I first met Devin when we were working at our local community college. We were both on a college wide committee that focused on student success. The goal of the committee was to look at all aspects of the student experience to find ways to identify the best practices for student success and improve our usage and delivery of those known success principles. As I watch Devin working with Summer Snow (Rainier), I see her applying the best practices of learning to his training program and him thriving under her plan for success.
In our culture, we tend to romanticize failure. Everyone has heard a story of someone overcoming great odds to learn or reach a goal. While demonstrating the ability to stick to something and see it to the “end” and ultimately gaining success can be seen as a positive attribute, it could also be looked at as an ineffective/inefficient learning plan. In the book Swith, Dan and Chip Heath coin the term “bright spots“. Their theory is that in times of change you need to look for the early glimmers that something is going right, and when you find a “bright spot” you focus your attention there. Develop skills from the point of what is going well. Acknowledging weaknesses is important, but too many times we focus on filling the holes rather than strengthening what is already good. In school, we focus on the F a student got in Math and not the A the student got in English. We jump into remediate the F and overlook rewarding the A. Looking back over my pictures and our posts, it jumps out at me how Devin has worked with Rainier from the perspective of his “bright spots”. Coming off the track so recently, it was clear he would have “holes” in the skills he would need moving forward, but Devin started his training program based on the “bight spot” skills he came with. She started building his A skills even stronger and letting him learn to apply them in new areas. It’s easy to rave about what a great horse he is and how much he has learned, because he has been set up for success from the beginning. Every lesson ends with success and builds his skills a bit more each time, but Devin is careful not to increase the difficulty of the task too quickly. It could be tempting to want to push Rainier’s skill development even faster because he seems to thrive and learn easily based on his willing nature. Devin’s experience with OTTB’s has lead her to design a training program that acknowledges the previous knowledge they bring with them and develop the skills they need to learn at a pace that is challenging, but not overwhelming.
Last Weds., Rainier had his first experience schooling on a cross country course away from his home base. Before they ever left home, Devin has a “lesson plan” in mind for the day for Rainier. She would be teaching 2 groups of students and horses that day and Rainier would be in the second group. This meant that he would need to stay back in the stalls by the trailers while the first group went out on course. Devin arranged for a friend to bring a youngster that needed some travel experience over along with the horse that would be schooling, and it was a win-win for everyone. The youngster stayed back in the stalls with Rainier for company, and Rainier, being experienced at waiting in stalls, calmly did his thing. Both horses were happy, and Rainier got to pass his knowledge along in the process.
When it was time for Rainier to go to the course, he walked over with 2 other horses. Looking back through the posts, Devin has used “modeling” as a technique to help maximize Rainier’s learning. She uses other horses to support Rainier and grow his courage as well as demonstrate what he needs to do next. When he went on his first trail ride, another horse who was skilled in what they were about to do accompanied them. The result, success for Rainier and a good experience under his training belt. The first time Devin schooled Rainier on her own cross country course, Foose, a barn buddy was there to show Rainier around the course and lead him over his first logs. Again, modeling facilitated Rainier’s success and fostered his courage. Each step of the way, Devin has worked from Rainier’s “bright spots”. Success builds trust and from there it is possible to add complexity to the tasks.
Great coaches have a plan. It’s easy to forget the hours they spend planning behind the results we see. We know football coaches spend hours watching game films and creating drills to practice skills and then pull those skills together to help the athletes learn the plays needed to seem effortless when we, the spectators, watch. The same is true for Rainier. Devin has a “game plan” in mind for him. She is teaching him the skills he will need to execute the plan and helping him put the information together for us, the spectators, to see. He is thriving under the tutelage of Devin’s training program, and it is awesome to see the plan unfold. I can’t wait to see what’s next on the lesson plan.