Why and how did you get into teaching equine studies?
I’d built up a love for horses growing up around my aunt’s riding school. I opted to leave school at 15 and attend Hartpury University and College, Gloucester, where I took a level 3 extended diploma in equine management, followed by an equine science and management degree. I also had a job at an established yard that doubled as quite a large competition venue, where I interacted with 16-18s and university students. It was tough combining work and studies, but it was really worth it. After university, I worked 18 months as a freelance, grooming for international show jumpers, before returning home to Birmingham to set up a business with my sister training horses at a breaking-in yard.
If you’d asked me at college if I fancied teaching, I’d have said no. I’d been around teaching at my aunt’s riding school too much and it had put me off. But after working in the industry, grooming, working at college before, running a business, having my own kids, and also doing my own riding, I wanted something different - less hands-on and not outside in the cold all the time. The college job came up, and now I’m teaching. I continue to do dressage and compete when I can, though this year the virus has made it difficult.
What’s your main role?
I actually started teaching equine studies last February - when I began in September I was mainly teaching maths and English at foundation level - very rewarding in itself, particularly when students suddenly understood a concept.
I find equine teaching really satisfying. I can pass on my experience and knowledge to my learners when they say they want to become a professional rider. That’s what I wanted to do when I was younger - so I can tell them what they need and how to achieve it; it’s difficult so I can give them support and guide them along the paths they want to follow so they don’t feel they are wasting time or that whatever they’re doing is not worth it. That’s why I went into teaching.
My students are aged 16-18 with a couple of level 3s aged 19-20. Many of our level 2s this year will arrive knowing they want to work with horses but are not sure exactly what they want to do. I’m slowly finding out! Four are aiming for university, two of them focusing on veterinary nursing, while another student wants to go on to do horse physiotherapy.
What’s a typical day?
I arrive at college just after 8am to print up all the materials I need, sort out worksheets and set up PowerPoint presentations. My actual teaching hours are 09.00-16.30 - I try to leave at 16.30 and am still doing much of my preparation and planning at home. Teaching comprises two 90-minute theory sessions in the morning, often followed by a practical session in the afternoon when students are on placement.
On Monday mornings I tend to blend in our small number of level 1 students with level 2s - most level 1s want to progress to the next level. This term I’ve started with theory units like health and safety when working on the yard, which is really important, tack and equipment, feeding, the theory side of riding and jumping, drugs, horse clothing, and field and stable management. The learners who own their own horses tend to find the course much easier than those who don’t. But we always go into partnership with an approved riding school that can offer their horses and full facilities to ensure every student has access to a horse. The college doesn’t own its own horses.
When practical units start, hopefully after half-term, students will spend one day each week at the yard where they will get to ride. I’m also their personal tutor so they can contact me at any time with any problems or queries.
Equine studies seems to be growing in popularity. Last year we had just eight learners; this years it’s 26! This is the first year we are offering level 3. The level 1 students are those who need extra academic support but they may well be brilliant practically.
How did you cope with the change from industry to college?
I’d had practical experience working with Hartpury students, so that side did not worry me; it was more about standing in front of a class - that was more terrifying! What’s great about my equine courses is that all the learners are interested; it’s much easier to teach when everyone shares the same passion.
What is a challenging aspect of your role?
Many learners are at different levels, some own a horse, others don’t and may just have an interest in horses so it’s about trying to cater for everyone’s needs and to differentiate my teaching effectively. This term I still don’t know my learners that well and we have not done any practical sessions because of Covid-19; I can’t yet truly assess anyone’s riding and horse handling skills. Half the course is practical-based and students are set to go on placement at a yard after half-term. We’ve been starting with the theory units that we can cover without a yard.
A specific task you undertook recently?
Yesterday, we held a successful virtual open evening, with a couple of newbies wanting to talk to me about the course.
Personal qualities you need for the job?
You need passion, be able to relate to students, and get them interested by talking about your experiences. You also need patience and be able to support everyone differently according to their needs. Horses can be quite scary and they are big! Some learners are very confident; others are not so and need encouragement.
To teach level 3 at college, you need a degree in a relevant subject and a teaching qualification - I did a 10-week level 3 teaching course at my college last academic year and have just started a two-year level 5 course. This comprises three hours of evening lectures plus any assignments on top of that each week, all done in my own time. In addition, at school I did my NVQ level 1 and 2 in horse care. I also studied for the British Horse Society’s horse care stages 1-4 (split up into theory and riding sections); I took the exams while at school, college and university. The exams for each stage are sat at various venues across the UK.
What do you like teaching most?
I’m looking forward to the theory side of riding and covering identification and horse passports - learners without their own horses will never have seen a passport - plus all the legal documents you need to own a horse. A horse needs a passport when it’s born to identify it and to allow it to travel. The passport carries an animal’s vaccinations and identification - you can’t sell a horse without one.
Any advice for would-be lecturers?
Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help. When I started I didn’t want to feel like a nuisance by constantly asking questions. Now I just ask away. It’s so much easier than struggling by yourself. Also, be confident in what you are teaching. Remember: nine times out of 10 you know more than the students you’re teaching. In online sessions, be aware that some students initially lack the confidence to speak over a line using videoconferencing or they don’t want to turn their cameras on. They prefer face-to-face interaction.
A typical interview question for someone applying for a job like yours?
What’s your practical experience? A candidate might look fantastic on paper but not have the practical skills required.
What spurs you on to work each day?
I love observing my learners’ reactions to my teaching, how they react to a lesson, how they behave and what motivates them.