To help us celebrate coaches, for this month’s feature we caught up with Ruth Allum, an EC certified High Performance 1 Coach – Eventing. She is also a National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Learning Facilitator, NCCP Coach Evaluator and an NCCP Master Coach Developer.

Allum is the head coach and trainer at Oakhurst Farm in Ashton, ON. As a coach, Allum’s commitment is to the total physical and mental preparation of both rider and horse. Having competed herself at the Preliminary level in Eventing, Ruth combines her real-life experiences with formal training as an EC certified coach and over more than two decades, has taken students from beginner levels to the heights of international competition.

What made you want to become a coach?

I didn’t really know that ‘coaching’ was a real job choice when I was in school. I of course completely understood that people taught riding lessons, but when I started looking at the idea of coaching as a profession it was a game changer for me. I started by taking Equestrian Coaching Theory and was immediately struck by the idea that I could help guide people on their journey with their horse. In fact, there was all sorts of training I could take to teach me how to Coach!

In Design a Sport Program I learned how to build bigger, better, more colourful yearly training plans, and not only on Bristol board! In Manage a Sport Program I learned how to create an inclusive team environment, communicate with my athletes better and how to manage the business side of my sport. And of course, I then starting looking over the fence at multi-sport training, I mean coaching is coaching right? RIGHT!! When I started to understand what an incredible role a coach can have in an athlete’s life, I set out to take all the training opportunities I could find both within our sport and outside it. My athletes are worth it. I am not just teaching riding lessons, I am a partner in an athlete’s expedition, and that’s so much more rewarding.

Did you have a special coach in your riding career?

I was lucky to have a few very special coaches in my own competitive passage as a rider. The most influential for me on that pathway was Jeff McKessock, who coincidentally owns and runs an equestrian centre 2km down the road from mine. Jeff really pushed me to think as a rider. Understanding why we were doing things and how they would have an effect on performance were the cornerstone of every training session. I remember Jeff carefully walking us through our very first Yearly Training Plan on what seemed at the time to be the largest sheet of Bristol board ever and being so excited that I could be part of the discussion of what to train when and why. It was never just about the riding lesson, it was about the journey we embarked on with our horse, and Jeff was there to guide us. In guiding us we were encouraged to ask questions and analyze what was happening, which definitely has helped me with some of the roles I play in coaching today.    

Desk of: EC Certified Coach and Coach Developer Ruth Allum

What is your favourite part of coaching?

For me the absolute best moment in coaching is when I watch a horse and/or rider understand why they are doing something, and they achieve the result they were striving for. Whether that’s a medal at the North American Young Riders Championships or cantering around their first Cross Country course, the sense of achievement that I had a hand in getting that done is an absolute joy.

What makes Equestrian coaching different than other sports?

Great question. When I go to Multi Sport Coaching events I am quickly reminded that coaching is coaching. We all have our nuances of course and I’ve never seen a swim coach clean the pool although I still clean stalls, but essentially coaches are people who help facilitate learning.

Coaching is both a science and an art in that we have to holistically capture all aspects of an athletes mind, body and will in order to help guide them to an outcome. The only big difference then is that one of my athletes, the horse, not only speaks a different language, it also has innately different reactions to stimulus. Helping to translate that for a rider becomes part of the art.

Sport and Industry tend to collide in coaching Equestrians. I am very lucky to have fabulous business partners who look after the client side of the business while allowing me to remain genuinely athlete centred.

Why have you become involved in coach developing?

Just like seeing a rider have that ‘a-ha’ moment when they feel something for the first time that they had been striving for, when I see coaches understand the positive influence, they can have in their own work by making their program as robust as possible, it’s a real thrill. I love watching good coaching just as much as I love coaching. I learn from every course I facilitate and every coach I evaluate. I come home a better coach to my own students!

How do you see Equestrian coaching evolving?

I would love to see Equestrian coaches embrace the training that’s out there, whether in our sport or a different one. Better coaches make better athletes, and better sport. When Equestrian coaches look beyond standing in the ring teaching one riding lesson, and embrace the option to help guide a journey, involving our athletes in the ‘what to train when and why’, then we will have really achieved something. My grade 12 guidance counsellor encouraged me to take a degree in linguistics because ‘equestrian coaching’ as a profession just wasn’t a job description that was on their radar. Coaching is a profession, but like all professions, there is training and accreditation. When coaches value the training, they are investing in their athletes. 

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