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Outgrowing your trainer

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    Outgrowing your trainer

    I’m not quite there yet, but I can see that I might be reaching the limits of my current trainer’s ability to help me progress in the not so far distant future.

    I have learned a ton from her and she has been fabulous for me. This is not a situation where a line was crossed and I feel the need to leave. It is more that as we are moving up, I wonder if we are going to keep making progress as we approach higher levels.

    How do you know it is time to change?
    How do you start looking for another trainer? I’m blessed to be in an area where there are many (good and bad) to choose from.

    "So relax! Let's have some fun out here! This game's fun, OK? Fun goddamnit." Crash Davis; Bull Durham

    I would say it’s already time if you are already asking the question. Most of us wait too long to leave a program that’s no longer suitable for our needs or goals. As to how to find one? Word of mouth / recommendations from fellow riders you trust. Watching shows - especially the warm up rings - and attending clinics. Depending on your relationship with your current trainer, you may also want to ask them to recommend someone suitable to get you to the next level. That will depend if current trainer is aware of your goals and their own limitations in getting you all the way there.

    Most important is to find someone who has already had consistent, repeated success higher than the goal you want to achieve. Not just success themselves on their own own horses, but success getting clients to that level on their horses, with consistent progress up the levels year after year.

    Do not take their word alone for it - verify with scores and results, and follow up with references.


      If you are in area where shows are going on you attend a show and pick out riders you admire and see if you can find out who they are training with.

      Or, you can watch a lesson with someone you know and get an idea if you think you might want to take a lesson with her trainer.

      It sounds like you have a good relationship with your current trainer so I would have a candid conversation and just tell her the truth and ask her for recommendations .

      She might get hurt or angry, but on the other hand she might be accepting and I believe she will respect you for being honest with her and not going behind her back.

      When you do find another trainer, take your previous trainer out and treat her to a nice dinner and give her a gift to let her know how much you appreciate her.

      You dont have to do that, of course but if you really feel appreciative then let her know.

      You dont have to feel guilty for wanting to progress.

      Riding instruction is a form of education and in any other system of education , no student expects to be with one teacher for the rest of their life.

      Riding should be no different.

      Good luck in your dressage journey.
      Certified Guacophobe


        I agree that if you are asking the question, it's probably time to make the change. The trainer/client relationship, for many of us, is a deeply personal one, and it can be difficult to tell your trainer you are moving on. The last time I did it, I gave my trainer a gift, thanked him for everything, and said I felt it was time to make a change. He was disappointed, but being a confident, no-drama kind of person, he was gracious, and when I saw him at a show probably two months later, he smiled, shook my hand, and congratulated me on my good scores.
        "She is not fragile like a flower. She is fragile like a bomb."


          Great advice already given. In the event that it doesn't go well, don't second guess yourself, you'll have been given confirmation you're making the right move.

          Good Luck!


            We have had many trainers in the past 55 years of horse ownership ---the best ones kicked the kids out when they felt they could no longer help them improve. But in 3-Day I felt it was more clear-cut than other disciplines --when the kid started riding at the level the trainer had achieved, he told her she needed to find someone more advanced. I would think if you are in dressage, too, if you approaching where your trainer shows, it is a good time for the trainer to tell you to start looking. . . .the absolute WORST trainers (in my opinion) insist you stay with him/her endlessly. As a now retired teacher, I always felt there was only so much knowledge I could share with a student before he/she needed to move to a different teacher (we all have our blind spots). Theoretically, a student could have had my class for four years of English or Social Studies in high school ---that never happened and should not.

            A good trainer will celebrate your "move up." A simple, "Hey, Lisa --next fall I plan to ride with Buck Davidson. You have really helped me have the skills and confidence to move to his stable. Thank you."


              It's such a hard thing, isn't it? And yet, as someone else mentioned above, it's really quite unusual to expect a student would learn every possible thing from one teacher over a riding career.

              My feeling is that you learn different things from different trainers; sometimes it is a matter of levels (and where you are in your journey compared to where the trainer may be) and other times it is a matter of teaching styles or even practical considerations like availability and distance.

              In any case, I agree with the advice to watch riders whom you admire - easily done at a show or clinic if they are running in your area - to get a feel for the possibilities. If you have the kind of relationship with your current trainer that allows you to have a candid conversation on this subject, they may be a good resource as well. But be aware that that is a TOUGH conversation for both parties - and more so if the trainer does not see it coming.

