Learning Styles

Posted on 11/30/10 47 Comments

Tomorrow I will be sending out the third instalment in my series “On Being a Good Student”. This is going out to all of you that are subscribers to my newsletter (if you are not a subscriber you can sign up on the right hand side of this page — it is complimentary, as in free — no charge). Tomorrow’s lesson is about how we as students process our instructors’ input. While writing the tip I was reminded of a riding lesson I had — likely 20 years ago, so yes that would put me around 9 years old:).

Nearing the end of a lesson my coach told me to take a line (of jumps) down into the corner, change my horse’s lead going into the corner and then come back down a second line of jumps. During my first line, my foot came out of a stirrup. I quickly recovered, found the stirrup but was a stride late cuing my horse’s lead change as my coach had requested.

When I finished the short sequence I rode over to her feeling pretty proud at not only “nailing” the short exercise but also for recovering from my stirrup loss without a hitch to the performance. Here was our exchange, I still remember it with great clarity;

COACH: “Susan, when did I ask you to change your lead?”

SCG: “Yeah, I know, going into the corner but I lost my stirrup  and . . .”

COACH: “Oh you lost your stirrup, I didn’t know that. Okay come over here”

Feeling more than vindicated and thinking she was going to be so proud of how I regained that stirrup while I guided Spencer (my gelding) over that final line I guided my mount over to my coach as instructed. Sadly there was no big pat-on-the-back coming from from her — however there was a a “prize” coming my way.

Without saying anything to me, she push my legs out of the way, lifted the leather flap covering the port where the leathers attached to the saddle (holding the dangling stirrups) and removed both stirrups.

“Okay” she said. “Go and try that set up again without the worry of those pesky stirrups causing you not to change your lead when I ask.”

I turned the horse around and did the sequence again, without the benefit of stirrups.

Effective instructing or human cruelty? I guess it depends upon the student. For me it was effective, so much so I still remember the encounter today. I actually found it both hysterically funny and kind of a cool challenge to see how I would do over jumps without stirrups.

I learned several things from that session;

  1. Always change your horses lead at a specific points (kind of like front cross timing for agility people).
  2. There is never an excuse that will justify poor form or execution.
  3. My coach was very creative. The kind of creativity you  never wanted to inspire.

In tomorrow’s newsletter the “Good Student” series will continue with my thoughts on the subject.

Today I am grateful for those that have influenced my life as a coach.


  1. Laura says:
    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 9:22pm

    When I read your post, it never occurred to me that it was a “punishment” to have your stirrups removed but instead a way to push you beyond what you thought you were able to do. Very often, instructors have more faith in their students than the students have in themselves and they need a “wake up call” to push them out of their comfort zone…


  2. Sara Favinha says:
    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 9:08am

    Hello Susan,

    Thank you for the recent Newsletters! It’s really good to think about a lot of stuffs.

    I’m brazilian and I’m searching abroad to get knowledge.



  3. Joanne Rainger says:
    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 10:48pm

    Hi All
    What a facinating discussion.
    I have had a little think about this over the weekend hence a late comment.

    It is interesting that Hornblower thought that what Susans instructor did was not in accordance with what we see as positive training.

    I think her trainer asked for average or better. Her instructor know what she was capable of and asked for it. If Coach had not asked if from her then how would she have known what she was capable of. How many times do we not ask more of our selves and our dogs when we could.
    Since Susans trip to australia recently I am using this prinicple more with my dogs and therefore myself and I am starting to see the results.

    Thanks agains Susan and best of luck



  4. Deb says:
    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 7:48pm

    What an interesting discussion. I think one of the things that benefits me is that I am such a novice to agility that I’m very open to criticism. I think that my lack of experience probably frustrates instructors who may feel that I’m not listening when my body refuses to do what my brain is telling it to. Personally I don’t mind getting my butt kicked – it’s usually well deserved. While it’s nice to have praise my real reward is when my dog and I connect as a team. I am only one part of the team though and the last seminar I attended with my very soft novice dog who hates being wrong, made me realize that I have to consider his learning style as well. Partway through the seminar he refused to take a jump for the first time in his life and it was many months before he found the joy in agility again. I will never know if he injured himself (he didn’t act injured), If I pushed him too hard, or if he just decided he was quitting until I figured out what the heck it was I wanted him to do (I was really struggling with some handling moves that I couldn’t seem to “get”). I “thought” because I never punish him for my mistakes he would be fine but something changed in him and I’ve only recently got my fun – agility loving dog back. I am attending the flatwork seminar but with my younger, less serious dog. I will be more aware that just because something doesn’t bother me it doesn’t mean it won’t bother him. I’ll also leave him in his crate and work with a pretend dog if I am having trouble grasping a concept. For me it was a real eye opener to realize that it’s not just about my – learning style – I also have to consider my dogs before signing up for something and realize that while I may be willing to try to leave my comfort zone I’m only half of the partnership.


