helpful. That said, I like that my trainer will light a fire, as you say, occasionally. She’s great at knowing how to find that balance.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:21 pm

      It’s such an important skill- knowing WHEN to light the fire. I really really admire people who have a feel for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Karen M 08/18/2016 / 10:29 am

    I prefer facts and I am results-oriented. Such as I did A, B, and C, which resulted in X, Y, and Z. Or I didn’t do something so this happened or didn’t happen. Like, you chucked your shoulder at the horse’s neck, so you blew through the oxer. Or, you closed your leg at the base of the jump so the horse jumped really well. Or whatever. I don’t want praise and I don’t hear insults.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:33 pm

      I like this a LOT. Explain what went right and why, what went wrong and why. I dig it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karen M 08/18/2016 / 1:43 pm

        Exactly! I want to know what’s effective and try to repeat it. Which is actually really hard, which is why we have trainers 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. LoveLaughRide 08/18/2016 / 10:36 am

    I want a trainer who will be honest and push me to be better. But I cannot abide mean, disparaging or trainers who are bullies. I also approach it as a business transaction, not a friendship. I’m paying for a service, and I expect you to treat it like that too. It’s a very difficult combination to find.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:35 pm

      Absolutely- I like that you mentioned this is a business transaction. I think that’s a good reminder that the service needs to deliver (honest feedback), but it is still a service and bullying is not part of that package.


  8. Micaylah 08/18/2016 / 11:56 am

    It definitely depends on the scenario for me. My trainer presents a good mix for me. When I’m struggling or trying something new she does method one. When I know what to do and am not performing she will definitely go to number two. Lately I can take more number two.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 12:36 pm

      That sounds like a great mix- confidence boosting when you’re unsure and pushing when it’s something you’re more certain about.


  9. shelbyrallen 08/18/2016 / 1:29 pm

    I kind of need the fire lit. I need someone to really push me to the next level, but I also want them to acknowledge when I’m accomplishing only pieces of the puzzle if we’re working on something really challenging. I’m lucky in that both my flat and jump trainers work this way with me. I am paying them to tell me how to improve, but I also like to feel like my trainer is on my side and supportive.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 2:38 pm

      I agree that makes a world of difference- that pushing NEEDS to be from someone you know is on your side. Otherwise it can just be critical in a totally unproductive way.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Megan 08/18/2016 / 2:21 pm

    I make my trainers life difficult, in that i need both. and its up to her to figure out which one i need in that specific moment.

    god bless her, the woman definitely doesn’t get paid enough.

    its a really interesting thought, and something that reaffirms that there are those who can and cant teach.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 2:39 pm

      Someone once commented to me that really effective training has an element of psychiatric diagnosis, and I think they’re totally right! Knowing when to push and when to encourage is so hard but so important.


  11. T. A. Eyo ¥ 08/18/2016 / 2:21 pm

    I’ve personally found that it’s less what my trainer says and more how they say it, especially tone of voice. If they sound unsure, disinterested, or disappointed, the meaning of their words changes entirely. Typically, if they just throw in a “Good” for a decent attempt then go on to what to fix, I’m fine. It gets the point across.

    In the two situations you mentioned though, I much prefer scenario 2. I appreciate getting credit where it’s due, but I loathe sugar coating and coddling. I can make my own sunshine and rainbows when I need them, thank you very much.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 2:41 pm

      That’s a really good point that I hadn’t thought about- a disinterested “good”and an enthusiastic “good!” are two tooootally different types of feedback.
      Also love this: “I can make my own sunshine and rainbows when I need them, thank you very much.” Love!


  12. emma 08/18/2016 / 2:42 pm

    this question cuts a couple different ways in my eyes. coaching is ultimately about adding value. i honestly don’t really care how the information from a trainer is presented so long as it gives me something to work on in a way that builds my motivation to do so.

    i honestly believe that the ‘fire’ comes from within us. it can’t be created externally, by a coach or anything else. a good trainer can stoke it, make it burn brighter. but a bad trainer can also dampen or extinguish it. those trainers can come in both scenario 1 & 2 forms – the scenario 1 being the empty ‘good jobs’ with nothing more to add. and scenario 2 form being the coach that is too critical and never satisfied.


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 2:47 pm

      I hadn’t even thought about it this way, but I absolutely love thinking about it as stoking or dampening that internal motivation. Agreed completely that the motivation has to there before a trainer can mold it, for better or for worse.


  13. carey 08/18/2016 / 3:28 pm

    I think we have the same trainer. Except mine is a man in California.

    Good luck at your show this weekend!


    • hellomylivia 08/18/2016 / 3:33 pm

      Aren’t we lucky ones 😉
      Thanks!! So excited to share how Frank the Tank goes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Tracy - Fly On Over 08/19/2016 / 8:58 am

    Sometimes I need encouragement, and sometimes I need to be pushed a little. I’m pretty self-aware, so I know when things aren’t going well, and a lot of the time I can even tell you what I need to do to improve. But I tend to be a more cautious and less confident rider, so I need a lot of encouragement to go out and do… but every once in a while, I also need a “just shut up and go do it”


    • hellomylivia 08/23/2016 / 10:37 am

      For sure it’s a balance! And it can be tough to know when encouragement is the most helpful, and when we need the “shut up and ride.”


  15. Heather 08/19/2016 / 9:12 am

    I swear, you and I are eerily similar. I really appreciate a coach who is mostly tough love. Though admittedly, I tend to tear myself a part a little as well, and I do need a coach who will point out the good while also letting me know that I can do better. Really though, I just want so badly to improve, and if I could, I would take 2 hour long lessons just to do alllll of the learning. I get so impatient with my own short comings.


    • Heather 08/19/2016 / 9:17 am

      Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve made the most improvements with the trainers that kinda made me want to cry, mostly because they were pretty vocal about it when they knew I was better and I’d let them down. I know what I want to do and be capable of, and I really need a trainer that has that faith in me and holds me to a really high standard.


    • hellomylivia 08/23/2016 / 10:38 am

      Honestly with every post of yours I’m just more convinced that we are creepily similar in a lot of ways. Except our eq. I have a crush on your lower leg.
      In all seriousness though, yes to all this. That burning desire to improve is real. Having someone who recognizes that desire and will push and prod and pull that improvement out of you can be painful, but amazing.


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