Breaking it Down – Trainers and Horses, What’s Right For YOU

We’ve all been through it (or at least most of us have)…we either have a young horse that needs some extra work, we’ve hit a roadblock with our most trusty steed, or we’re just looking to brush up on the skills necessary to get us to the next level. Most of the time, even the best riders need a second pair of more experienced eyes in order to gain the right perspective on things and get moving in the right direction. One of the most poignant statements ever made to me (by one of the many talented horse trainers that I have worked with over the years) was “Even trainers have trainers, honey”; that has always stuck with me, because it is so very true. So, here are a few things to consider when choosing a horse trainer…and this is just the short list, but I’ve picked out the things that are most important to most of the people who I know.

Find a Horse Trainer Who You Can Relate To

I have a friend who is a fantastic rider, and she was working toward getting her USEF medal a couple of years ago. She was referred to a trainer who is absolutely incredibly talented and who gets amazing results with both her horses and her students. After about a month of weekly lessons, my friend came to me with a sort of sullen face and said, “I haven’t wanted to admit this, but I think I was learning more when I was working with Kelly (name changed for obvious reasons)”. Now, Kelly is not as experienced of a trainer; she doesn’t have medals and 5000 ribbons hanging in her home or tack room, she rides in a well worn saddle and doesn’t wear the most expensive breeches…what I’m trying to say is that Kelly was on what most people would consider a different level than the first trainer who I mentioned, and yet, my friend was progressing beautifully with her. She almost got “talked into” changing trainers – by friends, by reading too many articles online about what she should do, by expecting too much too soon out of her horse, etc. – and now she regretted her decision.

The point to this was that just because a trainer is touted as “the best”, is able to “talk up” their methods, has a waiting list of clients, etc., doesn’t mean that they are going to be the right trainer for YOU.

You have to be able to understand the methods used by your trainer and really be able to soak in their words. You have to be able to relate to what they are doing and understand *completely* what they are telling you. Some people click and some people don’t; some riders click with some trainers, and some don’t. It’s really that simple.

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

Another friend of mine has a horse who is a little on the green side at 4 years old. She bought him to be her next Eventer, but to save some money, she bought young and, as it turns out, he’s a little tough to handle in some respects. He’s lacking in discipline and overall training and he doesn’t respect humans the way that he should, which makes for a bit of a tough ride. After having been tossed a couple of times, despite the fact that she has shown for years and trained several of her own young prospects, she decided that she needed help, but she jumped in with both feet…into the deep end of the pool. She read every article she could find, joined every online forum, spoke with every rider in her peer group, and, of course, she got different answers from everyone. One person would suggest this method of training while another would suggest that; some said it was the tack, some said he needed “natural” work while others said he needed to be sent off to a working ranch where he would be ridden hard and taught to deal with his issues, and even more people told her he had a host of medical issues that were causing him to be the way that he was. She found someone to ride the horse for her, and he was actually progressing quite well – manners were improving, movement was improving, and it looked as though things were on the right trajectory, but after only a month, she decided to switch to someone else who she had “heard good things about”. She wanted to see more results and faster results. She wanted the problems fixed, and she was grasping at straws and not really seeing the improvement that the horse was making. Well, after sending him off to the new trainer, it was only about a month until she was ready to bring him home.

This isn’t uncommon, and the point here is not to be judgmental, but rather to just give you the ability and permission to “breathe”. Problems can’t be fixed overnight. Progress takes time, and if you find someone who you can relate to in terms of training methods, don’t “get ahead of yourself” by expecting too much too soon, or by doing too much research or listening to too many opinions, etc. Trust your own instincts, and don’t let those instincts be overridden by the desire for things to happen at warp speed.

Know When to Let Go

This is actually a twofold statement…know when to “let go” of a trainer and know when to “let go” of a horse. Just like some people don’t get along, some horses and riders don’t get along; selling a horse that is not going to be what you want/need, who you have lost confidence in, who is going to cost you more than you anticipated in training, etc., does not mean that you are a failure, it just means that you and that particular horse don’t “click”; trust me, there is someone out there who will “click” with that horse. You may absolutely LOVE your horse, but that is the heart overriding the brain, because this does not mean that this horse is necessarily what you need or will ever be what you need – no matter how many thousands of dollars you pour into him/her. The same goes for a trainer. If you are working with someone and you hate going to your lessons, aren’t seeing results (so long as you aren’t “getting ahead of yourself”), don’t like certain things they are doing, feel a sense of discomfort with their methods, etc., don’t be afraid to make an amicable break from your training relationship. So many people get scared to switch trainers because they are afraid of what their current trainer may think, and way too many people are afraid to sell a horse because they feel like they are “giving up” on him/her or that people will think they are abdicating their responsibilities. Look at it this way…the horse and rider relationship and the trainer and rider relationship are both a lot like a “dating” relationship; sometimes you come to a point where you realize that things just aren’t going to work out, and it’s easier and more positive to end things quickly rather than dragging them out, because there is someone out there for everyone, and the same goes for horses and trainers.

In the end, these are just a FEW of the things to consider when looking for a trainer, working with a trainer, or working with a particular horse – there are many others that are just as important, but if you keep the above in mind, you’ll at least be headed in the right direction.


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