What Makes a Top Instructor

Lendon Gray and Gerhard Politz tell us what makes a top dressage instructor.
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Lendon Gray and Gerhard Politz tell us what makes a top dressage instructor.

Lendon Gray

1. Flexibility is the quality that makes you successful as an instructor. It's the willingness to try things differently.
2. I think goals are a basic necessity for both dressage students and instructors, but there must be a constant willingness to adjust them.
3. As an instructor, you've got to present to your students a sense of confidence and a sense of humor. I know when I teach, humor helps my students get through the difficult times and not take themselves too seriously.
4. Technical skill and knowledge of the system are all-important. I've found one of the best ways to develop your knowledge and make you aware of what you know and don't know is to teach. I don't think you really know something until you can put it into words.
5. To be effective, a good teacher has to be a psychologist. We all have different ways of learning. It's been proven that some riders learn by visualizing and some by verbalizing, and riding instructors often don't know enough about that.
6. My approach doesn't work with everyone. We can't be everything to our students. I've sent people to sport psychologists or posture experts or T'ai Chi experts.
7. We need to understand that without [the horse's] incredible generosity and willingness to put up with us, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing. Fairness to the horse goes without saying.
8. Teachers have a great influence over their students, and it's a humongous responsibility. You gain a lot from your celebrity, and part of what you must give back is being a role model.

Gerhard Politz
1. Making the correct assessment of his students is crucial to the instructor's success. The instructor must be able to pick one or two things in a lesson situation that will enable the student to improve and then build up from there.
2. Instructors often want to train the horse and are inclined to forget to train the rider. As a result, many riders sit in contorted, stiff, inelastic, unbalanced positions with their hands and legs in the wrong place and wonder why they aren't effective.
3. Praising at the right moment creates thinking students. In a lesson situation, don't let the rider go away without his moment of success--even if it's only a small thing.
4. Always keep safety foremost in mind.

This article originally appeared in the November 2000 issue of Dressage Today magazine.