How to Supplement Preparation for Instructor Certification with Video Practice

A huge thank you to today’s guest blogger Karen M. Brittle of HorsesTeach! You all are in for a treat :)

How to Supplement Preparation for Instructor Certification with Video Practice

Karen M. Brittle

In Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else*, author Geoff Colvin explores the idea that practice – not raw talent – determines much of one’s success at any given task. Using examples of world class performers (think Tiger Woods and Mozart), Colvin argues that many perceived as geniuses in their field have had an exceptional amount of what he terms “deliberate practice” and that this practice is what makes the difference in performance. Colvin defines deliberate practice as “… [Practice] designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help.” Colvin identifies the following characteristics of deliberate practice: “it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally…” (66).

While I was preparing for PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor Certification, I implemented some of Colvin’s strategies and began practicing riding instruction using on-line videos. The demanding (and worthwhile!) process of preparing for Advanced Certification requires therapeutic riding instructors to teach progressive, independent riding skills including leg yield, simple changes of lead, trotting without stirrups, and extended walk, trot and canter. Though I had some opportunities to teach these skills to advanced therapeutic riding and able-bodied** students, I needed much more practice teaching these advanced skills than I could incorporate within my regular teaching life. I wanted to find a way to maximize the opportunities I did have to work with advanced students, making sure my teaching would steadily improve along with their riding.

After reading Colvin’s book, I realized I could find ways to focus my study/ practice away from the riding arena, without actual horses or riding students! For me, “virtually” practicing task analysis of riding skills by using video was helpful and I think it could be for others pursuing Registered or Advanced  PATH Intl. Certifications. Though I want to be clear that NO amount of studying/ virtual practice can replace actual arena time in terms of developing safe, effective therapeutic riding instructors, video practice is one way to improve one’s performance as a riding instructor. Video practice can help instructors gain confidence with task analysis, develop an eye for position and use of aids and even practice one’s “instructor voice.” It allowed me to prepare myself better for my actual arena time and I found myself achieving my advanced lesson plans more effectively when I honed my ability with task analysis of advanced skills during virtual practice.

Here’s how I used video studying/ practice to support my preparation for PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor Certification:

  1. Find a quiet, private place to practice where you have high-speed internet connection. (Trust me, once you start talking to your laptop in your instructor voice, you will not want to be seated in your neighborhood Starbuck’s!)
  2. Identify a riding skill for which you would like to improve your understanding of task analysis and teaching technique. For this example, let’s choose leg yield at the trot.
  3. Find a trusted/ recommended print or on-line source and review the task analysis for this riding skill. I like to reference US Pony Club Manuals or Cherry Hill’s 101 Arena Exercises, both of which are clear, accurate, reputable sources. Both are also on the PATH Intl.’s Recommended Reading Lists for Registered and Advanced Instructors in Training. (So, if you are playing along – please review Cherry Hill’s task analysis for leg yield at the trot now – page 101 of the current edition!)
  4. Next, find an on-line video where a rider demonstrates this skill. For example, in this clip, international dressage competitor and clinician Jane Savoie explains the leg yield at the trot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HcA5bw2Pqs  Watch the video a time or two, until you feel you understand the task at hand. Listen carefully for the task analysis (what, how, why) and review the aids for the movement, which Savoie so succinctly explains. (Again, be sure to identify and work from an established, reputable source. Many equestrians post casual videos claiming to demonstrate a movement or skill, but then it’s actually being done incorrectly.)
  5. OK, now is the fun part! Turn your computer’s volume setting to “OFF” and play the video again. Stand up and face the computer. This time, you teach the skill! Yes, that’s right, teach the skill out loud, to the demo rider, in your instructor voice, as you watch from the comfort of your own home. I admit, it feels a little silly the first few times and it is also difficult: riding happens just as fast on video as it does in a real arena! However, this exercise forces you to internalize the task analysis and then produce the words, out loud and in a big voice as the video progresses. Thankfully, you can pause, rewind, try again and repeat as often as necessary! (Don’t feel bad if it takes many tries to get it – remember one of Colvin’s principles of deliberate practice: can be repeated often.)
  6. Watch the video again with sound and/ or return to your printed source materials to review the task analysis one more time. Compare your own “performance” with that of the person coaching in the video. Doing so will help cement the task analysis in your mind and help you reflect on any components you may have missed when teaching the skill yourself.
  7. Once you’ve practiced several times with a professional’s video like Ms. Savoie’s, it can be fun to find an amateur video where the riding might not be as “perfect.” Then, you can turn off the volume on your computer and coach the rider (who you will never meet) in how to improve their performance of the skill! Try it! Search “leg yield video” and analyze/ instruct whatever rider you find.
  8. Finally, if at all possible, teach this skill to actual students in your actual therapeutic riding arena! The preparation with video should help you to be effective with your riders, even as you modify to accommodate for level of riding, special needs, diverse horses and volunteer support. Ideally, a colleague or more experienced instructor can give you feedback on your “real” teaching, but you will hopefully benefit more from their feedback because of having prepared virtually.

Note that this exercise really implements many of your “learning senses” (watching the video, listening to the instruction, reading the task analysis, speaking the instructions out loud, standing to teach the skill).  You can apply this video practice to any riding skill from “how to steer a horse” to “how to piaffe” (a riding skill which is thankfully not listed among the Instructor Criteria!). Utilize this strategy to work through the skills in your Instructor Criteria, which should help you to internalize the task analysis and progression from skill to skill. I found it not only helped my teaching but also my own riding, as I was deepening my understanding of the aids and of skill progression by studying this way. I hope other Instructors/ Instructors in Training find this idea helpful!

*Colvin, Geoff. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. NY: Portfolio, 2008.

**Able-bodied is the most commonly used and accepted industry term to designate individuals who have not been diagnosed with physical or cognitive disabilities, so I chose to use it here.

Karen M. Brittle is a PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor, Mentor Instructor and Apprentice Evaluator who teaches equestrians with and without special needs at Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding, Johns Island, South Carolina. She is also a writer and blogs at http://horsesteach.blogspot.com/

What’s something helpful you did to prepare for the instructor certification?

I would love to have more guest bloggers! If you’re interested please contact me!

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Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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