How to choose a trainer


George Morris Clinic
If possible, always watch someone teach before you ride with them. I have a lot of respect for George Morris as a trainer, but I know his style is not for me!

Jane over at the Literary Horse is embarking on a search for a new trainer since her’s just retired. She asked her readers what they look for when they are choosing a trainer. My response started to get so long that I decided I’d better make it into a post!

Here’s what I do:

  1. If possible, I always watch a potential trainer teach a few lessons. I want to see how they talk to their students, how they explain things and what types of solutions they suggest to problems that come up during a lesson. I will no longer tolerate sarcasm or yelling. I used to until I remembered that riding was supposed to be fun. I try hard and I want my trainer to respect my efforts and talk to me like an adult.
  2. I like to have a road map that gives me an idea of how I will accomplish my goals and I seek out trainers who can give me that guidance. I rode with a trainer for awhile who seemed to be working on something new every lesson. I never felt like we were building on past successes and I found it confusing.
  3. I avoid trainers who rely on “gadgets”. Yes, there are times when they can be helpful, but in general I don’t believe that short cuts work.
  4. I want to be pushed during my lesson but not terrified. I had two or three lessons last year with a local trainer who is well respected. I rode, Freedom was good and we never addressed what I wanted to get help with — jumping at speed. Partially this was the function of the other riders in the lesson but I also think this trainer was comfortable moving her students along at a slower pace. However, after the third lesson I realized that my goals were not aligned with her teaching style.
  5. I want learn something every time I have a lesson. It doesn’t have to be an earthshaking discovery, but the best trainers that I’ve worked with have an unerring ability to hone in on something specific that makes me re-evaluate what I’m doing.
  6. I need to have things explained to me in context. I like very specific direction — such as move your left leg back and weight your seat bone more — but I want to understand why doing something helps. When a trainer explained to me that keeping my hips pointing forward during shoulder in would help my horse stay straight, I could feel it and see the immediate effect. It also helped me to understand how many classical movements serve to strengthen and stretch the horse. Shoulder in became more relevant to me when I thought about it as a way of increasing my horse’s ability to step under himself and lighten his forehand . . . or as a way to stretch out his shoulders.
  7. I like trainers who have the flexibility to adapt their lesson to my needs, or my horse’s needs. Kroni was a horse that liked to be ridden a bit differently than many horses — he didn’t fit with trainers who had a “program” and it took me awhile to find someone who tried different approaches until we found one that worked. I have the greatest respect for one trainer with whom I rode with for quite some time. At one point I felt stalled and she told me she wasn’t the right person to train me on him, but that she would help me find someone who was better suited to our needs. I don’t know many people who have that honesty.  It turned out she was exactly the right trainer for the mare I rode, just not for Kroni.
  8. Because I don’t have the time or money to lesson every week, I need to ride with trainers who accept that I am only able to ride with them occasionally. I know that this puts me at the bottom of the priority list for some, but if I think of my lessons more as clinics, I am usually able to take away a few key ideas that I can practice until I see them again.

Generally I give a trainer two to three lessons before I make the decision whether to keep riding with them. For the most part, I’ll try whatever they recommend and see if it works. Occasionally I’ll come across someone whose teaching just doesn’t jive with what I’ve learned before. Since I’ve been lucky enough to ride with some excellent trainers, if they tell me to do something that’s really off base (I cliniced twice with someone who was very busy with his hands and suggested that approach would make your horse soft), I don’t come back.

Of course it’s easy to be picky when you are in an area surrounded with trainers and you have your own trailer. I hope that Jane finds someone soon and without a lot of test rides.

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4 thoughts on “How to choose a trainer

  1. I do my own work with my horses (I don’t really call it training) but try to check in with Mark Rashid – a horseman I greatly respect – every year or so. I’m taking two horses to a three-day one-on-one clinic in May.

    Your points are all good ones – particularly the need to watch and observe and be sure the trainer has a style that suits you and your horse. I also care about having a trainer that doesn’t have a “system” or “program” that every horse has to fit into – I want a trainer who is flexible and adaptable and who isn’t tied to one way of doing things. And absolutely no yellers!

  2. I agree with those points, although I gave up on trainers period 2 years ago. I wanted to study Haute Ecole and classic dressage and it seems no one around my state was interested in anything more than dull drills to become the next show ring winner (which is all subjective, too much judging politics as my former trainer WAS a judge and constantly complained about). Now I would MUCH rather ride occasionally for a trusted friend who has a decent eye and is with me on my goals…

    Your comment: “I will no longer tolerate sarcasm or yelling. I used to until I remembered that riding was supposed to be fun. ”
    I remember when I was 11 and at the suggestion of another riding-buddy’s mom, my mother signed me up for lessons with this very harsh, aggressive trainer known to reduce my buddy to tears on occasion. I was a very sensitive child and I guess my mother thought ‘tough love’ was what I needed. The problems started when the woman refused to adjust jump height and distances for my arthritic pony and pushed me past my jumping comfort zones. I got yelled at and forced to do everything, no discussion, just drills. In fact she was the first trainer who forced me to ride using Rollkur! Biggest freakin waste of my mother’s money – EVER. The woman apparently had personal issues and eventually blew up so badly with her students that she lost them. I was very glad to get away from her and my mother never made a mistake like that again.

    Riding should be fun, for horse AND rider!

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