Teaching is at the heart of any discipline. Without a good coach, neither horse nor rider can achieve their highest potential. Hunter/jumper trainer Patty Stovel has mastered the art of teaching, which has helped her clients experience the exhilaration of success in the show pen.
The Georgetown, Kentucky instructor was the Highest Placing American at the 1994 World Equestrian Games riding Mount Cenis and she has won eight International Hunter Futurity Championships. She trained the 1999 and 2000 Regular Working Hunter of the Year, Frascati and has won over $600,000 in Grand Prix events.
“I’ve had riders competing at the Equitation Finals in Harrisburg and Syracuse,” she adds. “And I’ve had riders qualify for Zone Finals in the Adult Jumper division.”
Patty’s interest in teaching started when she was a child learning to ride from her mother in Connecticut. Her mom had a lesson business of 30-40 horses and she also ran summer camp that the whole family pitched in to help run.
“My dad did all the cooking,” she says. “The campers were only allowed one phone call a week and they were expected to groom their horses and get them ready all on their own. My mom was a true believer in the need to stay in tune with the horse.”
Involving students in every step of the process stuck with Patty and she believes that’s a key ingredient to helping her clients succeed. Here are five techniques that are integral to her program.
1. Begin with the basics.
Riding at the highest level of any discipline starts with a solid foundation. Work on the basics whether it’s English, Western, Dressage or any other discipline so that these become second nature to the rider, according to Patty.
2. Stay positive.
Patty believes students shouldn’t be afraid to ask about how or why their trainer is asking them to perform a certain way. She prefers starting a conversation with a rider rather than yelling at them to correct a mistake.
3. Keep it interesting.
Riding is supposed to be fun, especially for the kids, but for the adult riders too, according to Patty. Make the lessons interesting and mix up the routine so they aren’t practicing the same drills every day.
“Teach them how to ride bareback, get out of the ring and into the field and do different things. It’s as good for the horses as it is the riders,” she says.
4. Don't overcomplicate things.
Patty observes other trainers giving riders a list of 12,000 directives to remember as they head into the show pen to compete. The brain can only remember a few instructions at a time, especially when they’re nervous.
“How are they supposed to remember all those things,” she says. “Work on one thing at a time. Drill on it so that it becomes a habit. Then move on so it becomes part of their routine.”
5. Challenge clients to advance.
Whether you’re training horses or teaching people, Patty thinks it’s all about building confidence. Make each session challenging but be able to recognize when a rider or the horse is having a bad day.
Patty advises “Know when they’re not feeling well and back off and then challenge them to push forward in the next session.”