Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Trainer Talk

i need jumping lessons again
This is a really sensitive topic that I have skirted around without ever addressing head-on because it's hard. The horse world is really small in real life and even smaller online. I am well aware that everything I write is archived for posterity by various sources and I'm occasionally surprised when I find out local people who I barely know in real life actually read my blog.

Or trainers. Yes. Your trainer very likely has read your blog. Think about that.

However. I think it's important to say something about trainers and horses and goals and responsibility.

yeah don't want to do this
Not all horses are the same. I tend to pick short-coupled hot horses who need help with relaxation. As such, I like to ride with trainers that help my horse relax, go in a rhythm, and stay focused. If my horse ends a lesson more tense than he started, that lesson did not help my horse progress.

But if you ride a colder (draft cross, pony something, wb) horse, all that is out the window. A colder horse needs to be spiced up a little. They need to be pushed mentally. They can handle more pressure and it takes a different ride to get the reaction you're looking for.

xc doesn't call my name
So the trainer that is a wash with my (short, hot) horse could very well be a stunning success with the type of horse who needs some motivation to get through an hour.

It's not a perfect 1:1 ratio. Some trainers are good with lots of kinds of horses and that is really admirable. Some trainers are good with one specific type and that's fine too. Some trainers really need to quit and do something else. (Noted: don't ride with these people).

But all that to say this: Just because someone is a trainer doesn't mean they should be blindly trusted. We as owners and riders need to be attuned to our horses enough to recognize what they need. My thoroughbred needs relaxation. Annye is more interested in a trainer that can lighten her horse horse up and make her more active.

A lot of this has to do with my goals--if Courage was in a program with a trainer that wanted him really reactive, he'd get to the point where he was unrideable for me. My goal with Courage is to have a ton of fun on my horse and do everything, so that would make no sense at all. If he was an Olympic prospect who I had no intentions of riding, that program would probably be just fine for him.

achieving all my goals
It's on me as the rider and owner to be proactive about this. I need to know what my goals are. I need to be in tune with my horse and proactive about his needs. If that means upsetting the apple cart by changing trainers, I need to be willing to do that.

So that's the barometer I tend to use--at the end of a lesson, is my horse closer to achieving my personal goals or farther away?


  1. I think your most important point there is the one about reactiveness, and Mugwump has a great post about that that I will have to find. Basically, she says she trains her horses differently for her clients than she does herself. She doesn't want her own horses sacked out, she wants them to react to every little thing she does, because she wants them to know that her every movement has meaning to them. She can handle that. But horses for clients, she makes sure they are not on that level of reactiveness, because they can't handle that and don't want it.

    I hope you find what you need, and someone who understands that. You're on the right track just by starting from the place you describe in this post.

  2. I love this. So, so much.
    This post is basically my life right now.

  3. Very well said! I think that trainers are like helmets, boots, saddles etc, everyone needs/fits with something different, that is why there are so many.

  4. YES. You are so, so right. I love you and I love this post! Finding the right trainer is like dating... it needs to be a good match on so many different levels in order to work best.

  5. I think that riders of a certain generation (over 40) and who are also women, have a harder time questioning authority. When you come to this life as an older adult, with very little experience (something like 60% of riders are women over 40 who have wanted to ride all of their lives and are finally in a position to do so) a trainer takes on legendary status in their minds. It's really hard when you have little experience with modern equestrian activities to know when your trainer is just not a good fit for you or your goals. And there are people out there who should not be trainers at all, who have a huge client list and are making a living at this without any true ability to teach. Yes, they can ride. Yes, they can even show. But the true test of a trainer is if they can teach.

    I've been struggling with this question myself and getting a list of do's and don'ts in my trainer search. This brought a touch more clarity to the subject for me. Great topic.

  6. Finding the right trainer can be the difference between failure and success. The hardest is people being educated enough to see this.

    1. And honest enough with oneself -- I personally think most peoples' biggest flaw is that they aren't honest with themselves about what they want/goals/are comfortable with/are afraid of/are good at/need etc. and thus they pick trainers who aren't appropriate for them or have different goals.

      I think a big part of this equation too is how you get along with that trainer's teaching style. Some trainer are all positive and some are more negative. I grew up with a really mean asian mom so lots of negative doesn't bother me, but I know it really breaks down some people.

      Tangentially related, my trainer told me that she feels like the way some trainers treat their students is honestly like an abusive relationship. The trainer constantly puts the student down and makes the student feel like the only way they can succeed is with this trainer. The trainer makes the student feel like (or even says outright) the only person the student could ever train with is this trainer because they are so bad. Thus, the student is trapped in this cycle of meanness. And I can totally see it -- I know two girls who this personally happened to (and they were sold drugged horses, to boot!).

