The Big Debate

There was a really energetic debate on the BHS coaches forum a couple of weeks ago about qualified coaches versus unqualified coaches.

There are a lot of BHS qualified coaches in this industry. But there’s also a lot of people teaching without BHS qualifications.

The BHS provides insurance to their coaches, but unqualified coaches can get their own independent insurance based on industry experience. I’m not sure how the two compare in terms of level of cover and cost, but I like the simplicity of having the BHS organise it for me!

So what are the pros and cons of each? Or rather, why is the debate raging hot?

A person who has trained their way up the BHS ladder has invested a lot of time and money into their career. I calculated that in exam fees alone, £2000 has been spent on my getting qualified, either by my college, employer or myself to a level 4 coach or BHS II in old terms. That doesn’t include any resits or training. Or even travel and accommodation in order to take the exam. The letters behind our names is proof of our dedication to our profession.

The BHS exams consist of several modules: ridden, lunging, stable management, coaching principles, theory of riding, and practical assessments. Which means that you know you are getting a well rounded teacher, who can advise on all areas.

Let’s turn our attention to the unqualified coaches. These are often high level professional competition riders, which means their ridden experience and knowledge of training horses far outweighs that of the majority of BHS coaches. However, you can be a good rider but unless you can impart your knowledge in a clear and concise manner you are not a good coach. For these people, the UKCC qualifications is where they can learn how to share their knowledge to students, and this can complement their ridden experience nicely.

There are also non-BHS coaches without the riding CV, which is the concerning area to the majority of the BHS coaches on this forum. A lot of the BHS qualified instructors felt that average horse-people teaching put our industry at risk of a bad reputation. Yes, they can get insurance, but have they been taught how to manage a ride of children, adults or horses so that everyone remains safe? This is an insurance risk which penalises the rest of us as premiums rise due to claims against such dangerous situations.

Another concern was that coaches not on the BHS register do not have the overheads of qualified ones: CPD days, DBS checks, first aid training, APC membership, and child protection training. This means that they can afford to undercut the qualified professionals. Which doesn’t sit well with people who have invested time and money into their training.

The general consensus, after a long debate, was that BHS coaches accept and like the training opportunities offered by the likes of Lucinda Fredericks and William Fox-Pitt, knowing that their riding experience far outweighs that of their own. Some coaches even train with them themselves to help improve their competitive performance. However, these people have a lot of industry experience to support themselves.

What didn’t go down so well was the unqualified coach with decidedly average knowledge and experience. In one of the most dangerous sports, they increase the risk further. They charge less, don’t provide quality knowledge or lesson content, and potentially put riders in dangerous situations.

The general consensus was that the BHS should help us promote the benefits of using qualified coaches, and to encourage riders and parents to do their research and ensure the coaches they use are qualified and insured. Otherwise, what’s the point in training for BHS exams?

Below is a succinct comment from one of the BHS coaches which sums up the debate well, and how we should move forwards with it.

Times are changing – it is a competitive world out there and people will compare costings.
There are some excellent non qualified yet insured coaches out there, but there are also some very poor ones, and some totally uninsured. There are some cracking ‘names’ coaching in our area who do a great job, but also some who, because they find it easy, have absolutely no idea how to coach and which tools to use to draw out the best from those who don’t. Their observations and corrections are distorted by their own ability.
There are Pony Club members who teach, with no training or experience whatsoever, who lobby and coach younger members privately and uninsured.
For me, the safety and welfare element is key. Stakeholders should be using their resources and expertise to lobby INSURANCE companies to tighten up. It would be interesting to know the statistics of claims comparatively, as all insurance is based on risk factor. There should be a minimum safety and risk awareness certification built into existing qualifications (it is) but possibly available as a stand alone in order to gain insurance, alongside safeguarding and first aid qualifications. Mandatory. Period.
I am actively involved in PC, and we circulate to our memberships the dangers of using uninsured, unqualified coaches, but it falls on deaf ears – surprisingly often with intelligent, affluent people, not those who want to save money!
If insurance is cheaper and more easily available elsewhere, as it is and without jumping through the hoops, then why wouldn’t people go down that route? All we can do is promote and practice with excellence, we do not have control of other people’s actions. We must also be open minded in some areas.
BHS are doing a great job, but need to escalate this in conjunction with other bodies…

All in all, my advice is to research your instructor to ensure they are insured, have sufficient industry experience, and the ability to impart their knowledge – proved by either the UKCC or BHS qualifications.

Meanwhile, qualified instructors will continue to pressurise the BHS to do more to protect us and give more young people a reason sit exams and train. It’s a tough situation, but as a dangerous sport we need to tighten up on teaching standards so that we make it as safe as possible for all participants.

The Greatest Job

This morning when I was halfway through mucking out the yard a livery commented to me,

“You`ll have to empty that now… You`ve got to admit it`s full.”

She was referring to the fact that I always have an overflowing wheelbarrow, and usually try to cram as much into it as possible.

It`s true, I admit, I like to be efficient with my trips to the muckheap. Even the farrier noticed last week.

Ever since I remember I`ve hated emptying wheelbarrows. When we started helping at the yard as ten or eleven year olds we were responsible for emptying the wheelbarrows. In groups we used to muck out the stalls – the older ones had the forks and stacked the wonky wheeled wheelbarrows high with wet straw and dung. We daren`t stop them too early in case they thought we were weak. Then we perilously wheeled the wobbly load through the long rooms of stalls, avoiding the cracks and pot holes, before getting enough speed to bump the barrow up the step, before taking a sharp right hand turn and passing through the stable (God forbid you made a mess in this linking stable) and then carefully through the narrow door and down the step out onto the yard. Once there it was a straightforward route to the muckheap, but you had to be careful of the divots and ridges in the concrete of the yard. At the muckheap you either had to push the barrow up the plank of wood, or gave a final wobble of the barrow and left the muck in a heap at the base of the muckheap, only to return later to fork it up.