  5. Billie says:
    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 12:06am

    I absolutely believe a good coach will push you out of your comfort zone – if the goal of the student is to achieve greatness. Sports (and life for that matter) does not deliver its lessons in a helpful and courteous manner – a good coach prepares you for that. Intense heat and pressure produces diamonds. Less intense heat and pressure produces some other sort of mediocre rock. I’m not advocating we all seek out abusive coaches, I’m saying that pressure and toughness (in combination with other things obviously) is necessary to produce the best results and completeness of the lesson. In the example of Susan and her riding instructor – could the instructor have taught the lesson in a less theatrical manner? Probably. Would Susan have recalled it with such clarity 20 years later? I doubt it. Just as a good dog trainer will set up ridiculous distractions for their dog to proof a behaviour. A great coach will push a student in training so that the pressure of competition seems like a walk in the park. But as I said it depends on the goals of the student. A final thought on tough coaches – in my experience a coach that pushes you sees your potential and thinks you’re worth the effort. When you feel your hackles rise in response to their feedback, think about that – it is a compliment.


  6. Manda says:
    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 6:18pm

    ” A good coach knows what his/her student cannot handle”

    – yes

    “It’s the job of a coach to push his/her student beyond his/her comfort zone.”

    Is it? In what I teach (which is admittedly a different field) it’s my job as instructor to make the basics *absolutely clear*, then to make sure it’s obvious how to progress, then to open the gates and let my students walk/jog/run through them as they choose. I set up the situation, I explain as well as I can what works for me, and why it works, and I endeavour to make it straightforward for them to understand how it works for them. It’s not my job to decide where are the limits of someone’s comfort zones or whether to push them. They’re adults and I respect their capacity for self-awareness. They are learning autonomy as a basic life skill as well as, and integral to, whatever else I’m teaching.
    In basic clicker training, if your ‘subject’ – that is my dog, horse,cat,whatever doesn’t perform the behaviour, and the cues are clear, it’s probably too complex a behaviour and I’ve been a lumper, not a splitter. I need to split the behaviour down, and set my dog up for success. (let’s keep it at a dog for simplicity’s sake)

    If I’m a good trainer, my dog *very rarely* “fails” because I’ve split things down sufficiently that each onward step is straightforward. Otherwise I’m failing as a trainer to the exact extent that they’re failing in their required task. It’s the same with my students. If they compare where they are now with when they started, the change is enormous and unbelievable, but at no time were they pushed beyond their safety zone.


  7. Melissa Blazak says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 8:46pm

    IMHO what Susan’s instructor did was what he thought would work for Susan. He obviously knew her temperament, her learning style, her reaction to criticism. Susan probably did just what he thought she would. In that case the instructor and student were a good match. Not everyone’s cup of tea to be sure. I would have fallen off the horse in a dead faint. Actually I probably would have had to take a bottle of Benadryl just to get on the horse!

    The point is not every instructor is a good match for every student. Not every instructor is a GOOD instructor.

    On the other hand, not every student feels comfortable openly rising to a challenge. Some need a lighter hand and a kinder word. Maybe a little more time. To be a good student you do have to be open to what is being taught, and accept some criticism. You have to know your own faults and weaknesses that may hinder you from hearing the message the instructor is trying to tell you.

    For instance (I’ll use myself as an example). I know I’m overtly sensitive and sometimes obsess over a little comment or constructive criticism, blowing it all out of proportion IN MY OWN MIND! That is a weakness of mine. So, while I may want to learn and strive to be a good student I am my own worst enemy!


  8. Bonnie says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 7:18pm

    Michelle says “We praise them for their success and ignore their failures. We don’t reward them for going around the tunnel or they will never learn what the correct behavior is, we only praise them for going through the tunnel. Susan’s teacher did just that.”