  7. Well said! It is so important to have the awareness as a rider to know if something is working or not, and not all trainers are a good fit with you and your horse. It just comes down to what do you want out of a lesson and is it happening. It is well worth thinking about.

  8. great points - finding a new trainer is really challenging, as is leaving a trainer... good luck with your search!

  9. Agree 100% with everything that you've said! And my trainer does read my blog :)

  10. I've had... hang on, I'm counting... eleven trainers over the course of a nearly 30-year riding career.

    OH no, wait, 12.

    I've also been a trainer, with a string of clients, operating out of a barn someone else owned. A someone else with whom I have ENORMOUS differences when it comes to horse management and horse selection, and who does not, herself, ride. So I've been on both sides of this one.

    You're dead on, as far as looking for someone who works with your horse. People also need to remember, if they're in a school horse situation, that the coach ought to be looking to match you safely with the horse for your lesson and to manage the horse's workload. So maybe you want to ride Princess but I put you on Dudley--Princess was not safe for you, or she'd already done two lessons today.

    And we have to be honest with our trainers about what we want. It rankles me faster than you can imagine to have someone tell me their goal is to get very good at riding a variety of horses and to compete over jumps, and then to complain about me forever when I have you do no-stirrups work or put you on a horse who is a SAFE and capable jumper but might not be the most quick off the leg. If you want to get good at riding horses over jumps, you've gotta have the basics, and it will drive me right over the edge to hear whining about acquiring those basics. So I'm not a good fit for people who just want to hang out with horses and have fun in lessons and not work hard. Those students aren't wrong, but they need to find someone less exacting.

    I moved to Virginia to work with the trainer I'm with now. It's a temporary arrangement (though it may become permanent). She's phenomenal. I've known her half my life, and she's always been impressive to me as someone who gets what a horse needs. She can cut through the bullshit to see where the horse doesn't understand, where the rider doesn't understand, where they each need to be pushed, when they need a break. She's worth her weight in solid gold. It will be painful to leave her.

  11. A great addition to the tack ho is a wonderful matching trainer in her arsenal of all that is awesome.

  12. Thank you for linking to me! I think Rob and Courage may be absolute opposites...

    I'm realizing now that not only do different horses and riders need different trainers, like you've written...but the same horse and rider pair may need different trainers, too, depending on where they happen to be in their learning. Rob and I have been using the same trainer for two years now, and I wish we had added a second trainer to the mix much sooner - even just hearing the same thing said with different words can make all the difference!

    I guess this is the value of regularly going to clinics. hauling away to lessons, or even just having two in-house trainers. I just hadn't realized it!

  13. Totally agree yet am somewhat terrified that my trainer and past trainers may be reading my blog. Yikes. I definitely think that trainers have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to working with different types of horses, riders, and problems.

    One of my trainers was excellent at getting horses to really, truly become connected from back to front, so she helped Rico and I a LOT, but she wasn't as strong at getting horses to be highly reactive so I found Rico great in the connection with her but difficult to energize. I switched to someone who was great at energizing but didn't focus so much on the quality of the connection. By the end of riding with that trainer, Rico was super forward and fun to ride, but I was struggling with the connection yet again.

  14. Excellent points all round, especially with so many truly horrifying trainers around. It must, however, be said that certain trainers deserve trust and respect. Few things annoy pros more than students who tell them how to do their job. So all the years upon years of experience, all the qualifications, all the carefully honed skills and knowledge mean nothing?

    1. There's a difference between telling someone how to do their job and acknowledging that the job they're doing isn't working for you. The latter is what I'm talking about. The former is a quick way to get fired as a client. But that's a problem for pros to worry about, and this is a blog for ammies. ;-)

  15. Well said! And also its our responsibility as owners to articulate our goals to trainers to set everyone up for success.

  16. I think this is one of those subjects where one size does not fit all. Picking the right trainer for you and your horse as a PAIR is so important. That means you have to keep your horse's personality and needs in mind, but it also means your trainer has to understand what makes YOU tick. It's something I deal with a lot in my daily travels. I ride some horses, for example, who would make lovely jumpers, but whose owners have no desire to jump. It is not my job to convince the owner to jump, or focus the horse's training on jumping because he would be good at it. It is my job to help the owner achieve THEIR OWN goals with their horse, whatever those goals may be. I often help riders pinpoint goals for themselves, but at the end of the day, the rider's wants and needs take priority! I know some programs that are different (not good or bad) and oftentimes those trainers wind up doing all the riding themselves while the owners sit back. It obviously works for some people, but it's not what I'm in this business for!


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