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Riding Lessons for Artists (Horse picture © Judy Wood)
Judy Wood : Riding Lessons for Artists – Part 5: How Do We Learn?

Riding Lessons for Artists

Part 5: How do we learn, and from whom?

By Judy Wood

Carrying on from the last segment where we dealt with "the basics" and how necessary they are in order for us to achieve our desired results (whatever they may be), we need to spend some time thinking about exactly how we can acquire our knowledge of the basics.

Generally speaking, I am all for education and learning. Most art media and techniques, and most methods of riding and dealing with horses, have been around for a very long time, and none of us has to re-invent the wheel by trying to figure everything out all by ourselves. However, if we put ourselves in the way of bad instruction or faulty information (sadly, quite possible despite our best efforts) we can set ourselves up for a lot of heartache and the potential for things to go sideways on us.

By definition, beginners in any endeavor don't know much if anything about what they are setting out to learn. That's why they are beginners. Unfortunately, this also means that they generally don't have enough knowledge to assess their instructors and to know if they are doing a good job. This is kind of a Catch-22 situation (one of my favourite new sayings is "experience is something you usually acquire about 5 minutes after you needed it") but at the very least the beginner can ask around to learn the reputation of their potential instructor, what their teaching methods are, how they handle themselves and their students, and get a feel for what they are getting into.

Not everyone that teaches is a good teacher or should be teaching, and not every teaching style works for every student. If you can take a bit of time to observe the situation you are signing on for, you will have a much better shot at working with an instructor that will be compatible with you and your style of learning. Asking if you can watch an art class in progress, or a group riding lesson with a particular instructor, can tell you a lot about how *you* will be able to work within their system, where they are coming from with their methods, and whether their teaching and "people skills" are ones from which you will be able to learn successfully.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose, of course. Sometimes there is *an* instructor in your area, and they are the only game in town. When that is the case, you need to decide for yourself if you will benefit from working with them. Sometimes we are surprised that an instructor who we could "never" work with turns out to be very effective for us once we have adapted to and understood their system, but by the same token, sometimes it's just not good for you to be in that system and you need to be willing to look out for yourself (and your horse, if it's a riding situation) and be prepared to move on.

This can take a lot of courage to do, but in the long run can be the best move if you are in a less than ideal situation. I've known a lot of riders and artists who stuck with a bad or inappropriate instructor when they should have removed themselves from their situation. Most of them are now ex-riders and former artists who carry around a fair amount of baggage from their art/riding lessons. I'm that way myself about painting as a medium, due to some rather bad experiences in my university days. Of course, those being credit classes that I was taking for my degree, I didn't have the luxury of being able to walk out (or the insight or maturity at the time to know that was what I needed to do) but that was decades ago and I'm still anxious about painting as a result of those experiences. Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm now a photographer.

I guess the summary of what I am saying here is that if you have access to good instructors who can help you in your quest for learning, you would be well advised to make use of them. A bad instructor could be worse/more dangerous than no instructor, but sometimes we don't find that out until it is too late (the "experience" quote again).

It certainly is *possible* to teach yourself the essence of what you are trying to learn. As I have mentioned before, for a variety of reasons this is less advisable with riding than it is with artwork. However, there are many excellent books that will discuss details of techniques, the hows and whys, the history (I'm a big believer in having an overview of any subject, knowing the background and the underpinnings), the theory, the philosophy, and the nuts and bolts of "how to." You don't need to rush out and buy a lot of books — if you live near a good public library there will usually be lots to choose from, or you can search online for tutorials and sites that feature information on materials and techniques.

Whether you are working with an instructor or on your own, these are all useful bits of information to acquire and to put into effect. I've known a lot of artists (usually the self-taught ones) who deliberately *don't* learn anything about art history or other contemporary artists in order not to be "influenced." In my estimation this attitude isn't a useful one and can be counter-productive. Why would knowing less about a subject be better than knowing more? Reminds me of what I've always thought of when I hear the phrase "He has a mind like a steel trap" — which to me immediately suggests that it snaps shut very quickly and is almost impossible to open. Not really how we want to approach learning. I'm not trying to belittle self-taught people here (I'm self-taught in photography and Photoshop), just the mindset that makes people fearful of new or additional knowledge.

Something I have observed over the years with instructors (both in art and in riding) is that the good ones are all on the same "page" when it comes to the content of what they are teaching (this goes back to "the basics" as discussed in the last article). They all have personal and individual ways of expressing themselves, and different life experiences that they are drawing from, but overall the message is very consistent. Riding instructors often demonstrate by using their own body to show how the horse should be moving. I always smile when I am somewhere that a lesson is happening and the instructor is doing this, since even if I can't hear a word they are saying, I can tell by what they are doing with their legs as they demo a particular move or maneuver, exactly what they are teaching. It's a comforting demonstration of consistency, both of message and of how instructors deliver it in this way. •

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© 2009 Judy Wood. All rights reserved.

Judy WoodJudy Wood is a Canadian art photographer whose images and writings are shaped by her prairie based lifestyle as an artist, photographer, writer and horse person. More »

5/26/09