Let’s Discuss: The Right Trainer

Chatting with a friend who had just witnessed the KY Charlotte Dujardin clinic this weekend, I quickly came to the conclusion that despite forever having my respect and admiration for her program and her riding, I don’t think I would ever want to train with the top dressage rider in the world.

Picture of my BFF because she’s badass and because we have this convo all the time.

That’s because in some many ways, I’m totally comfortable admitting my “amateurness”. I’m never going to be a full-time professional rider (though I wouldn’t oppose to the full-time aspect). I enjoy being a dual-discipline (bi-discipline?) rider with the comfortable recognition of likely never reaching the status of Ingrid Klimke. Therefore, I have different needs in a trainer.

Though there’s a lot more that goes into it, here are a few of my main priorities when choosing a trainer:

Understanding the Typical Amateur’s Schedule
I have a 9-5 job. Sometimes that turns into a 8-6, or 9-9 job, depending on the day or the week. My trainer needs to understand that and respect that. Some prospective trainers I’ve met only offered lessons during normal working hours, and weekend lessons were a rarity. Quite frankly, that will never work for me. And since the job not only limits my availability, but also pays for said lessons, that makes this one a non-negotiable.

Photo of my trainer, getting trained

Balance of Praise and Criticism
This is probably where most people differ. Personally, I am not interested in the trainer that praises my for 45 minutes and then is done. But some people need a holding hand and a cheerleader in their trainer for where they are, and that is more than fine. I tend to do well with a trainer who holds me accountable, and consistently pushes me to be better than I am, but also tells me when I am doing right. Too much one way or the other, and I tend to check out stage-right, either mentally or with my check book.

Having a trainer whose accomplishments you respect is also helpful. Enter: Boyd Martin (not my trainer)

Working with Goals
Here’s a tough one. Sometimes a client, aka rider, has completely unrealistic goals- for instance the rider who has never competed at second level who is determined to compete in the Olympics (do you know one of these? I do!). On the flip side is the talented, or talented-enough amateur rider who has lost so much confidence that they limit themselves to the lowest-of-the-lowest levels. A good trainer will be able to assess their client (and the horse that they ride) and be able to adjust expectations, make sub-goals, and lay out an honest and achievable path that brings about growth in their client. To me this is the hardest thing the right trainer must achieve- because sometimes well-meant honesty and judgement is a difficult endeavor, requiring not only honestly but a little bit of faith as well.

Yup, never going to do this and that’s fine by me.

Appreciation of the Less-than-perfect-Beastie
Let’s face it- most amateurs have a less than infinite budget, and a sincere lack of sponsors. Therefore, the horse(s) we have are what we’ve got to work with. And an understanding trainer gets that. Sure, sometimes there are glaring mismatches, in which case once a trainer understands all of the above requirements and sees that the fit is less-than-ideal, they can make recommendations. But firing a horse because it will never be their Valegro is just unreasonable. We spend so many hours financially and mentally on our horses that we need a trainer who is onboard too. In the best of worlds we can even find a trainer(s) who will help us find said beastie, but in different scenarios a great trainer will work with what we’ve got, and in accordance with the above section, work to set realistic goals.

What are the qualities that you look for in a trainer? What are the aspects of your trainer that you are most thankful for? Have you have experiences with trainers that simply weren’t good fits? Why? What made you choose your current trainer?





14 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: The Right Trainer

  1. Pretty much all of the above. Also probably goes without saying but I have to really TRUST the person I ride with, especially their judgement when it comes to safety. I see a lot of eventing trainers who do not have a good compass for what is safe and what isn’t, and inevitably they always have hurt students. It’s very important to me that I feel like my trainer is never going to put me in a situation that I’m not capable of handling. It’s also crucial that they understand how a very delicate, sensitive TB brain works – especially when you can push it and when you can’t.

      • That’s a couple very good points- and I completely agree. There has to be a trust element, and as a client it’s definitely important to understand the trainer’s program and feel that they will put safety first.

        Secondly the TB brain element- Jack thinks more like a TB than a warmblood, so I can very much appreciate an understanding trainer.

