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2017 Barnett Continuing Education for Instructors Fund Recipient: Stephanie Field-Staner

As I sit here typing in the first few days of 2018, I am finally having an opportunity to reflect on 2017 and the great opportunities that were presented to me through the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program. I was blessed to be awarded a generous grant through The Dressage Foundation’s Maryal and Charlie Barnett Continuing Education Fund to help me pursue this endeavor of furthering my education and personal growth both as a trainer and instructor. I was fortunate enough to participate in three workshops that consisted of riding, teaching, and lunging. 

The first workshop was four days, back to back, which included both the riding and teaching sections.  These workshops were held in April at Winds Reach Farm in Iowa and were taught by Sarah Martin. The Riding Workshop was first. Each day started with a very in-depth discussion and lecture that covered everything from the importance of the training scale, to being able to correctly observe, analyze, plan, and implement what you want to work on with each horse. Using this assessment cycle when training the horse was a new concept for me, it really made me think through a plan for each riding session and develop a more clear and concise plan for each horse. Sarah had us focus on the “what, why, and how” approach. We had to determine what was happening with the horse, why it was happening, and how we could fix it. The focus had to be on what the core issue was, not just the symptoms, and we needed to be able to develop different exercises that would help these issues.

The Teaching Workshop was also taught by Sarah Martin and focused on a lot of the same principles that the Riding Workshop did but with more emphasis on what it means to be a good dressage instructor. Safety was first and foremost for both workshops and it was clear that our first priority was the safety of both the horses and our students. We were taught to look at what the rider wants versus what the rider truly needs, as these two things are many times not the same. As instructors, it was apparent that our use of correct terminology was very important and it was stressed that we be precise in both our instructions and explanations to our students. Sarah wanted us to have a specific lesson plan that focused on observing the warm-up while asking questions of the rider, analyzing what the strengths and weaknesses were, formulating a plan, implementing the plan, and then observing if the plan was successful. This format for a lesson was a challenge for me as it forced me to be more organized and specific as to what I wanted each rider to work on. I now find myself working harder to watch my students warming up and see what core issues are presenting themselves that day and construct my lesson plan based on those observations.  

The Lunging Workshop was held in August at Winds Reach Farm and was taught by Sarah Geikie. One of Sarah’s main points of focus was on safety. We talked at length about the proper use and fit of the equipment and handling of the horse. I did not have any prior experience with using a cavesson so it was a great experience for me to learn and understand the benefits of working with one and gaining a better “feel” on the lunge line. We focused our lunge sessions again on the training scale and how we can improve the horse. It was incredible to be able to see the changes that were happening in the horses with their obedience and suppleness. Lunging is something that I feel is overlooked in a lot of horses’ training programs. This workshop made it very clear that benefits can come from correct and proper lunging. The second phase of this workshop was lunging the rider. I found this section very rewarding because I enjoyed seeing the changes in riders’ positions and how it affected the horses. This workshop confirmed for me why I personally love lunge line lessons and feel that riders would benefit from more of this type of lesson. I learned that as an instructor, I need to be more focused on the fundamentals of position and not just the details, again focusing lessons on the core issues!          

Overall, the format of the workshops with riding, teaching, and lunging in front of our instructors, peers, and auditors while receiving constructive criticism was both challenging and rewarding. There were many laughs and tears throughout the whole experience but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The old saying that, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you,” was so true for me. I was pushed beyond my limits and definitely grew as both a rider and an instructor. This was a great experience and I am grateful to The Dressage Foundation for their support and the USDF for such an incredible program!!