Recently, there has been controversy over the USEF Horsemasters clinic with Katie Monahan Prudent.

For those who might not know who she is, Katie Monahan Prudent was on the 1986 World Champion in team showjumping and was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of fame in 2016. As a junior rider she won the AHSA Medal finals. She was a longtime student of George Morris. Katie has lived her life at the upper edge of the show jumping industry. She has ridden a lot of horses, competed in a lot of shows, taught many riders, and influenced a generation of the horse industry. I don’t know Katie Monahan. I’ve never seen her teach in person. She is just one of many horse-persons who work at this level of competition.

Videos of Monahan Teaching

The first video that I saw of the Monahan clinic was a compilation of things she said during the first session. It was making the rounds fast on TikTok.

In it:

  • She is accused of being demeaning to her students to the point of bullying.
  • She tells her students, “They (horses) need a licking sometimes.”
  • Tells another student “You crash him into that fence rather than letting him turn.”
  • And says, “I personally would be flipping him (the horse) over backwards.”
  • She’s accused of denigrating “animal rights activists who know nothing about training horses.”

Whew! The video made me angry. I viewed several responses by others who took this as an opportunity to criticize Monahan or to demonstrate how magnanimously they would have handled the actual riders.

Then I found the clinic, or most of it, in pieces on YouTube. I listened to several hours of Katie Monahan teaching. It seemed the most controversial statements, such as the one about pulling the horse over backwards or the lesser one about animal rights activists, had been scrubbed.

The Negatives:

Easy to change the narrative

I saw how easy it is to change a person’s presentation/delivery with a little bit of selective editing. It shouldn’t have surprised me since we see this in every aspect of life.

 By including select things Monahan said the compilation video made her look like a poor teacher and a very bad example to young riders. The videos that were scrubbed of the statements she made her seem flawless.

She is neither a poor teacher nor is she flawless. (Although I could consider her a bad example in a few areas. Read on.)

What's the purpose?

I can see no positive purpose for the compiled video, but I can see several negative ones, unless you consider facilitating multiple other videos based on the compiled video positive. In my opinion, a person has to be vindictive to do this in the days of safe sport and people being banned in the industry.

Negative Fungus

I saw how quickly people can feed off of negativity. Negativity loves to go viral.

The positives:

I had never paid attention to Katie Monahan’s teaching prior to the negative compilations video but it drove me to investigate, and here’s what I found:

Encouragement

Katie Monahan encouraged her students. She gave praise when it was earned. Likewise, she gave criticism when it was earned. I saw no bullying on the dozen tapes I viewed on YouTube.

Expectation

She made no bones about what she expected, and she showed the riders the bar they needed to reach for. She let them know that, even though these riders rode well, it would take hard work to raise their riding and their horses to the level they sought.

Clarity

Her instructions were clear. The classes were intense and long with challenges. A couple of times riders zoned out and didn’t listen.

She taught on variety of quality horses, each with its own idiosyncrasies and made suggestions not only in general for the group but for the individual horse and rider.

I personally loved that Monahan encouraged the riders to get their hands off the horse’s necks over fences and that she encouraged giving hands. I dislike the crest release and believe its use has hurt equitation.

She taught progressions in training and explained what she taught. I also like that she was direct and didn’t baby her riders.

Improvement

I saw definite improvement when riders followed Monahan’s instruction. And yes, some horses’ tails indicated aggravation. And several were a little bit spoiled and required correction. Horses don’t develop performance flaws on their own, so when they are corrected it is because some human screwed up.

Tail Cranking

Unless they are accompanied by sudden bad behavior, things like ringing tails are usually from issues that have been around for awhile and can range from anything from poor saddle fit to body out of alignment to a mismatched rider. The list is endless. When should it be addressed?


The Lessons:

It’s never a good idea to blindly jump on the band wagon of a current trend. Always be willing to research and think about what you see to formulate your own opinion.

Negativity festers and breeds like mold.

Monahan was light with her criticism. People who are offended by criticism will remain average.

It takes a lot of hard work to excel at riding. It doesn’t take hard work once or at one level. It takes continual hard work to be a rider athlete, the same as any other sport.

Now the elephant in the room

Here’s the big one: We all say things we shouldn’t, especially when students don’t respond, tune us out, or could try harder. Or when we get frustrated. We shouldn’t say things for shock value, but we do. It’s doubly bad when it’s recorded and when it’s something others will take out of context.

Maybe her attitude towards the horse is not soft and squishy but I didn’t get the impression of cruelty.

No one in their right mind flips horses as a normal course of training. It’s dangerous for the horse and it’s suicidal for the rider. And I certainly don’t see her flipping a horse at her current stage in the riding life. Call me wrong if this turns out to be an accepted practice with Katie Monahan in training.

Here's the big problem

The biggest problem with her outlandish statements is that someone will believe her and flip a horse on purpose. When she says “I personally would be flipping him over backwards” she validates that as a training method and gives it her seal of approval, even if it wasn’t her intention. Unfortunately, it looks to me like bravado got into Katie’s mouth. Nothing good comes from her statement. She needs to be more careful of making the big tough guy statements during clinics. We all need to be careful of what we say in lessons and clinics.

And another

As far as bullying goes—when should an instructor stop babying a student and begin telling them the truth? There’s a lot of harm done when you baby a person who rides a 1200-pound animal. Safety requires students to listen to their instructors and to process what they say. Accidents happen when a rider gets spaced out or their mind starts wandering in a lesson. The truth can be hard, and granted, it is easier to swallow with a good delivery. 

I’m not saying I approve of Monahan telling her students they are weak minded or bird brains, but I have to say if that’s a person’s objection to this teaching, they viewed or participated with the wrong goal. And let me add, in today's online culture I find it a bit hypocritical that anyone would object to those particular admonishments.

My conclusion

From what I could see from my arm-chair view of videos, Katie Monahan gave a good clinic. Do I wish she had not made it seem acceptable to flip a horse? Yes. That one statement nearly destroys the value of the clinic.

Oh, and her comment about “animal rights activists who know nothing about training horses…” That was pretty tacky, and I sensed some anger there. But truth? No horse will be hurt by her statement. And in one sense, she’s right. There are a lot of animal activists that have no idea what it takes to train a horse. So, I think we can get over that statement.

Here's to good teaching!

Barbara Ellin Fox

TheRidingInstructor.net

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