Unexpected Similarities: Horseback Riding & Teaching

So, those who know me know that I love horses.  LOVE. LOVE. LOVE them.  I co-own a horse with my friend and colleague, Judy, and spend as much time at the barn as I possibly can without causing a divorce. 🙂  In the last three years since I’ve started riding again (I rode for about 6 years when I was in middle/high school), I have been amazed at the similarities in riding and teaching.

Interestingly, riding a 1200 pound animal is strikingly similar to teaching a class full of 17 year-olds.  After all, both require patience, purpose, trust, and humor.

Patience–  When you get on a horse, whether it be to compete or go on a trail ride, you have to have patience.  Like people, horses have moods, personalities, and “off” days.  So, sometimes you head to the barn, tack up your horse and head out to the trail and what do you know, he won’t cross the creek that he crosses every other time we go riding.  Every other time.  Seriously.  It takes a ridiculous amount of patience to work through whatever issue he’s having that day (he smells pigs? it’s muddy? the water is cloudy? Doesn’t matter). Then, when we finally make it across the creek (this could take up to 30 minutes), we head into the woods and it doesn’t get much better. Every shiny object or shadow or newly fallen limb spooks him, but I patiently try to keep him calm and steer him to our destination.  You get the picture and I think anyone who teaches at any level can understand how important patience is.  Sometimes class doesn’t go as you expected, right?  You have this awesome lesson plan and you’re so excited, and then the kids come in whining about it or it just falls flat for whatever reason.  Your patience allows you to handle the situation with grace and humility.  The kids know which of their teachers have patience because they’ve been trying it all year, but once they know you can’t be swayed, you’ve got them.  Yess!  Same with Copper: once he realizes I’m going to force him to get over it, I’ve got him too!

Purpose– Horses want to have a purpose.  Some, more than others.  For example, Judy’s horse Jumper doesn’t really want to do anything unless he knows what the purpose is.  Back up?  Why?  Am I in danger? Am I in the way? Or are you just trying to make me back up for the heck of it?  The answer to those questions determines his response.  Just today we talked about how it’s like our students.  Without purpose, they don’t see the value in doing whatever it is we ask/tell them to do.  Same for teachers. Sometimes we’re told to do something or turn something in, but we never get any feedback or response, so we don’t really see a purpose.  I stress this a lot with reading.  If you give kids a reading assignment (I think this every year about summer reading), they need to know WHY.  Just telling them it’s a good book means nothing.  Tell them what they’re going to have to do with it so they know what to look for and how to approach it.

Trust– Wow, the bond between a human and horse is extremely important.  Since buying Copper almost a year ago, Judy and I have worked hard to build Copper’s trust with us.  We’ve been following clinicians like Pat Parelli and Clinton Anderson to improve our relationship on the ground and it makes a huge difference in the saddle.  Recently, Copper got his leg stuck in a vine and he (and I) handled the rather scary situation extremely calmly.  A lot of horses would freak out because they don’t like to feel trapped, but Copper stayed calm and trusted me to get him out of the situation.  I attribute that to the trust we have built together doing groundwork.  Likewise, I have built rapport with my students and they trust me.  Because of this trust, they trudge less wearily into some of the more difficult tasks I ask them to do and they trust that I’ll help them through it.  We have a community of trust in the classroom so students feel more comfortable and willing to share.  Without trust, we’d have a pretty rough year.

Humor– Humor is my go to for virtually every situation.  At the barn, I have to laugh off a lot of the situations we get in.  When Copper races to the imaginary finish line and I can’t really stop him, I just laugh (and cringe, but mostly laugh).  When he repeatedly turns around so he can take his secret path through the tall grass, I have to laugh at his desire to take the road less traveled.  In my classroom, humor is imperative.  It gets me through every day.  My students catch on to my humor (sometimes sarcasm) quickly.  They appreciate my humorous approach to things; I’m laid back and keep things light-hearted. Humor has gotten me and my classes through many awkward discussions, books, plays (Streetcar Named Desire anyone??).  Being able to laugh about things makes everything much more tolerable.

So, as I trade in my riding boots for my heels (and then into my flats by the time 1st period is over) to begin school tomorrow I have to remember to keep these four things in mind.  I’m looking forward to this new year, but, as usual, nervous as I embark on teaching a new class and gaining 100 new students.  Whew.

Wish me luck!  🙂

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