Monday, August 4, 2008

Selecting The Right Trainer


Finding the right trainer may seem like an intimidating task. This is the most important decision you will make concerning your riding. Beginning lessons are of the utmost importance. Simply put, without the proper basic training, your riding may be sufficient to get you going, but you will always struggle with certain aspects of riding. So how do you find the ideal trainer for you? The only way is to do the groundwork.

Visit barns in your area and ask to watch different trainers give a lesson... Talk to the trainers you feel comfortable with. Ask them their philosophy of riding and training students. This will give you a clue what to expect from them. If they seem anxious to put you in their lesson program and get you to shows, this is not the viewpoint you are looking for at this stage. Another thing to think about when you choose a trainer: You should be up front with the trainer and let them know that you are visiting different barns and taking lessons elsewhere, to see where you fit in best. This way they will not be offended if you decide not to train with them. Any trainer will take a student on, but are reluctant to let them go. Of course, egos and pocketbooks are always involved. Remember, the horse community is very small and you are bound to see the same groups of people occasionally, at shows or clinics etc., so always use tact when you decide to leave one trainer for another.

The Basics

Trainers should be willing to teach the basics and should be concerned with your safety and the horses’. At times, I feel the trainer’s ego may get in the way of their compassion and common sense. Regrettably, it is also about decisions based on making money, sometimes at the cost of their horses and clients. A good trainer will take the time to answer all of your questions. You need someone who allows you to take as much time as you require learning the basics. Teaching you how to groom, tack up, and lead a horse properly is a good foundation. When time comes to ride, take it slow, do mounting lessons, and walk on the lunge, this will give you a feel for the horse’s movement, your own balance and the proper position. It is also a chance to be acclimated to the new atmosphere. This may all sound too easy, but there are important safety issues to learn here. When you are able to accomplish these things safely at the walk, only then is it permissible to go on to the trot and eventually the canter. The key is not to let anyone rush you into uncomfortable situations sooner than you feel ready. Any trainer who does not want to take the time to teach the basics, more than likely is not the one for you.

Of course, you will also want to see the types of lesson horses available for beginner lessons. Obviously, you want an older experienced school horse that has, ‘been there, done that’. In one of my earliest lessons, I was put on a thoroughbred straight off the racetrack; my trainer assured me it was safe. Not knowing any better, I did it. Suffice it to say, it was quite a ride, but it was not a positive experience. A situation like that does not do much for your confidence. I fell off in another lesson on the same horse, as I was “teaching” him to jump cross rails: he stopped; I went straight over his head and landed on my back. The up side was that one of us made it to the other side of the jump. That was my first fall ever… lots of fun. This was a case of being pushed along to fast for my abilities.

Patience and Respect

Also, in your lessons if you find that your trainer is belittling you or losing their patience, it is not out of the question to stop and inform them that you don‘t appreciate being at the receiving end of a tirade. Never lose your temper. There are tactful ways to handle this situation. I have seen many trainers abuse their students to the point of a student being in tears or so nervous they just continue making mistakes. Trainer abuse is always unacceptable. If a trainer cannot act in a professional manner, they should not be schooling you. Many people are actually fearful of speaking up and so they just go on taking the mistreatment directed at them or their horse. I am here to tell you there is absolutely no reason you have to put up with this kind of behavior. Remember, you are a client who is actually paying good money for these lessons. When was the last time you went into a shop for a service and paid money to be abused? You would not take it there, so why would you take it from someone giving you a riding lesson? I would suggest talking to the trainer in a calm manner, in private, and explaining to him/her that they are making you feel less confident, and more nervous. You should both be able to come to an agreement about your training preferences. If you don‘t get the response you want, then you know what to do.


Ask what qualifications the trainer has, you will come across many trainers who have at sometime in their career won a few blue ribbons or maybe a prestigious award, which more than likely means something only to them. It is usually not relevant and some will even boost themselves a little by giving the illusion that they are at the top of their game. The longer ago their accomplishment was the more they remember what a great rider they are. A trainer may have been or still is a good rider, but not all are good instructors. Next, we have the young crowd who has decided this is the life for them. They get to hang around the barn all day, give up-down lessons to pony kids and beginners, and ride absentee boarder’s horses and feel like they are relevant in the horse world - when they probably should not be giving lessons to a dog. Anybody can don the trainers cap and give lessons to whomever they wish. There is such a disregard for safety here; it is astonishing accidents that are more devastating do not happen more frequently. Most troubling is parents with young children who put their child in danger without knowing it. Assuming a trainer is just that, someone qualified to teach, the child is handed over to incompetence. Parents need to do a little homework as well. Here is an example why it is so important to make inquiries:

I once boarded at a barn, where the owner hired his niece as a trainer; mind you, the girl could not even do a proper sitting trot or post on the correct diagonal, and would actually canter her horses through the aisles of the barn. Not too dangerous…. I could go on with stories like this, I won’t, except for one thing I still can not believe seeing; this “trainer” once changed horses by putting one foot in the stirrup of the horse she was going to ride while her other foot was in the stirrup of the horse she was dismounting. If one of these horses decided to move, she would have been a wishbone. Her qualifications for being a trainer, besides being related to someone who owned a stable, were that she watched riding videos. Duh…?

Organizations like the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) have courses that test trainers to a point and offer levels of qualification. ARIA is not the best qualification system and this organization still needs to be improved, but it is all we have at present. At least their trainers have some of the basics they need to teach and these qualifications represent a minimum standard of proficiency.

The Bottom Line

It is a time-consuming process of trial and error until you hit upon someone you feel safe and confident with. Beware, though, there are many frauds out there, so take your time before you settle on one trainer or another. Finding the perfect trainer is comparable to finding the ‘Missing Link’ it is an impossible task, for there are no perfect trainers or perfect horses.

I would love to hear from you about your experiences with trainers, good or bad, and hear how you dealt with a problem or how you found the ideal trainer for you

Until next time.

Quote for Today

"As he knotted the reins and took his stand, the horse's soul came into his hand, and up from the mouth that held the steel came an innermost word, half thought, half feel."

-- John Masefield

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