    It seems to me that many are missing hornblower’s point. I think her point was that Susan’s trainer did not just “ignore her failure,” she actually made the exercise more difficult physically by removing the stirrups. We would not react to our dog’s failure to perform by making an exercise more difficult physically (that would be like trainers who raise the bar when the dog knocks it), so why should we think that this is ok when it comes to training people?


    • Lee-Ann Carr says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 7:47pm

      To me, what Susan’s instructor did was highlight how possible it is to perform correctly, even when things don’t go your way.
      I don’t think it’s the same as notching up the jump height after a knocked bar.
      As a student, I would like a view from both sides – what is failure and what is success… without both I don’t believe you can be at 100% understanding.


    • Andrea says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 8:24pm

      Personally I’m not sure we should be comparing training a person to training a dog but having said that I wouldn’t say we never make it harder for the dog if they make a mistake.

      For example if an experienced, well proofed dog doesn’t do their 2on2off on a frame then when I give them a second chance I will make it harder for them to be successful maybe charge by instead of just jogging. I’m not saying I always make things harder after a mistake but if I’m confident they know their job and know how to be successful then I certainly don’t have a problem doing it.


  9. Trudie says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:02pm

    I add however, you can be against something i.e. punishing dropped bars, but you have to be ready to get out and put in all the training you need to get it right….I learned this the hard way when at a trial I was trying very hard but fluffed my oh-so-clever handling and my coach whose handling is not identical to mine said to me “That was ca-ca that you did!” He also said I looked like a “quiche” (whatever one looks like?!) As a result, I signed up for the recall course!
    Thanks for the “good student” series !


  10. Christine says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:51pm

    Well said Michelle! You’ve captured exactly what I was thinking.


  11. Trudie says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:36pm

    Fun reading everyone’s comments! I am not at all a horse rider but this brings back memories, at age 12 my sister and I begged our parents for some summer riding lessons, from a British lady near Sarnia. I’ll remember her all my life! We started off – taking care of the horse. Then on the horse bareback and we learned how to use our legs…!

    I’m inclined to disagree with Hornblower, because Susan’s coach did not humiliate her or attack her confidence and self-esteem. (And there are so-called good teachers who use this technique) She just gave her what is referred to as “a boot in the rear”.
    I so agree with Karissa ! although I might add that it’s not just “the American way” that has exclusive dibs on people wanting things now, now, now !
    I also sympathize with Billie, Susan’s advice reflects my personal experience, go with your informed convictions, stand up for your dog and do what you think is right.


  12. Barktender says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:05pm

    Thank you Susan for the opportunity to speak our minds on this subject. In dog training if you don’t reach the human you don’t help the dog.

    There are no mistakes just lessons. Delivery is important, but for some it is hard to give any kind of direction or critic.

    I feel like Susan that I am a totally different trainer and manager than 10 years ago, hell even last year. I like to think that as you know better you do better with humans and dogs.


  13. Michelle says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:03pm

    In order to improve, you *must* challenge yourself and be ready to fail (but get right back up and try again). You can’t learn to walk without falling down. If everyone was afraid of failure, we’d all be crawling around on the ground – afraid to walk.

    A good instructor knows what their student can and cannot handle. It is the instructors job to push the student out of their comfort zone and push them to greater successes than what they have experienced before. I do not classify this as punishment – when we ask our dog to do something they haven’t ever done before (like when they are learning the tunnel) we are not punishing them. We praise them for their success and ignore their failures. We don’t reward them for going around the tunnel or they will never learn what the correct behavior is, we only praise them for going through the tunnel. Susan’s teacher did just that. She ignored the behavior of losing the stirrup and instead pushed Susan to do something she wasn’t comfortable with. She didn’t beat Susan or berate her for losing it, she simply removed the “excuse” of why she wasn’t successful in the task she was assigned and asked her to try again.

    “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”


  14. Devora Locke says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:00pm

    I’ve been stewing over your latest re: on being a good student since yesterday. Initially I found myself as reactive and defensive reading it as when I feel I’m being singled out in a seminar! Then I started thinking about what that could possibly mean,..