              Good luck.
              We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                Where I live it's easy to call up the data on Equine Canada recognized shows. This lets you see what ammies are competing at what levels, who their trainer is, and what level the trainers are competing at. You can deduce a lot if you scrutinize the numbers and follow the fortunes of various horses. I am sure similar exists in the US though

                Some of the things I found. Very local dressage coaches that come home with a handful of ribbons. But when you look it up, they've muscled their way up to 4th level scoring in the high 50s (on warmbloods) and are savvy about entering under subscribed shows and classes, so that huge flashy second
                ​​​​​place ribbon for a score of 55 is earned in a class of two horses.

                Slightly higher profile coach whose claim to fame is that they had a Grand Prix season. That in itself is rare here. But reading the results makes it clear the horse was imported in its midterms as a finished horse by a client and the coach campaigned it for a year. Coach has not brought any horses past 4th level.

                Neither of these coaches have much success with getting their students past training level.

                On the other hand, there are trainers with legitimate upper level experience who are now bringing along green horses for resale and don't have a current FEI level horse.

                Anyhow if you want coaching towards horse shows then the online data will give you a shortlist of active coaches and some data to help you see past the high impact marketing on their websites.

                Once you have a shortlist you can search coach and riders out at shows and watch. If you like what you see you could go to their barn to audit a few lessons. If you have transportation separate from your current trainer you could even haul in for a trial lesson.


                  Many moons ago, I was working my fanny off to be really effective, and at the same time be elegant on a horse. I was working with a local trainer/judge/instructor, but I rode in clinics with established and respected names whenever I could.

                  After one such less on with a clinician, who was and is at the top, I asked him what I need to do to continue to improve. He looked right at me and said, "you need a new horse AND a new instructor." I knew about the horse- I bought him as a resale project, and just kept going with him. But, I was shocked about the instructor- she had set up the clinic, and was friendly with him. I truly appreciated his honesty.

                  I think that there is a very fine line between being friendly with your instructor/trainer, and being or believing that you are besties. It makes the relationship become extremely fuzzy when there are issues with your horse, or your business with them. I believe that it should be a cordial business relationship. Not one where you believe that every move that they make cannot be questioned, and that they are part of your family. I watched alot of it when I was in the biz, and it just never ends well.

                  When it's time to move on, it's just time.
                  When someone shows you who they are, BELIEVE them- Maya Angelou


                    Don't over think it. As soon as it gets to a point where you feel like asking this question out loud, find a new trainer and move.


                      I dont think questioning is a reliable sign that it is time to move on. A lot depends upon you - your personality and goals. What about your current trainer makes you question? Lots of time working on basics? It could be that they dont know how to help you move on, or it could be that they are giving you a sound foundation that will make moving up much easier later.

                      I have seen students stick with a trainer trying to BS their way past their level of competence. I have also seen students "move up" to a BNT and get soaked for $$$ for less effective teaching. Of course, sometimes everything works as it should too!

                      My thoughts would be to discuss your progress and goals with your trainer to get more information about how you might (or might not) go forward. Then I would also go to clinics or travel out to other trainers periodically for another POV. And I would do this openly and with input from your trainer.


                        I would care more how a trainer's students ride than how the trainer rides. Don't overlook outstanding trainers who bring their people along and have a long track record of doing so, even though they are not riding at the level themselves. A rider with goals needs a great instructor/trainer more than they need a great rider. And sometimes great riders are not effective teachers.


                          I just went through this and probably should have switched sooner than I did. As I started doing FEI, it became clear that the trainer that got me there (who really helped me a lot bringing the horse along) didn’t have the tools to improve the work enough to get higher scores. She had never trained or ridden past the level I was competing and neither had her other students.

                          I switched to someone who has a track record of making multiple horses and students up to GP, and, while it is more expensive, it’s definitely worth it.

                          I asked around and spoke with a good friend familiar with the options in the region, she was able to steer me towards good people and away from one who wouldn’t have helped.


                            Originally posted by OverandOnward View Post
                            I would care more how a trainer's students ride than how the trainer rides. Don't overlook outstanding trainers who bring their people along and have a long track record of doing so, even though they are not riding at the level themselves. A rider with goals needs a great instructor/trainer more than they need a great rider. And sometimes great riders are not effective teachers.
                            This. A good trainer should be very experienced in the areas their students aspire to, whether is bringing a green horse correctly up the levels or being able to explain and instruct the student how to have an effective and correct seat. Being able to teach the latter will help a rider make their current and any horse more competitive and not require that the rider has to keep buying a more expensive horse to do well at shows or for their goals.

