Happiness is like balance – it’s not something you can teach because it’s a result of what you’ve already taught.
If you’ve ever wondered what motivates us to connect so closely with our horses, and what drives this life-long equestrian passion, you could cheerfully assume it’s the Happiness Factor.
You won’t have heard of this before. It’s a brand new idea in our teaching. Nonetheless, the Happiness Factor accounts for why we teach, how we teach, and why we’re still teaching long after most folk have hung up their riding boots.
So what exactly is your Happiness Factor?
Whether you realise it or not, your Happiness Factor colours all your interactions with both riders and horses. It’s the Happiness Factor which keeps us engaged with our training long enough to get good enough to teach anybody else. So let’s take a close look at your Happiness Factor, and if you find it’s a bit lack-lustre, here are some ideas as to how you can restore its shine.
10 ways to improve your Happiness Factor
How about you jot down your own answers to the ten carefully-crafted ‘red’ questions below. This will help you recognise the different elements of your Happiness Factor. Then you can decide whether you need to improve matters.
1. Are you getting the results you set out to achieve in your lessons?
Few things more clearly determine the success of your teaching, than the results which your lessons deliver. These results come in all shapes and sizes, and while most are undoubtedly for the benefit of horse and rider, they should also deliver real-life benefits to you. These can include the satisfaction of teaching a particular skill successfully, sharing an “Ah-ha’ moment with either horse or rider, or enjoying the exhilaration of a task successfully achieved for the first time.
Try writing your own account of how a successful lesson contributes to your Happiness Factor.
If you find yourself feeling a bit disappointed by your efforts, then it’s probably time to upskill your technical capabilities. This will increase your capacity to address your riders’ problems more effectively. Meantime, list three topics which you’d like to learn more about, (e.g. teaching nervous riders) and outline how, when, and where you’ll address them.
You might start by looking online, reading some resources, or engaging in a blog. Then there are Learning Circles, or Communities of Practice and if you can’t find one of these you can always start one!
2. Do you enjoy creating an entertaining and enjoyable learning experience for your riders?
Since teaching is a highly creative activity which demands your continuous input of energy and imagination, it’s not surprising if you occasionally run out of steam. However, if this is happening on a regular basis, it time for you to go and watch other teachers at work, or perhaps meet up with a colleague for a coffee and chat, to pick their brains for some fresh ideas, new lesson formats, or useful teaching resources.
Name someone you’ll ring about this – maybe shout them lunch!.
3. Do you feel satisfied that you’ve done your best by the end of a lesson?
Job satisfaction is important for all of us. It’s great to give a really good lesson, but not a good feeling when your best is not enough to satisfy either yourself or your client. Perhaps you’re left feeling overfaced or underutilised…? Well, this is where it’s important to honour your limitations and/or celebrate your experience and to remind yourself that no-one can be all things to all people. It’s helpful in this situation to work with riders whose interests and ambitions align with your own, because there are many very different riding activities, and no reason why you should be interested in all of them.
Write down your principle interests and activities, and the standard at which you most enjoy teaching them. How can you improve or extend your teaching delivery?
4. Do your lesson fees contribute to your Happiness Factor?
Now here’s a sticky topic! We know that riding lessons are expensive, but lessons are essential for riders to learn how to stay safe and be effective around horses. This takes skilled instruction, so you are quite justified in feeling you need to be reasonably rewarded for your efforts. After all, your skills have no doubt been many years in the making. But do you now feel you’re being adequately rewarded?
If you’re not happy, consider whether you could still create happy riders if you gave slightly shorter lessons, or perhaps sold blocks of lessons on specific subjects to improve the continuity of your work.
Maybe you could start a series of online group lessons which are cheap and fun to run, and which can fill in some of the topics riders inevitably need to know about in their lessons… there are many ways to share your teaching skills.
5. Are you interested and easily engaged by the problems and challenges of your riders?
This question goes straight to the matter of who you choose to teach. Most teachers take allcomers, often across a wide range of disciplines and interests. But have you considered providing better resources to a more discipline-specific clientele that better matches your own interests? This could mean a more enjoyable teaching life, which would increase your Happiness Factor considerably.
Write a profile of your ideal client, and list three ways of contacting them and four ways you could engage with their interests.
6. Do you look forward to giving your next lesson?
If you can’t wait to get your teaching day into gear, then clearly your motivation is in very good shape. However, if you feel slightly relieved when a client cancels their lesson, then it’s probably time to take a holiday(3). Burnout is not compatible with your Happiness Factor.
Take a break – and don’t worry – it’s an absolute sure bet that the phone will be ringing again as you walk back through the door!
7. Do you feel resentful when lessons intrude into your own riding time?
Now, this strikes right at the heart of our teaching life. Like many teachers, you probably teach to fund your own riding – at least in part. But we very often run out of time to do just that, as lessons take up more and more of our day. Then it’s time to remind yourself that your own riding time is an important contributor to your Happiness Factor.
Maybe you could reschedule that lunchtime lesson for later in the day? Could someone else tack up your horse or walk him down after your workout …? Better still, can you create a waiting list for your clients, and build your teaching time around your very precious, hard earned, riding time? How can you make this happen? Today!
8. Do you dislike having to work in unpleasant weather conditions?
Even if, long ago, you decided that freezing feet or scorching sun on your back just comes with the job, it’s guaranteed that it doesn’t add to your Happiness Factor. Meantime, spare a thought for the rider struggling to hear you as the wind picks up, as their horse gets skittish because he just hates turning in to the rain!
Sketch out a new Plan B for your next bad-weather lesson. Online, perhaps? What about a critique on YouTube – there are heaps of videos to choose from and fun to be had at every level of competence.
9. Do you have a mentor or colleague with whom you can talk over your teaching problems?
In our competitive sporting culture it’s easy to sometimes feel isolated or unsupported. Absolutely every teacher, trainer, coach, or instructor needs a mentor (2). You can approach anyone whose skills and experience you respect (not necessarily in the equestrian world). Just ask them whether they’d mind you calling them occasionally to talk over how to manage a wayward teenager or a difficult horse…or parent. This will be enough to kick start an informal mentoring process.
Who do you know, who would you like to know, or who could you get to know better? Almost without exception, experienced teachers are delighted to help others who are finding their new teaching shoes a bit of a tight fit. And many other very competent people will be pleased to contribute to your Happiness Factor as your mentor.
10. Do you feel satisfied that you are spending your time in a productive and rewarding way?
Reflecting on what first drew you to work with horses, focus for a moment on your riding interests and goals. If you rather wish you were doing something else with your time, then it might be a good idea to look at your skillset(s) to explore other options. You might even re-train for a new career, but not before you’ve set about improving your equestrian Happiness Factor, because you’ll be back. That’s the way it works when it comes to horses!
You can’t light up anyone else’s life – whether they have two legs or four – if you don’t come from a happy place yourself. That’s how important the Happiness Factor is to your teaching life. It’s part of your self-care, but it’s also part of your responsibility to your riders and their horses. They come together for purposes which, hopefully, contribute hugely not only to their learning, but also to their enjoyment of life. Sorting out their Happiness Factors is, however, a conversation for another day.
If you’re really not sure about how to manage your own Happiness Factor, there’s a large amount of research out there to convince you it’s a good idea and to tell you how to do it. But you won’t need (1) that, because by the time you’ve worked through these ten questions one more time, you’ll already be well on the way to happy living, happy riding – and happy teaching!
- The Happiness Advantage: Seven Principles for Success & Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor
- Everyone needs a Mentor, David Clutterbuck.
- The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less, by Richard Koch
- Practical Sports Coaching, Cristine Nash.