For me, riding is a lifelong learning process. Maybe I would feel differently if I were a better rider, but I hope not (I'm a novice).
I also have a funny habit of buying or leasing above my current ability level. Then they need regular exercise to stay relaxed. So horsey and I stay in a program to be safe and progress. In fact, my mare needs to periodically jump well higher than I am capable to keep her focused and happy.
I also like someone on the horse and on the ground, someone who helps look after me and the horse.
Now, if I were a better rider, had perhaps a BTDT type horse, didn't jump/show, and could routinely provide 5-6 days of regular rides, maybe I would feel differently.
For me, working with a trainer is just being smart about taking care of myself and my horse. I wouldn't do it any other way. I LOVE my lessons!! Even the part where I get yelled at!!
I rode for a couple decades and owned over a dozen horses, including green beans, without a trainer or coach. Now I DO have someone I can tap for advice, a brain to bounce ideas off of, and eyes on the ground, and it's wooooonderful! It is so nice having assistance in adding tools to my tool box, fixing gaps, and getting feedback when I'm stuck.
Maybe it's because I haven't been in a typical lesson environment, but I don't feel that I get nearly as much out of a traditional lesson as I do spending less time having a more intimate 3-way conversation between myself, the horse, and my eyes on the ground.
I have a trainer because I like her and it's more fun to ride with her giving me pointers and exercises to try. Plus, I keep learning new things, which makes it more interesting for me and for my horse. Now that I'm not showing this year, do I really need lessons? No. But I enjoy the process more than the shows.
I have two trainers. One who started my mule under saddle and who we continue to work with because I sure don't have the knowledge or expertise to work with a youngster and another trainer for my eventing horse.
I have so much to learn as an equestrian, and I like to soak up as much information as possible, and my trainers have much to teach me. Much like saddleup wrote, I really enjoy the process.
I work with a woman who is my riding instructor sometimes and my horse training instructor others. For the sake of brevity I call her "my trainer".
Why try to reinvent the wheel when this person has made her life's work training horses and riders?
Any issue that I have a problem with I'm going to have to either figure out on my own, to the detriment of the horse sometimes and definitely over a longer time frame. I think I've said before that if I'd had a once a week lesson while I was crashing around on ponies I'd have learned to be a more effective rider SO much faster, but as it was I learned how to crash around on ponies and didn't get much past that.
I don't know many event (my chosen discipline) riders who "go it alone". I lost my regular, once a week, lesson spot a couple of years ago when I had surgery and couldn't ride for months. Now if I want to ride with that instructor I'd have to travel farther, and pay a grounds fee, so in the last year I've made do with a couple of clinics. I feel capable enough to do beginner novice alone, but beyond that no. I've been eventing for 25 years and have always had an instructor, but never had my horse in a training program.
I have a trainer whom I ride with off and on, but she coaches me, she doesn't ever ride my horse.
All while growing up and riding I had a trainer, and as an adult re-rider in h/j-land I had a trainer... until I decided I didn't like being controlled by the training program. I didn't show enough to make it worthwhile so went into a "half-training" program with a different trainer. That was okaaaay, but again there were problems. I decided I needed to get out of h/j-land, so I moved to a dressage barn! It was fun to learn something new and I took 2-3 lessons a week and enjoyed it.
Fast-forward to now when I keep my horses at home - 100% of their care is on me and I wouldn't have it any other way. With regard to training, I have (off and on over the past 8 years) trailered out once a week for a lesson either with an eventing trainer or a dressage trainer. Neither of them ride/rode my horses - all the riding was on me.
While I do like taking lessons and of course love to learn and improve my skills, I also find that I'm the kind of person who really prefers to work on my own. I'll take information from a lesson, go home and work on it and do my homework and maybe skip lessons for a little while while I focus on something. As a yoga instructor I have a lot of body awareness so I feel like I am able to self-correct and pay attention to what my position is doing.
I also like doing a lot of various things so go to clinics with different perspectives - last year I went to a clinic where we worked some cows. In a few weeks I'm going to a Buck Brannaman clinic. I like learning different types of things, not just one thing.
So that's a long way of saying that I'm not in a consistent training program at the moment - but I also keep learning through reading and watching.
1. I have long-term competitive aspirations. They're modest aspirations, but still important to me. So I need guidance.
2. I work full-time and due to my location and other logistical challenges, I can't get to the barn more than 3 days a week -- maybe 4 on special weeks.