    There is someone in my area that handlers gush about as instructor, and yet I found this person’s style to inhibit learning, as my head filled not with info but with my own defense mechanisms. Although I do not believe that any instructor has earned the right to be emotionally abusive to a student no matter how sucessful on course, what I’ve been stewing about is that I do have a choice- I can handicap myself by not learning from someone I found hurtful, or I can find a way not to allow myself to be hurt. This solution could ultimately be finding another instructor to gush about, but a smaller step might be to simply not assuming criticism of a performance is a criticism of one’s entire existence! One’s past baggage will dictate how easy this will be to do, but the word baggage, in itself, implies something,.. 🙂


  15. Jane says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 2:29pm

    What an interesting discussion. I’ve had my share of coaches who pushed, and also those who let me find my way.

    I used to be a wildland firefighter. Many would describe our leader’s methods as harsh, negative and unforgiving. Yet the skills they taught us through sweat and tears was how to safely work in an environment that was very often unforgiving. I was pushed past my comfort zone many times, only to realize my training and conditioning had already prepared me to succeed at that level. All that was holding me back was my own mind, various excuses and my fear of the unknown. This may be an extreme example, but the lesson seems to be the same. It’s okay to be afraid of failure, but don’t let it prevent you from moving forward. Good coaches push you when they know you’re ready, and help you break out of your comfort zone.

    In my dog training, I’m very positive with my dog. If a mistake is made, it is not his fault and he’ll never know about it. The mistake is mine, and I’m okay with being told what should have been done differently. I look for coaches who will help me gain the skills to be a better trainer and handler. Sometimes they’ll tell me things I’d rather not hear, things that need improvement…but that’s why I ask them for their opinions. If I want 100% positive reinforcement, my friends are fantastic for that. But my coach will point out the problems to help us grow as a team, and push us to realize we’re capable of more than I’d imagined. So often an obstacle is mental, and that (often gentle) ‘nudge’ helps push aside the excuses and fear of failure in order to find the right solution for me and my pup.

    People are different, and need different coaching methods. If a particular trainer’s methods don’t work for you, keep searching for one that does.


  16. Gale says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 1:27pm

    I took my first riding lessons in England, and there were no stirrups attached and the english saddle was plain. The teacher taught us that our body position, hands and legs were what indicated to the horse what we wanted. I was so sore after the lesson, but it helped me with my seat in the saddle, the rein handling and I was able to ride bareback and use my legs effectively control the horse. My big Arabian boy loved his no saddle time with me, though he never really minded putting on the saddle because it gave my big goof a chance to play me by filling his gut up with air and waiting for me to step up to get into the saddle and he would exhale. I learned to tickle his groin area because he got a real kick watching all my hard work flop down. I miss the big goof! He was fantastic at dressage and jumping, and he did the airs above the ground with me on his back once!


  17. Sarah B. says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 12:14pm

    re: the riding instructor.

    I was purely a flat rider (dressage) and learning, or rather relearning everything without stirrups seemed like a form of torture at the time. But the proof was while at a horse show I was on a bareback hack with another girl (who most would have thought to be the better rider of us 2). The horses startled slightly and trotted a few steps. She was almost unseated. I circled my horse then trotted back past it all without budging from the proper seated position.

    It’s all in the bascis. Once you have them the crutches (stirrups in this case) are more decoration than anything else.


  18. DawnM says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:20am

    Can’t find the e-books either.


  19. Karissa says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:08am

    It’s interesting to read comments from people who disagree with what your instructor did, claiming it was dangerous or whatnot. Anyone who is jumping should have a steady & tight leg, allowing them to get through that exercise easily without stirrups. The PROBLEM is that so many instructors push their students to start jumping before they are ready — Mostly because the students want this and the instructors want to keep the students. The foundation skills are rushed or ignored and that’s when accidents happen.

    The exact same thing happens in the agility world. Students sign up for beginner agility classes and want to see their dogs doing all of the equipment on day one. They have no interest in the foundation exercises that will make them a good, solid team. And because many clubs need to make money, they appease these students and offer beginner classes that are nothing but an intro to equipment. Down the road, those students end up with giant gaps in their training and struggle with simple concepts.

    The power of the mighty dollar and the American way of wanting everything now, now, now. Alas, it’s something that none of us tend to learn until we’ve “been there, done that.”


  20. rotlover says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 10:38am

    Got a chuckle out of that. I had to learn first bareback, then with a saddle and no stirrups. Never forget the day my instructor commented that I was afraid of falling off the 16.2hand horse he assigned me. Soooooo, my lesson was to jump off at the canter! Our instructors must have gone to the same school. Like you, I thought his idea was a good one, scared me to death, but it was good instructing. Have always thought similarly in dog training. Teach, test. Proof. Be ready for anything you can think of and then some. Great fun!

