Report on Erik MacKechnie-Guire FBHS “Taking the step from the BHSI to Fellowship”

I first would personally like to thank the F & I Association committee for their swift embracing of technology giving all of us greater access to fantastic trainers and coaches regardless of geographical location. Here in Ireland our ease of access to top coaches is often limited. I hope even when we “return to normal” that zoom may still offer greater opportunity for learning! Special thanks to Amy Bannister-Bell for organising Erik to talk to us about his journey from BHSI to Fellowship, one of the highest accolades in the equine world. First, he shared with us some statistics; since the inception of the Fellowship in 1949 there have been 86 Fellows, and Erik as we all know is the latest. At the present time there are 54 Fellows in the world with the legendary Mrs Slane Fleming being the eldest ever having recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

Erik explained how the journey to the Fellowship is not a solitary journey, rather a process of collaboration with peer groups, coaches and mentors supporting the aspirational progression up the ladder. For many who achieve the Fellowship it is a life-long goal and aspiration. However for Erik he explained this was not the case. It is often said, that when the student is ready the teacher will appear, and it seems that Erik’s journey presented itself in that way.  As he started his journey in earnest, he undertook a 360º review using “strength scope” to reveal unique strengths. On your day to day journey you need to evaluate yourself scoring yourself 1-10 on your work and detailing strengths and weaknesses, creating top tips for yourself enabling self-development. The true scope of success is to be better at being yourself.

The main focus of the webinar was the nuts and bolts of the Fellowship assessment in great detail which I will briefly enumerate; The first phase to gain entry into the assessment is constructing your CV. The building of this document is a mammoth undertaking including all relevant experience going back chronologically with as much detail as possible to establish “who am I?” and to establish you as an all-round horse person. As you cannot go back in time to “re-do your competition career” you need to give as much detail of your education, study, course walks, demonstrations and any other information which may improve the readers’ understanding and insight into your career.

On the actual assessment days Erik had a “red thread” of added educational value at every opportunity weaving through his 2 days. One other key facet was his organised approach leaving as little to chance as possible. Part of this organisation was packing a bag bringing everything including: laptop, ipad, notebook, snacks, water and multiple wardrobe changes, pertaining to each of the sections. Erik shared his honest self-refection as well as his assessor feedback. Below are the seventeen sections that Erik described to us in detail:

1. Icebreaker – The introduction to the day where you discuss your journey to the Fellowship and your proudest achievements. It is your opportunity to effectively provide your personal statement and to set the scene for your Fellowship. This is very specific, and he felt his performance was not as good as he hoped. However this is where the strength of self-awareness and not allowing oneself to go down a “rabbit hole” which could have put the assessment success in difficulty.

2. Lunge jump – In this section Erik offered the educational added value of the restriction of the thoracic vertebrae by traditional lunge rollers. The research has shown that traditional lunge rollers are better fitted over the saddle to reduce the restriction. There is now a lunge roller on the market which alleviates this restriction. Erik explained the importance of structuring your session to supply the appropriate assessment and the positioning of the jump in the optimal location in the arena to set the horse up best for the jump.

3. Practical presentation – The practical presentation was one of the highlights, drawing on Erik’s expertise as a showing judge. He presented the Best of British – Traditional Breeds (which he has now also been asked to present to F & I). The presentation was in the style of a showing class with Erik suited and booted for same.  He also produced a comprehensive guide to go with the presentation. With the support of his two stewards this was planned down to the second. The importance of having a unique spin which stands you out with your unique selling point is essential. Coming up with a novel approach to demonstrate a depth of subject understanding is essential.

4. Coach Educator Presentation – This took the form of a discussion mentoring group with the BHSIs (Gofers). Candidates were only given 15 minutes to prepare their thoughts. With such an experienced group Erik took the role of facilitator rather than lecturer. The conclusion of this session was to ask the group “When do you plan on taking your Fellowship”.