As we moved up the ranks we were allowed to fork up the muckheap – initially on the top layer, crouched under the roof we were responsible for ensuring the preciseness and levelness of the top level. Slowly we were promoted down the layers and then eventually permitted to do the mucking out.

So I`m sure you can understand now, why I`m not a fan of emptying my wheelbarrows. And how I can stack them so high. And wheel them so carefully that not a blade of straw is shed.

By the way, this morning I mucked out another stable before emptying the “full” wheelbarrow.

Nuttier Than a Fruit Cake

We have this new apprentice … and she`s, to put it politely, a chicken nugget short of a Happy Meal. Take today for instance, you have to laugh about it.

At 12.30 I sent the two girls (one the new apprentice, and one a younger helper) to turn out, telling them they had just enough time before lunch. They faffed but I pushed them and the five ponies off the yard at quarter to one. Turning round to test the quick release knots being tied by my hyperactive pony morning kids I soon forgot about the girls.

One o`clock came and I played match the parent to the child, before going into the office to sort out another booking. I didn`t finish in the office until quarter past and the yard was deserted. My colleague gone and no sign of the girls, I assumed they had gone for lunch. I had a couple of things to do with my horse so didn`t make it to the staff room until quarter to two. It was deserted. I came to the conclusion they`d gone off somewhere together. I just enjoyed the peace and quiet to eat my apple.

Two o clock came, and I roused myself to go back to the yard. To my surprise, the girls were already there.
“Where did you go for lunch?” I asked.
“We`re going in a moment, it`s just one. How was your hack?”
“My hack?” I glanced at my watch. I was pretty confident that the pony morning parents had arrived at the correct time, and thus my lunch began when they arrived… Logic told me it was two pm.
“Yeah … it`s definitely only one. Weren`t you on a hack?”
“No. That`s at three, and you two are coming with me. Were you not hungry?”
“Yes” said my little helper. “I was like, starving.” I sent her to go and get some lunch, but she opted to eat it with me on the yard, even pausing mid-pasta to get some tack for my half two lesson. I was impressed with her helpfulness.
On the other hand, I checked the watch of my apprentice … turns out she had moved her watch back instead of forwards last weekend … God knows how she has survived a whole week just looking at the minute hand …

A while later I told my colleague about the working through lunch incident. She suggested that tomorrow, at six, we tell her it`s only four and we`re going off teaching and that she`s not to leave the yard until we came back … Honestly, it could work!

Should I really be doing this?

As a mature apprentice with my riding road safety and stage 2 exams under my belt I was qualified enough at my training yard to escort hacks. No stranger to hacking, I had hacked my own horses out with kids at the yard I grew up on and was usually the responsible adult when I went with my Mum and friends.
So ths particular January day, my yard manager told me I was taking a hack out, of girls from the local uni. Great I thought, good company and not having to go at a snails pace.
I had a selection of mounts; a roan 13hh pony, a 17hh gentle giant, a 16hh mare, 15hh beginners mare, and a speedy 14.2hh Welsh section D for myself.

The girls arrived and I introduced myself, and discovered that there were 2 experienced riders and 2 lesser experienced, but had still ridden previously. With guidance from my yard manager I mounted them accordingly.the smallest girl, one of the most experienced, ended up on the pony and the two more novice were on the gentle giant and beginners mount. Fine.

Everyone comfortable, off we go.through the woods and out into our back field. “shall we have a little trot?” I ask, thinking the gentle uphill will keep the lid on the horses. Everyone was up for it, so off we went. Instantly there was a scream. The girl riding the pony was on the floor. We all stop and I dismount and catch said great who was looking suitably mollified. I checked the girl over as best I could but she said her arm hurt as she’d landed on it, but other than that she was fine. I offered her the choice of going back and she refused saying she didn’t want to spill the others ride. She didn’t want to ride the pony again though as he’d bucked.
In a predicament I offered her mine- none of the others were small enough or game enough to ride the bucking bronco. She decided she’d be fine on mine, so I helped her up with difficulty as her arm was useless. Then I vaulted on and off we set.
I took it slowly through other woods, but we had to cross another field to return home, my injured client was in pain, but wouldn’t say, and the Welshie was predictably excited. We walked thru the gate to the field and suddenly, gentle giant galloped off! Closely pursued by Welshie. Both girls are screaming, I’m sitting to sky high bucks, and then the other two are off. I have no choice but to follow, and manage to pull up on the brow just in time to see gentle giant bunny hop to a halt and catapult his rider headfirst to the ground.
Before I even get to then I’m ringing for back up, so I assess my latest faller, who just seems to have a large bruise on her head. There’s no way she’s riding back though. Thankfully we were 10 mins from home, and back up arrived in the shape of another apprentice to ride the pony back, I’m left riding gentle giant and leading Welshie whilst the casualties are driven back to the yard.

My first entry into the accident book and they’re both off to hospital… The shame of it! One had concussion and the other had a broken collar bone.

The story was retold for days, and I had my 5 minutes of fame… But when discussing it with my mentor about how I could’ve acted, we realised that a) the new routine of all horses living in with limited turnout was not a viable option for the riding school as they all became lunatics, and b) hacks should be proceeded by an assessment lesson. Oh and c) these things can happen to anybody so I should learn from it and move on.