    Anyway, just downloaded the ebooks from Brilliant Recallers. Are the DVDs on the way?


    • Elizabeth says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 10:57am

      I am a Brilliant and could not find the ebooks. Can you help me locate them?


      • Gale says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 1:41pm

        Susan sent an email to all Brilliant learners (we all are, but some of us are registered as…LOL) with the link. Check your inbox.. the subject of it is “Your Cool Stuff Is Wating for You!”

      • Elizabeth says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 2:59pm

        Yes, I clicked on the link earlier today and it brought me to a log on page. I logged on and just ended up on the recallers section. Still can’t find e-books. I’m either not to bright, too blonde, or just really, really tired…

  21. Billie says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 9:31am

    Great newsletter today, thank you. It truly is a gift to be able to put ego aside and look for the lesson. I very much believe that everything and everyone is our teacher (if we are open to it). However, at the risk of sounding like a ‘yes, but’ sort of a person, what do you do when your teacher asks you to do something you are philosophically opposed to? eg, asks you to punish knocked bars or handle a sequence in a way that causes your dog to flick away? How do you be a good student in this situation?


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 12:47pm

      @ Billie. It is not a yes but it is a valid point I am so happy you brought it up. You need to stand up for your dog and do what is right. This is a great topic and I think I will carry over this conversation in a blog post!


    • Melissa Blazak says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 7:51pm

      Yes, you do what is right for your dog. I have said “NO, I am not doing that” to a couple of instructors. I don’t mind learning from them as they are very good at what they do, they just have to respect that I am going to pass on some of their suggestions. I felt a little awkward doing it in the beginning, but am more confident now.


  22. Angela Maharajh says:
    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:31am

    This topic really fascinates me. Further to Mandy’s post, greatest player of all time Gretzky is a so so coach. Scotty Bowman has most wins record 9 Stanley Cups and 3 championships with three different teams, Scotty never played pro hockey.

    Coaching is a specialized talent. So we as students have to see past our coaches weaknesses to maximize our learning…if we are not lucky enough to have a skilled coach. To me a skilled coach hears me, and works with me to help me understand my training and handling.

    As a violin teacher I do my best to find the joy in the music for my students…that keeps their minds open to information. I also carefully listen to there “excuses” and when they feel received we can then move on, around and forward.

    A coach should stretch us, but never attack us personally…to me that is not cool.


  23. Manda says:
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 12:03pm

    Interesting one… I’d leave any instructor that did that to me. Perhaps I wouldn’t have done as a child, but certainly as an adult.. it’s not clever or funny, or cool. To me, losing your stirrup says your seat isn’t ready yet and you need help to gain the independence before you move on, not that you need to be bullied/terrorised for what was an unconscious error. (I’m guessing you did your best, and didn’t throw the stirrup for the fun of it)

    There’s a clicker-trainer here in the UK who has the reputation for being brilliant with the dogs, but savage with the students (the human students). I’m not that inclined to learn there, either… Maybe it’s an age thing, and just not being interested in being treated like a 12 year old any more.


    • LINDA BLACK says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:42am

      Interesting Manda. Way back when I was learning to ride, I learned to ride bareback FIRST to learn my seat and balance without the stirrups. I always found stirrups to be a pain once I was in a saddle, and if there was ever a problem the first thing I dropped were the stirrups (makes the fall cleaner too). So I guess it is how you initially learned might make a difference. When I taught riding lessons I went the same route, learn bareback first…


      • mygsds says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:51pm

        That’s interesting Linda. I learned to ride as an adult and also learned first bareback. I was never a brilliant rider but I was able to stay on most of the time when jumping and earned one ribbon in my riding career (very proud of that). Had my instructor told me to remove the stirrups I would have trusted that she understood my level of skill and would not ask me to do that if she felt I could not do it.
        I did train with a dog instructor that I did not feel “right’ about her methods but was not experienced enough to leave – my dog paid for that and I swore never again.
        Now if I disagree with what my trainer is telling me to do I speak up – the punishing the dog for knocking a bar is an example. I did that at first but then told my trainer it did not feel right and we agreed to stop. That’s the type of trainer I like to work with – one who respects my opinions.

