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.
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.
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.
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.
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?