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Mary Wanless-UK

Mary Wanless is an internationally renowned coach, and is the author of the 'Ride With Your Mind' books, which have been translated into many languages. She has also authored 8 DVDs. She coaches riders at all levels, from relative novices to two  of the top twelve US dressage riders, and some of the Canadian eventing squad. She has B.Sc. degrees in both Physics and Applied Sports Coaching, and holds the BHSI certificate.

30 years ago, when Mary was frustrated with her limited progress as a pupil, she set out to discover how talented riders do what they do. Her guiding question was 'What is presupposed by a trainer when she makes a specific statement to a pupil?' So when a rider is told, for instance, to 'Get the horse on the bit?' , what is the trainer presupposing? That the rider already has these skills (but somehow forgot, or just didn't bother to implement them?!) Or that she ought to be able to do it because it's easy?

Any co-ordination that is easy (and therefore a 'bite size chunk') for the trainer is not necessarily a 'bite size chunk' for the pupil. When the trainer says 'Do X' she is assuming that he pupil can do 'A,B,C,D,' etc. just as she can! But that may not be the case. The reality is that most trainers teach the pupil as if they were teaching themselves. The skill of coaching lies in the coach's/trainer's ability to cross that skill-gap, and show the pupil her own personalized next steps, that will move her on from her current starting point.

Mary's knowledge has evolved from the early years of this project, which were spent 'unpacking' the skills that are really needed to 'get the horse on the bit'. The intervening years have been the most phenomenal learning journey, spent developing her own riding skills, learning from some of the world's best riders, and honing her coaching skills by learning about learning. She has also invested many hours in writing books, doing lecture-demonstrations, and training other coaches.

Science has now proved what Mary instinctively knew all those years ago - that the world's best riders may have implicit knowledge or 'know-how', but they cannot put this knowledge into words. This is because physical skills and verbal descriptions come from different parts of the brain. The resulting dislocation between expertise and explanation makes it hard for skilled riders to 'clone' themselves - indeed, what they do and what they say they do can be poles apart. But Mary has discovered that their skills have an underlying structure, and knowing this explicitly enables her to communicate it to others. She clarifies the ‘how’ of riding, making its biomechanics explicit and learnable whilst avoiding the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ that stifle learning.

The result is a phenomenally effective way of helping riders develop both feel and influence. Talent really can be taught!