  24. Aliza says:
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 11:25am

    That kind of expirience on a horse when I was taking lessons probally would have made me loose my cool, cry or both. I’d have done it anyway and been really happy if I had pulled it off.
    More importantly I think it’s worth mentioning that having a trust for your intstructors is key. I have a great trust in mine because I know that she knows what she’s doing. Further more, she wouldn’t ask me to do anything that we weren’t ready for. Yes she has had beat me a few time with a binder but I was being a wuss and needed it!

    Riding did prepare me to take a beating and I am happy for that. I have never been worried about making mistakes and looking like an idiot because mistakes are allowed excuses aren’t.


  25. Andrea says:
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 11:04am

    cracked me up as I knew exactly what you were going to get for mentioning the lost stirrup 🙂
    I would have been lucky to keep reins after that!!


  26. MRB in Oz says:
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 10:07am

    Variation on the Zig Zigler quote “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want the most for what you want now”

    Don’t know who said it first but it’s credited to Tom Landry: “A coach is a person who makes you do what you don’t want to do right now, so you can be who you want to be, most of all.”

    And “No coach has ever won a game by what he knows; it’s what his players know that counts.” Paul Bryant

    Which I can interpret as if the “student/dog” doesn’t get it, you’ve got more work to do.

    Meanwhile I’ve finished reading “ruff love”. I think my dog is going to hate me – for a while. It’s like being at the edge of extremely cold water and knowing you’ve got to get in.

    Me and my horse had an understanding: pick any two out of three to get right: balance, speed or direction. He would catch me when I got “balance” wrong.


  27. Mary M says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 10:38pm

    Ah, I remember those days when my riding instructor would be creative in ways you never wanted her to be 😉 Many a student had their stirrups removed (and sometimes for a whole week!), sounds like your instructor and mine were talking. LOL

    How to apply this kind of concept to being late with a handling cue (i.e. FC, RC) is where I fall short, as there are no stirrups to remove, but I have tried not using voice or hands to guide so the dog relies on shoulders positional cues and movement entirely….guess I might find out your lateral approach to these types of handling issues when I attend flatwork class in a couple weeks….I am often late on my cues, so looking forward to your thinking about how to approach this issue better.


  28. Barb says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 8:41pm

    I agree. Your instructor was not a good one. Her raising of the bar worked — you had a good enough seat, your horse was reliable, your hands were good enough, your balance was good enough. And you like challenges.

    But had the instructor done the exact same thing to a student not quite ready to have the bar raised so suddenly, damage could have been done to the horse, rider, or both.

    Say we were introducing a new combination to our agility dog. We asked the dog to turn at a spot, and because it was a new combination and because the dog wasn’t dlear on our signal, the dog turned a micro second later. Would we then make the dog run it even tighter with fewer cues? And if we did, what would we be teaching the dog?

    Surely the dog, who loves to run with all his heart, would be up for the challenge to begin with. And same with the aspiring rider. But with repeated bar raising at every mistake? Hmmmmm. I wonder.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 10:31pm

      Barb you example is one of having consequences for the dog — my coach didn’t punish the horse, she punished me for not following direction. It wasn’t a new skill I was learning it was simply a schooling combination. I agree the approach may not work with all students — that is were coaching to the individual rather than having the same approach with all students.


      • hornblower says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:25am

        I continue to be amazed that positive trainers are more than ok with punishing the student.

        I will not work with anyone with the coaching methods you describe in your current newsletter. Too many coaches are egotistical sadists who thrive on the adulation of the few who made it through their tough methods. It’s like a hazing ritual. & the ones who drop out? bah, they’re just weaklings! didn’t want it hard enough!

        I think it’s time to change.

        Why aren’t the principles of positive reinforcement used more often in teaching handlers in dog sport? Why are the concepts of TAG teaching not being applied to the human side of the team? We know so much about how people learn & how to effectively teach skills.

        I just find it so sad that a group of people who ostensibly know so much about behaviour don’t apply that knowledge to their work with the two legged members of the sport.

      • Susan says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 12:29pm

        @hornblower I am interested to know what exactly in my latest newsletter you found offensive? I recognize what I posted on my blog about my instructor taking away my stirrups was going to stir it up (pardon the pun) but would love to get particular feedback about what upset you in the newsletter.