3. I want to continually improve my riding skill level to become as capable a rider as I can be. I don't believe this is possible for *anyone* without regular eyes on the ground as a bare minimum, and I don't believe it's possible for *me* in specific without regular quality instruction.
4. I own a young, quite green, athletic, lovely horse and I am an amateur. I can ride her by myself and I actually think I do a decent job because she's got a great brain, but I can't bring out the best in her the way a good trainer can. And she's really very gifted. Moreso than I realized when I bought her. So it matters to me to have her with somebody good.
So for reasons 1-4, I need at least an instructor/coach. Due to reasons 2 and 4, I *specifically* need a trainer. But even if I could ride every day and had a less-green horse, I'd still be in somebody's program as a student because of reasons 1 and 3.
My horse and I are in full training and probably will be for many years. I cannot teach myself the things I want to do and also want someone to keep my horse well-trained. He knows a lot more than I do and his abilities need to be there once I'm ready for those movements. Once a week or so he also deserves more skillful riding than I am currently able to offer him in order to help his confidence. I enjoy lessons and I love seeing my horse progress - I find it quite exciting. I like a training environment where everyone has goals and we're constantly building toward something.
But aside from those things, I am very lazy and if I didn't have a trainer I would definitely not give the effort I currently do. I've part-boarded horses without being in training in the past and it was hard to stay motivated and I was often bored. I like being yelled at! I like being encouraged and assured that what I consider progress really is progress, I like being shown how to correct mistakes, and I like someone who will celebrate with me.
I have two horses at home. My semi-retired, ex-dressage mare is now my trail horse. I ride to ride and enjoy every minute with her. I don't take lessons anymore with her - we just have fun. My gelding is my dressage professor and I do take lessons with him once or twice a month. I want to learn everything he can teach me and this is the way I can do that. I need the eyes and the knowledge of someone who knows more than I do.
I have always been a hands-on, borderline control freak so I have a coach rather than a trainer that I trailer to for lessons a few times a week. I came to riding later in life and in order to navigate the unchartered waters of second level and above I need eyes on the ground and instruction to help me get there. My current horse I got as a 3 year old (he is 8 now) and I have had an amazing journey with him so far. I'm not sure I would have the same bond/relationship or sense of accomplishment if he were in full training so that's really my main reason for not going that route. Admittedly he would be much further along in his training! He is and has been an amateurs dream as far as work ethic and temperament so if these factors were different, I may have needed full time training. Even if I didn't show I would still enjoy the learning process of being in a lesson program.
I am primarily a fox hunter and trail rider although I did a little showing and some eventing way back in the dark ages. I rode regularly with trainers in my younger years then had a 30 year hiatus where I just pleasure rode with no trainer involvement.
About 5 years ago I started riding with a trainer again because I had stopped jumping many years ago, I had a senior horse who had to retire from jumping and what with work and life riding became just a weekend type hobby. Fast forward to a few years back when I retired and decided to get back into regular (vs sporadic) foxhunting...I discovered that my jumping skills and nerve had gotten lost in the past.
I started working with an excellent trainer who shows jumpers in addition to being a fox hunter himself. I have found my riding skills and my enjoyment of all my riding have increased a great deal as a result of riding with my trainer. Bad habits that crept in over all those years of casual riding are being addressed. I have rediscovered my love of jumping and my horses are much happier with me as I now am much more clear about what I want from them. I don't envision that I will ever stop riding with a trainer again.
the only thing i want to add to Meups fantastic post is that the more you learn the more you learn what you dont know..... and this is so true. when i was young and rode by the seat of my pants, i was a great little rider with absolutely no education. i thought i knew it all :)
it wasnt until i started "taking lessons" that i started to understand how little i actually knew and how far i had to go. now 40 years later i am finally getting it.
fwiw, my goal is to be the best trainer i can be - to get there i take 2 or 3 lessons a week and generally ride under the watchful eyes of my trainer.
i currently ride my rising 5 yo Connemara whom i am training myself and who the goal is FEI, i also have a WB mare who is in foal - so i need to get extra special good for that baby so that i can give it the best training i can in 4 years :)
why do i do this? because to me the horse deserves it. and it gets much more fun the more i know.
and horses dont lose training. they might lose fitness but they all mostly retain training.
also, it is possible to just get on and ride *and* strive to be the best rider/trainer you can be.
so for any who dont take regular lessons - give it a shot you might be incredibly surprised at how much you learn :)