                            If a student wants success showing, a good trainer should also know what is required to train a horse correctly to do that. But having the medals themselves or an extensive show record doesn't necessarily mean a trainer will take the time or has the knowledge to train their students well. In fact, a lot of trainers are more focused on their own goals than wanting to develop their students, both at home and at shows.

                            Find and watch the students of trainers you admire. Do you like how they ride? Are they competitive at shows if that's what you want as well? That will probably lead you to a good trainer.


                              I did this this year- first, I would encourage you to look a this as an exciting opportunity and not a loss. I'd also encourage you to think of this conversation with your trainer as a skilled one requiring some tact and not as a difficult conversation. I would sit down with your current trainer and lay it out with them- you're starting to think its time to move on to someone who has the experience to get you to the next level and you'd like to be up front with them about it because you are thankful for where they have gotten you. Trainers know that clients come and go, having you leave and go on to do bigger things- that's actually great for your trainers business, it shows that they can produce riders and pairs from x level to y level. It would also mean that they are sending a walking advertisement for their program out into the world. I would tell them how much you value the time you've had together and how much their advice means to you but that you think its time to find someone at the next level. I always say, when I am at or close to the best rider in a program, its time to move on. You want to be solidly middle- that means the program has plenty of room to teach you because it is just that much more advanced than where you are now. Once you lay it out, I would let them talk. Odds are, this person is already thinking they may lose you soon and so to be a part of that narrative and help you find that next spot would actually do a lot for them personally and reputationally. They can use placing you in a new program as an opportunity to make a good referral contact with a trainer at a different level. If the conversation doesn't go well or they get offended, stick to your guns. Its time to move, you're giving them notice that you'll be interviewing. I will agree with others, I started my convos with my trainer a year ago and I should have moved then. I wanted to be kind and give her more time and plenty of notice, but I was ready the moment the thought truly occurred to me. Try to get in the headspace that you're not telling your trainer that they're not enough for you- they just own a space on the training spectrum that you're not in anymore. it doesn't make them any less of the fantastic trainer you've seen them to be. I think if you go in with that tone, the convo will go better. If you're dragging your feet, I'd also suggest you set a date and give notice- 60 to 90 days out so you have a deadline and don't stay longer than you should to not hurt someone's feelings. Best of luck


                                Congratulations! You should be proud of yourself!

                                You have already received excellent advise, including that if you are asking, it is already likely time.

                                When I was teaching, I would say about 70-80% of the time riders were ready to move on, I approached them. I would suggest some other trainers in the area that I respected myself, depending on that student's personal goals, discipline of choice, and personality (like not sending the super timid riders who needed a little extra reassurance to the local shark!). I would suggest they watch that trainer give a few lessons, and then we would talk about it at their next lesson with me. What went well? Did they have any reservations? If so, we talked through it, or I would try to find a more suitable fit for them elsewhere. Then they would take a trial lesson with their new instructor, or a few. Finally, especially for my students who had "grown up" with me, no matter their age, I would invite them for a final ride with me. I would usually ride with them, either in the ring, or sometimes we would trail ride. I think as an instructor, having a "kid" outgrow me felt like a personal win for me, too... it meant I served that student well, and got them well on their way.

                                So, maybe ask outright if you trainer has any personal recommendations for you when you have *the* conversation. And if you are especially close to your trainer, and/or have been there for a very long time, consider ending on a personal note, to celebrate how far both of you have come.


                                  Originally posted by Cocorona View Post
                                  ........ If you're dragging your feet, I'd also suggest you set a date and give notice- 60 to 90 days out so you have a deadline and don't stay longer than you should to not hurt someone's feelings. Best of luck
                                  Excellent thoughts and suggestion in the whole post quoted. Just a note that I personally would not drag out the notice period more than 30 days, maybe 45. The trainer needs to fill the hole in her program and to do that she needs to tell a new student that she has a spot open now, or very soon. And, it may send the wrong signal that the trainer could do this or that to keep you - don't put her in that position. And, it is going to be more awkward, not less, to keep hanging around after giving notice.

                                  Keep in mind that while a riding student (most) has just one teacher, the teacher has many students. The student can give the relationship more weight than the teacher does. Teachers are (or should be) accustomed to having some turnover in their students. If they are a good teacher, it should be a regular thing that students graduate to higher levels.

                                  One last thought - it may well have a occurred to a teacher that a particular student is ready for something more. But what will the student think if that is suggested? What if the student is comfortable remaining here at this level - will the student be surprised and think the teacher is trying to push them to leave? So, sometimes a teacher is already ready to hear the message.