      • hornblower says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 1:19pm

        I hope this shows up right under your post, Susan…..:-)

        Re the newsletter, it’s just the general concept of ‘ignore how they’re saying it’:

        “regardless of how harsh the delivery may have seemed to you. Find the message. Seek out the value without arguing the validity of the judgment or the harshness of the delivery.”

        I just fundamentally disagree with this outlook. I’m not talking about someone who is having ‘one-of those bad days’ & loses their cool or is not as patient as they should be on one particular day or one particular part of a lesson. That is being human & I think we all need to give ourselves lots of wiggle room to fail & make mistakes.

        I’m talking about what seems to idolized in some sports circles: ‘oh s/he was SO tough & many times I was close to tears but I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Mr/Ms Jerk Coach! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’


        A coach who consistently pokes your underbelly or makes you suck in your gut or clench your teeth is, in my opinion, not a situation where you should be looking for the kernel of wisdom. It’s a situation where you should head for the nearest door.

        There ARE ways of critiquing & bringing out the best in someone without all that pain. Change does not have to be painful. It can be joyous.

        It goes back to what I said originally: why is it ok to punish the person when they make a mistake in a learning situation? Don’t we have better tools in our teaching toolbox?

      • Katie T. says:
        Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:09pm

        @hornblower – What are you hoping to accomplish when you visit a trainer, doctor, therapist, someone who knows more and you are seeking advice from?

        Having taught agility since 2001 and having recently attended a Say Yes! camp and asked “why are you here, I thought you only did XYZ” from a fellow participant… I can say that yes, those who want it the most WILL seek out the people who can GIVE them the most.

        I am a tough instructor. I have worked with a lot of dogs who are brilliant and too many handlers and trainers who are stubborn. I have had students come to classes who are very needy and want constant positive feedback yet melt at the slightest negative comment. Why is that?

        I like Susan a lot. I respect her, I admire her and I really like her. I think I like her the most because she’s not going to tell you what you want to hear, she’s going to tell you what you NEED to hear. If you are a student who only hears what you want to hear, and will only hear it a certain way…. are you really listening?

    • hornblower says:
      Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 6:32pm

      Katie T – when I consult a professional for anything, I expect to be given information and advice in a helpful, courteous manner. That’s really it.

      I have been taught by many (spent 6 years at two different universities), then retrained in a completely different profession, took up several difficult sports as an adult – each & every time I expect to be treated with dignity and respect and as an active participant in the learning process.

      I’ve also been the teacher – I’ve taught at college & I teach my own kids: this is my 12th year of homeschooling.

      I also write fiction & putting your work out to a critique group & later on to editors & agents is something that takes cojones. I’m not a shrinking violet 🙂

      Look – we’ve all met the student who is not open to learning at all, & who does just keep on doing the same thing & you have to wonder why the heck they bother attending the class or seminar or whatever. I think this can be frustrating for the instructor; but the teacher’s job remains to engage with the student & to use all the positive methods at their disposal to bring out the best in the student.

      Fundamentally, it’s not just about whether a certain method brings results – the method itself has to be ethical & grounded in good theory.

      At the end, in situations like dog training, the reality is that the consumer walks. There are people with whom I will not work because every second word out of their mouth is “NO, not like that!” I wouldn’t tolerate that for my dog. Why would I accept that for me?


  29. Sophie says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 1:15pm

    I also think that this is a case that losing a stirrup is a likely event during competition. One has to learn to complete the program in spite of that.
    So if something ‘bad’ happens and one wants to be competitive, you need a lesson in how to get over that and keep on finishing the program. Tough, but high end is never easy.
    The people who do better towards their goal if they learn to troubleshoot set backs during an event. No excuses.
    Not enough horse riding experience to say I could do a jump without the stirrups…


  30. Karen M says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 5:34am

    Can so relate to point 2.

    “Train, don’t complain”, “your dog is a reflection of your ability as a trainer (or similar words)”, “embrace your holes” etc etc.

    Sound familiar?

    So grateful for your and Greg D’s influences on our training methods over the years.


  31. Trudie says:
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 5:03am

    Thanks for this post.
    Last Sunday,I did a crappy rear cross. I also did 1 non-existent and 1 crappy RFPivots. And to think, I was pleased to have tried the last one at all! Your three points apply to me, with the words “judge” in place of “coach”.
    One hears many comments afterward words to the effect of “I don’t like the courses that judge sets”

    I am pleased to report that here in the back country of southern France, Crate Games are entering upon the scene…


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