The Right Instructor

PARTNERSHIP: The writer riding her Lusitano gelding, Astyages Interagro, with instructor Patricia Norcia. Photo courtesy of Donna Dunn

A good one can have a profound influence on a rider’s education

Reprinted from the December 2016/January 2017 Issue of USDF Connection

By Donna Dunn                                                                                                     

It’s been said that you don’t know teamwork until your partner is a 1,200-pound free spirit. An integral part of that team is the instructor, and finding the right one is key to success.

I have been riding on and off since the age of 10, taking a hiatus while raising my family and reentering the equestrian world as a timid 40-yearold. Thanks to some talented school horses and the guidance of some wonderful instructors who reintroduced me to riding, my confidence returned. I progressed from the occasional pleasure rider to the passionate, partially obsessed dressage rider I am today.

Throughout my training, I have had to constantly evaluate my progress and expectations. Did I feel challenged in my lessons? Was I ready for new challenges and goals? Was my instructor giving me both constructive and supportive feedback? Did I have the time and effort to dedicate to dressage while trying to balance life’s other responsibilities?

These questions and my answers guided me to find my instructor of the past three years. Her passion, knowledge, and thoughtful approach to dressage have inspired me.

A talent that I admire is her ability to communicate—to ensure that I understand not just what I am doing but why. Several times, she’s had me stand off the horse or kneel on the ground, performing lateral movements myself, breaking them down so that I could better understand how the horse moves. She also focuses on suppleness and how a lack of suppleness in either horse or rider can impede a movement.

 My instructor has taught me the importance of fitness, both physical and mental. Yoga and Pilates have become an integral part of my training, and practicing mindful meditation has helped sharpen my mental focus.

My trainer encourages her students to read to expand our knowledge and to become familiar with the great masters and with methods of classical training. My equestrian library has tripled since I began riding with my instructor.

Like many other confident instructors, my trainer encourages her students to ride with various clinicians. Last year she traveled with three other students and me to Spain for intensive instruction at Epona Equestrian Center. Two of the days, we rode with Rafael Soto, a member of the silver medal- winning Spanish team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. To say it was a trip of a lifetime is an understatement.

 Most important, the right instructor is someone you can trust to give honest feedback.

With my trainer’s help, my Lusitano, “Asty,” and I have developed a true partnership that continues to progress as we work together and reach new goals.

I hope my journey will benefit you in as much as it has helped me in finding the right instructor. With her guidance, I have grown and succeeded personally. She has helped me to acquire the skills I needed to become a better student, rider, and teammate.

Donna Dunn, of Old Saybrook, CT, is a stay-at-home mom of three. She trains and competes in dressage with her Lusitano, Astyages Interagro. She is thankful for the continuous support of her husband, kids, and parents to pursue her dressage dreams.

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