7 Years

It has been seven years of Starks Equitation this month, so I’ve been doing some reflecting.

They talk about a seven year itch, but it’s not something I’m feeling. I think that’s because I have so much variety to my job.

Starks Equitation has changed significantly over the last seven years. I’ve changed significantly. I’ve more experience, more qualifications. I’m older. My values and opinions have shifted slightly. And Starks Equitation doesn’t just offer schooling and lessons now. There’s Demi Dressage, Pony Club, BHS stages training; let alone the other roles of confidant, advice guru, Prix Caprilli trainer, and anything else that’s asked of me.

I think it’s the ever changing challenges that keep me fresh. Sure if I were in any one role I’d rapidly get bored or stale in my job, but the fact that I teach all different ages and abilities, and across a range of activities definitely keeps me on my toes.

Although the ever changing nature of being self employed always makes me nervous. What if I lose all my clients? Well in the early days that was definitely a risk – a combination of fewer clients and the risks of injury, lameness, financial changes etc could potentially leave me with an empty diary. But now I have a finger in a few pies and lots of contacts I feel more secure in this area. In fact, now if I happen to have a couple of cancellations, or someone is away one week, I breathe a sigh of relief and use that free time to catch up on the rest of life’s admin.

One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to though, is the emotional involvement of teaching. I see all of my private clients at least once a fortnight, and see many Pony Clubbers regularly. I am on their riding journey with them. Whether it’s buying their first horse, or taking them from lead rein through to a one day event, or building their confidence from a nervous wreck to a shining star. I am there each step of the way. I like getting messages about their amazing hack when they felt confident enough to go solo. Or their competition results, or a super schooling session between lessons.

I don’t think clients always realise this emotional involvement. Perhaps it’s a fault of mine and I should be more business-like and leave each client in a box between their lessons. Social media doesn’t help this, as they pop up. But equally, I think it makes me a better teacher for being personally involved.

Possibly one of the hardest parts of this job is losing clients. Often it’s by no fault of anyone – they outgrow the pony, retire the horse, move away, either party gets injured. But sometimes you get dropped as an instructor. They want to try a different direction, they’ve jumped on the yard band wagon with a different instructor. Or sometimes, it’s just unexplained. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Sure, if you’ve taken a rider to the highest heights of your teaching skills and they are ambitious then often they move from towards a specialist coach; then so long as you all part with a “thank you” and “keep in touch” everything is funky dory. The tough bit is seeing, physically or on social media, them falling into bad habits or not progressing as you imagined their trajectory to be. It can be gut wrenching. And I know it’s not just me, but other instructors have this level of emotional involvement with their riders. I think more so at grassroots level, when you are involved weekly and get asked advice on a host of other management questions, as well as celebrating their milestones.

This emotion is what gives us the drive to stand outside in all weathers shouting “heels down” until we’re hoarse, and enables us to give 110% to every lesson. It makes freelancing a roller-coaster of emotions for which the highs (thankfully) usually outweigh the lows. But it’s nice to feel appreciated every now and again as we shadow you along your yellow brick road to success.

That’s not to say I feel under-appreciated. In fact I usually feel I’m being given too much credit by most of my clients! It’s just something that I’m very aware of, and know how detrimental it can have on your confidence as a coach.

A Token of Appreciation

To those of you who are friends on my Facebook, or those who read Horse and Rider magazine, this is old hat, but it is my excitement of the day so I`m going to share it!

Although I`m very lucky in many areas of my life, winning prizes has never been my strong point. As a child I always went to Weymouth Carnival with my cousins and grandparents to spend our pocket money on the stalls. Year after year they would lug home Tazmanian Devil`s the size of them, while I was either empty handed or had been given the teddy bear that my Granny had won. So it was a couple of months ago that I entered a competition on the spur of the moment.

It was a back copy (it`s a law in my house that when the latest copy of a magazine arrives I make time to read the previous one) of Horse and Rider magazine and every month they run an “Ariat Inspiration of the Month” award and quite often there are friends or parents nominated for helping care for horses in times of illness or difficulty. I put together an email, and found a recent photo, and off it zipped through the ether.

Afterwards, I read what the prizes were – very much geared towards female riders, who are probably the most frequent winners. However, I didn`t think it would really matter as, knowing my history with competitions, we wouldn`t be winning.

Fast forwards to today, and the latest issue arrived last week, but I still haven`t read last months copy, which is next to my bed. I was checking my emails this afternoon, and almost deleted one which looked like a company advertising more products.

Thankfully, I opened it, and then started jumping up and down. My nomination had won “Ariat Inspiration of the Month”! I bounded up the stairs and found the copy by my bed, leafed through and then raced downstairs again to show anyone I could find.

Once I`d calmed down and told all the relevant parties, I went back to the email and learnt that the prizes were being changed to more masculine products, so I responded with the various specifications required.

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Above is the article from the magazine, please feel free to leave comments for Otis`s famous chauffeur to read, I know he is overwhelmed by compliments he`s received via Facebook.

Does anyone else have any unsung heroes (Wind Beneath My Wings springs to mind), or people who deserve some recognition? If so, perhaps we could set up a chain of “Token of Appreciation” blogs.