5. Observe a group coaching session – This is similar to a study group. Erik once again explained the value added in this section giving handouts to assist the students in ideal evaluation of the session augmenting learning value. A structured template for assessing the session was a key educational outcome for this.

6. Debrief Coach – The debriefing of the coach is a dual assessment process. With the first being to supply written feedback about a group coaching session. The second being to offer verbal feedback to the coach. In this section Erik was the last to offer feedback to the coach and it seemed she had not received ideal feedback. He underlined the importance of setting up in an organised way ensuring the coach being debriefed sat down and mentoring the coach to a positive understanding of the feedback.

7. Training Philosophies with a Young Horse – The candidates expected this section to be an opportunity to demonstrate their training philosophies riding etc. However instead it was a coaching session with a young horse and rider for the same purpose.

8. Group Jump – In this assessment all candidates did a group simulated cross country session. With very fresh horses there was careful management required to keep everything rolling and the lid on the dustbin! Little opportunity was possible for “chalk and talk” rather, working as you go was the requirement.

9. Study Group (Potential Young Horse) – For this study group Erik’s “red thread” of education was key in this section using his resources to provide a structured education. His advice was to take notes and to feedback information along with asking individual questions. The danger in these groups is that dominant forces can take over without appropriate facilitation.

10. Open discussion – The open discussion is one of the biggest unknowns in the exam! Anything at all could come up. In the discussion Erik suggested the importance of noting down what other candidates have said so that you can build on and develop on your educational points. Especially if you are last to speak you will need to take notes to build your educational goals.

11. Assess advanced dressage horses – This is one of the few sections in the assessment where you actually ride with a variety of dressage horses (2 Irish Sport Horse and 1 Iberian). With each horse there was only 20 minutes riding time where you had to give a critical evaluation from the judge’s point of view. Candidates were essentially left to themselves and to show an awareness of others. One of the major requirements in this section is to demonstrate the movements to PSG and to not get stuck on “getting the horse going” rather just evaluation.

12. Coach advanced show jump – There was widespread controversy about the heights of the fences with the candidates suggesting the fences were 1.35m which was cleared up in a question from Anne Bostock at the end of the talk. It transpired the candidates were using a tape measure rather than a stick, creating inaccurate measuring.  In training for the assessment Erik explained the importance of getting practice coaching jumping up to the height as if you are used to coaching lower heights only you will not have the match practice.

13. Evaluate advanced show jump – This is achieved through the observing of another candidate coaching their advanced jump session. In this observation you are assessing the technique of the horse and rider you are expected to offer your opinion on the competition potential of the combination.

14. Brains Trust – This is a collaborative candidate approach which involved the collating of equitation history where each candidate is given a segment. Erik had England, Scotland, Wales, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, others had other parts of the world to discuss for the development of philosophies of our training. This is similar to a question-time panel with the audience and candidates participating.

15. Evaluate advanced dressage horse and dressage theory – Similar to the evaluation of the advanced jump horse this is done through observing another candidate’s dressage lesson. Once again you are evaluating potential competition value and the quality of the work.

16. Coach advanced dressage – Erik expressed his disappointment with the horse and rider combination he had to coach. Although the “Irish Horse” was ordinary looking and not a flashy warmblood he was able to produce quality work to the level. In coaching this session, it was difficult to strike the balance between rider position and producing work to the correct level.

17. Final discussion – This was the final time to round up your performance of the day. When asked about what he hoped to offer over the course of the 2 days, Erik’s red thread became apparent: “an educator”.

Some of the other points that were borne out over the course of the webinar were the importance of a keen sense of self-awareness and the ability to shelve success or failure and to move on to the next section. Erik defined the importance of surrounding yourself with the right team especially the night before the assessment. The right company can be the difference between success and failure. Not only were Erik’s slides detailing his own assessments useful, he also shared his full assessor feedback with us.

The final parting thought that will stay with me is that “You have to believe in yourself before everyone else will join in with you!”.

Brendan Bergin ETCM, BHSI