I am the first candidate in the province of Alberta, Canada to achieve my Competition Coach Specialist Dressage accreditation. This certification is backed by Equine Canada, the Coaching Association of Canada and administered by the Alberta Equestrian Federation.
The process involves reaching or exceeding all 7 certification outcomes to be mastered. Some of these outcomes are theory based and others are evaluated in person by expert evaluators chosen by Equine Canada. I was evaluated by Dale Irwin and Maureen Walters, both hailing from British Columbia.
My evaluators observed my preparation of a Fourth Level student at the recent CA/ADA Mardi Gras gold show to ride her test. The warm up evaluation includes both the horse and rider. The goal of the warm-up is to achieve suppleness and harmony in both. Some riders need to be pushed in the warm up and some need to be kept calm. Horses need to be ready and in a mind set to listen to the rider’s aids without distraction in a new and sometimes scary environment. The competition coach‘s job is to bring all the training and expertise together to maximize the performance. The coach takes care of all the logistics, making sure the rider is kept free of pre-test distractions and can offer 100% attention on the task at hand. Keeping tabs on contingencies, hydration breaks, medications (asthma), timing of the warm-up and checking with the ring-steward for the order of go are all part of the pre-performance requirements. This is all part of outcome 6, “Supporting the Competitive Experience”.
Hopefully all the pre-test warm-up and training has led to a successful test. I was so very pleased with my student and her horse. This was her debut at Fourth Level and as one of the evaluators exclaimed, “She has launched”. That being said, even a less stellar test has its merits from a learning perspective. This leads to the coach being able to logically debrief the athlete and comment knowledgeably and complete Outcome 3 – Analyze Performance.
After the competition piece of my evaluation, we reconvened the same evening at the facility where I coach. The evaluators were to view Outcome 2 – Support Athletes in Training. I prepared and taught 4 different lessons to 4 horse/rider combinations on topics chosen from the Competition Coach Specialist Dressage protocol. One lesson involves correctly and safely teaching a student to improve the horse through lunging. The other lessons topics I chose were improving the half halt, exercises to improve the half-pass and riding 10m circles.
The evaluators asked me to switch my lesson focus in situ, to improve a rider’s equitation. A good coach can think on her feet, and the evaluators were asking me to show adaptive management. This happens in training lessons frequently. A coach may have a plan, but a horse and rider can enter into a training session with some issue that needs to be addressed before moving forward.
Planning for all training of horses and riders in my care are part of Outcomes 4 and 5, Designing and Managing an Equestrian Sports Program. All equine and human athletes are on a time line of progress. The riders are classified as to their LTED (Long Term Equestrian Development) level and the horses are progressing along the Scale of Training. Improvement in dressage is not linear, nor constant. Coaching identifies areas in both athletes that need remediation and develops exercises that benefits both. YTP (Year Training Plan) is a flexible model that accommodates strengths and weaknesses in athletes. It also includes augmented training, such as weight training, Pilates, yoga and other modalities to improve rider fitness. Horses are also on a competition program of enhanced equine health, including dental and veterinary care, massage, chiropractic adjustments, saddle fit and farriery. The YTP is a time line divided into phases in the competition year, with attention to rest and recovery cycles for both horse and rider. The YTP is part of the written work submitted to the evaluators before the practical examination.
I feel my tenure as a Physical Education Teacher and High School Coach helped me formulate successful year training plans for riders. As an athlete, I can appreciate the importance of planning for progress, and as an equestrian I know what it takes to bring a horse along in training. The end result is a harmonious relationship between horse and rider.