  2. yea…. not every big name rider or trainer appeals to me as a coach. actually, many don’t. i learn a lot from auditing, but even with clinicians i’ve loved auditing (like janet foy or david oconnor or boyd martin) i’ve not been very tempted to shell out the $$$ to ride with them. for many of the reasons you state. and like, i read a couple summaries of charlotte dujardin’s recent clinics and they sound amazing to audit, but also like…. my own personal riding philosophies wouldn’t satisfy her haha.

    i personally like to ride with a combination of trainers bc they help to keep my perspective fresh and keep me from getting stuck inside my own head. but i’m also huge on the trust thing too – i have to trust that the trainer understand who i am, my abilities and where i want to go (even when i’m less confident).

  3. i love your whole post and was nodding my head thru all of it. I am such a person who the horse i have is what i have and i appreciate the two trainers i have to work with now (sally and emily) both love Remus for who he is and want to help me make him the best he can be. But we all realize I am not going to high up the levels but they both make me feel like i could if i wanted. And yes on the amateur stuff. OMG i could not be the working hours only kind of lesson. I have a flexible job but still. Work pays the bills and the lessons etc. Great post!! 🙂 I honestly think this is why i havent delved into other instructors just scared to get one of the ones I dont want! LOL

  4. As someone who is naturally goal oriented and good at being honest with myself I don’t really need my trainer to do #3 for me and that goes I think with a point not stated above but one I’ve thought about a lot myself when I was looking for a new Trainer. The Trainer needs to trust that I am not a moron. I know there are a lot of owners/riders out there who like you said – Think very highly of their skills despite their experience and Trainers deal with these people all the time. I need a trainer to trust that I am not one of those people.

  5. Absolutely to all of this. And agreed with what Amanda said about needing the trust- I have a history of being a VERY nervous rider, and have only managed to work through that because I have absolute trust that my trainer will never ask me to do something that Frankie and I can’t do safely. I still get nervous sometimes, but I can always lean back on that trust and know that we have all the tools we need.

  6. One thing you sort of touched on here is values — I want to have the same values as my trainer. I value safety and horsemanship above anything else and I love having a trainer that will discuss all aspects of horsemanship with me, not just riding but management and care as well.

  7. I was anxious to talk to and ride with my dressage trainer (who is based at a farm down the road but comes to the one I board at to teach regularly) because I knew of her accomplishments and was still new to eventing and dressage. A few years later she is a good friend that I appreciate so much because she gets where I am at – I take lessons when I can afford it (time and money-wise), and if I have a big show coming up, I spend more and make sure we’re ready. If I want her to ride my horse in a show, or he needs a tune-up because I’ve been occupied with work or life, I give her a couple options for training ride days so that they both get the most out of it. We haven’t reached some of the goals I had last winter but but I know she doesn’t judge me because she gets that I have other things going on and we both try to be realistic. She’s there when I need her, she has upper level clients who really pay her bills but doesn’t forget about little old me and my cute pony 🙂 That’s all I really need from any of my trainers. I want to always improve and do well but some of my rides just aren’t going to be meaningful for various reasons!

  8. I look for a Trainer who understanding of me and my horse and my lifestyle. Aka, i don’t cancel, but if i have too say because of work i want a trainer who believes me; doesn’t assume i’m just lazy or whatever. I want a trainer who respects my horse and his abilities and even the conditions. I know some ppl will ride in 40 degrees celcius to get a lesson, I am not one of those people! Moo and Freddy’s health and well-being must be important to them.
    I want someone who believes in me and my horse, doesn’t knock him for his conformation etc. Moo has a splade hoof and i was near on laughed at when i said i wanted to do dressage; and look at us go.

    These are all requirements but more than that, they need to be not just talking the talk; but walking the walk. I don’t want a trainer who tells me how good they used to be. I want one who is good. Who does competitions. Who is someone I can look up to.

    Mel x

  9. Since I’m in hunter/jumper land, TBs are a minority. I won’t train with someone who doesn’t understand or appreciate Thoroughbreds. Mine isn’t going anywhere, so they need to know how to make him his best.

  10. All really good questions. It’s important that anyone I ride with understand that my job means I sometimes work 70+ hours in one week and then have more flexibility a few weeks later. My most important goal is always to make sure my horse is happy and healthy, too, which means I progress more slowly than I might otherwise.

    I think – and I’ve thought about writing about this for a while – that it’s possible to move on from a trainer because they’re no longer the right fit for you at a particular stage of your riding. That’s happened to me a few times – I’ve moved on from a barn for other reasons, and after leaving, realized that I had been stalled out for some time because the trainer’s style had stopped working for me.

  11. Pingback: Weekly Blog Roundup: Saturday, January 27, 2018

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