When A Trainer Says They've Done It, Check Them Out

Jun 24, 2022 - 7:56 AM

There are many factors to consider when looking for a coach. The person must be a good personality fit and offer lessons and coaching in a style that suits your learning type. They need to be logistically convenient, either in a location that’s easy for you to get to, or with technology that makes virtual coaching possible. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that they can do the job you need them to do: bring horses up to the level you want your horse brought up to, and bring humans up to the level you want to be brought up to. 

To pick a coach, you’ll want to watch them teach and ride, speak to their students, ask for references. But you can also use technology to do a little dressage credit-checking. So let’s talk about how to verify a trainer’s credentials.

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When a potential trainer says she’s brought a horse up to Grand Prix, like Victorious here, check it out. Sue Stickle photo.

First, you can research a potential trainer’s show record. The U.S. Dressage Federation’s database, USDFScores.com allows you to see a rider’s competitive history. You can see whether that rider has shown the level that they say they have, what kind of success they’ve had doing it, and, to some extent, whether they have brought their horses up the levels themselves or achieved their results on horses others trained.

To access the database, you must be a USDF member—participating, group or business—or be willing to shell out $20 per report. The reports add up quickly at $20 each, and considering a USDF membership is required to compete at most levels at most shows anyway (plus membership gives you access to other great educational and awards goodies), signing up is usually the way to go. Once logged into the website, you can search by horse, rider, horse by owner, or horse by breeder. You can then look up not only a horse or rider’s current year competition history, but you can see their lifetime of scores in recognized competition as well.

(For those involved in other sports, the “people search” function on the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s website also allows USEF members to look into a person’s competitive record, though without quite the same level of detail.)

(And another user note: If your search isn’t yielding results, check the spelling of the names, and check longer versions of nicknames. Some Katies are registered with the USDF as Kate or Katelyn or Katherine or Catherine or… Be prepared to get creative.)

So let’s say you’re looking for a trainer in, oh, I don’t know, Northern Virginia. And you’ve heard of this tall, funny lady named Lauren Sprieser, who advertises herself as a Grand Prix trainer. Let’s use the USDFScores database to confirm. Search for me. (That’s “SprIEser,” by the way). Then click on “lifetime” on the left hand side to see beyond this year.

First, let’s confirm that I’ve ridden Grand Prix at all. Click on the green button that says “level statistics,” and you’ll be greeted with the minimum, median and max scores I’ve achieved at each level, as well as the number of rides that I’ve had at each level. You can see that my median at Grand Prix is just under 65 (with a high of 78.9 on Ellegria that I absolutely did not deserve, and a memorable low of 49 from when I was about 21 years old and very, very stupid), and that I’ve ridden 91 Grand Prix tests in my life. Nice.

So I have ridden Grand Prix, but let’s see if I did it on horses I made myself or on ones that someone else made for me. Scroll down a bit and click on the horse I showed last in 2013, Victorious. Head over to the “lifetime” option on the left side of the page, and you’ll call up “Midge’s” long sport career. You can see that a baby me took a baby Midge to his first show in 2006, and competed him first in a Materiale class for 4- and 5-year-old stallions and geldings. You can then follow his career with me, from training level in 2006 and 2007 (it took Midge a minute to behave himself), up through Intermediate II and Grand Prix in 2012 and 2013.

So now you know I can train a horse up the levels. But what about training a rider? Head back to USDFScores.com, and keep looking at Midge’s record, because after me, he changed into the ownership of another person, a student and friend of mine named Liza Broadbent. You can see that she started showing Midge at third level, and then fourth, and then up the levels until she, too, showed him Grand Prix. 

This is where you’ll need a little Googling, because while this tells you I’ve at least made a horse that could teach someone about Grand Prix (which is good; it means that at least the horse isn’t such a weirdo that only I could con him around), you don’t necessarily know that Liza was my student the whole time. But conveniently the first hit for Liza’s name is this wonderful Chronicle story of how Liza and Midge came together, which solves that mystery.

What are some other ways you can use the internet to verify what a trainer says they’ve done? Head to their social media or to their websites. Google the names of the students they talk about. Look up their show records. Look for testimonials or Facebook or Google reviews. 

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A quick check to a trainer’s social media will show you their students’ competitive successes. Abe Pugh and Alice Drayer’s Trakehner stallion Elfenperfekt make me look very smart! Photo Courtesy Of Lauren Sprieser

Why are any of these things relevant to your quest for a trainer? I’m personally of the mind that one of the best choices you can make is someone who’s not only done what you want to do but also has taught others to do what you want to do. And of course, your next step is to step away from the machine and out into the real world. Ask the trainer for some references. Watch them teach others. Take a tour of the farm, meet the horses, look at their physical condition. 

Certainly competition results are only one piece of a complicated puzzle. In addition to the banal things like geography, cost and availability, there are plenty of trainers who are terrific riders but not amazing teachers and vice versa. We bring a stellar biomechanics expert to our barn whose own show record is underwhelming; I have friends who’ve had fantastically poor luck in getting horses almost to the Big Level only to have them get hurt or sick or taken away by the owners. There are a million reasons why a competition record is only one piece of the pick-the-right-coach equation.

But the technology exists, if you’re search-engine savvy and have a little time to put your Google-fu skills to work. Then watch the instructor teach, get some references, and get cracking on achieving your goals!


Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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