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Choosing The Right Training Path - 'Which Route Will Take You Where You're Going?'

“What road do I take?” asked Alice?
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know”, Alice answered.
“Then”, said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


I’ll admit, as a kid, Alice in Wonderland wasn’t my book. It just didn’t resonate with me, I was much more a Winnie the Pooh girl… But, during this insane COVID lockdown, I’ve just read it again. And, as an adult it was a revelation – so much sense. And this is one of my favorite quotes.

Your chosen path is something that I talk about to my clients a huge amount. If you “just” want to hack, don’t let people pressure you into competing. If you love doing flatwork, why be bullied to jump? Follow your path, not someone else’s. But here, I’m looking at another aspect of that.

Let’s say that at your yard, you have your regular instructor and two visiting coaches, one of which is me. All good. 

Your regular instructor says things like…

“Your horse must wear the flash noseband, because sometimes he opens his mouth.”

“Use more leg, come on, kick, kick, more leg”

“Sit up straight and drive him forward into a more holding contact”


The other visiting instructor says stuff like…

“I won’t teach you unless your horse is wearing draw reins, I don’t have time to wait for you to get his head down”

“He’s not forward, here, put my spurs on”

Make him rounder, you have to show him who is boss”

“If you want to compete at higher levels, you’re going to have to toughen up. Stop being a wussie.”


And then I come along…

“Take all those gadgets off. Your horse needs to be able to move his mouth to work correctly”

“More leg isn’t going to help you – take your leg off and ask for more response from less leg – how is he going to learn to be light and responsive if you keep kicking?”

“If we help you to be straight and better balanced, he will automatically be straighter and better balanced, because you are an easier load to carry.”


And by now, you are totally, utterly confused. Three opinions, three very different versions. And, three people who are all convinced that their way is the right way. What do you do? Ride in three different ways, depending on who is watching? The one thing that I can promise you is that you’ll end up with a very confused horse. You, and only YOU have to make a choice – where do you want to go? What’s your end goal? And what path appeals to you, morally, ethically?

If you're going through the jungle, you have to choose your path...

Do you like and respect your horse as an equal partner in this learning game? Do you want to learn feel and empathy? In that case, how does using draw reins, bigger spurs and a stronger bit make you feel? I know, for me, it made me feel lousy when I had a couple of clinics like this. I clearly remember one clinic I had booked. I had pre-paid for three lessons with a fancy Olympic rider. I had one. And I never went back. My horse is more important than the lost money of two missed lessons.

Do you have great aspirations to get to the Olympics and are in a hurry for faster results? And find all the minute little adjustments to you body and position boring and mind numbing? Then you’ll prefer the first clinician because he’ll treat your horse as sport equipment and just get results quickly. You’ll find my lessons dull and slow.

Does long lining and groundwork appeal to the way that you want to work?

Clinician one may well tell you that my method is totally wrong. I’ll tell you that for me, his method is jarring, grating and puts my hackles up.

And your regular instructor? Well, she’s taking you down the middle path. For some people this combination can work – she and I work together, me putting on less pressure. She and the other clinician can work together. But three of us? Generally, there is too much conflict for you and your four legged dancing partner.

But do you know who ultimately makes the right choice? You. Which path do you want to be on? What gels with who you are and what your goal is, and what doesn’t? You’ll only hear who you want to, who connects with what you do.

My way of teaching, with lots of explaining, resonates with some people but not all. You make your choices about how you learn best.

The end goal is a light, easy, athletic, responsive horse, who is a pleasure to be around, handle and ride. But, there are many, many paths to get there.

Some of my time during this lockdown has been on writing courses, developing ideas and gaining clarity, in what I do and how I can and want to teach it. You may well be coming out of lockdown now, or maybe not quite, but as you go back to your horse and start again, maybe you can think clearly about where you want to go. A lot of us are coming out of it thinking, I want and need to make changes in the way I do things. Once you know where you are going, then it’s a bit easier to make sure that the chosen path is going to take you there…. You won’t get from Cape Town to London by heading towards Australia!

Ashleigh Sanderson
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 27-05-2020
Ashleigh Sanderson is a riding coach who travels internationally full time. Part coach, part nomad, part thrill-seeker, Ashleigh is always looking for new ways to explain the principles of ethical, logical and horse-friendly riding and horse care. Her website name, www.kudaguru.com, comes from the Malay and Indonesian languages and so reflects the amount of time she spends in Asia. Kuda meaning horse, and guru meaning teacher. Although initially this was a nickname given by the local staff, she has turned the meaning around a little, thinking of it as, “Your horse is your teacher, I just translate”.