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What to look for in a trainer

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  • What to look for in a trainer

    Just curious what everybody looks for in a dressage trainer (or any trainer). I really like my event coach, but she doesn't travel and right now taking my horse to her isn't an option either. I really want to get a few lessons in on my own horse before the snow flies (no indoor either). There aren't many options in my area so I may have to take what I can get, but I am curious what people look for in a trainer?
    Maggie Bright, lovingly known as Skye and deeply missed (1994 - 2013)
    The Blog

  • #2
    What I am mostly looking for is a person with show experience, who actually competes on a regular basis.

    Do have a test lesson, and see if you can see a difference in your horse before and after. I would also take someone with you, to see if the trainer is more concerned with actually teaching you or talking around (I've trained with a person once who was a great rider and an awesome teacher, when he was up for it).


    • #3
      Must have:
      - Skills as a trainer and instructor - she/she must be able to see my horse and my strength/weakness, and devise plans/strategies to help us improve based on our current skill levels.
      - No sugar coating, no baby sitting. Tell me exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. I don't need someone to stroke my ego.
      - Know how to handle show environment, and how to ride and prepare tests. There are fine points in riding a good tests, that are different from daily training.
      - She must have desire to see us succeed. I will put in whatever work necessary to succeed. I need a trainer on the same boat.
      - She must be willing to work with off breed. I don't have warmbloods, and don't plan to get a warm blood. If he/she is too infatuated with warmblood to the exclusion of other breeds, I don't need him/her.
      - The ability to "teach"

      Good to have: while being tough to me and my horse, managing to express it in a positive manner...


      • #4
        All of the above and in addition, I have to have someone who is a professional in more than that they get paid. They need to act like a professional, treat their clients like a professional etc. There are plenty of talented riders out that there show successfully, but do not run their business in a professional manner. That just doesn't work for me. ymmv


        • #5
          All of what Gloria said plus, just because of who I am, I really appreciate a sense of humor. I enjoy riding and I want to enjoy being taught. It doesn't have to be a joke a minute, I just work better with someone who likes to laugh now and then. Dressage isn't a religious experience, I'm doing it because I like it. Fun and positive helped me get through the many many struggles I've had in the past two show seasons.

          I also like someone who has a very deep and very broad experience set. The more they know that they can apply to my problems, the better.

          I have been fortunate to find folks who have improved the gray wonder and my riding immensely in the last 3 years.


          • #6
            I think a competitive record is only important if that's your goal, and even then, it's not an accurate barometer of quality. Some of the most revered household names in dressage don't have impressive profiles on centerline scores. Conversely some of the most abusive training I've had the misfortune to witness had impressive profiles.

            I read a lot, and when I chose who I wanted to learn from, I started with the authors that struck a chord with me. I then sought them out, and those that studied under them, and those they learned from. Now I have a team I can trust for guidance when I need it.
            chaque pas est fait ensemble


            • #7
              Originally posted by atlatl View Post
              All of the above and in addition, I have to have someone who is a professional in more than that they get paid. They need to act like a professional, treat their clients like a professional etc.
              This, 1,000x this.

              And it goes both ways - frankly, I want someone who is running a business, and not letting clients screw up their schedule (and, through knock-on effect, mine) by showing up 15-20 minutes late for a lesson, and still getting their full ride time. Also, the life skills that come from negotiating a traditional workplace translate surprisingly well to a barn setting. Just sayin'.

              Though, and I guess this is a double-standard, I do hate feeling like I'm on the clock when I'm at the barn. My ideal is a situation where both trainer and client feel like it all evens out. For example, my horse is coming back from some time off for an injury, so I want my trainer to ride him for as long as she feels is appropriate, and not just max him out to the time I'm paying for. And, while I try to be respectful of my trainer's time and her other clients' time, it's nice to feel like I can talk to her off the clock about my concerns, ideas and goals. And if I'm out of town and I need her to do an extra session or two, she doesn't keep tabs. In return I do my best to be respectful, work hard, and help out where I can (not up to working student standards but at least making a visible effort.)

              I get that if this is your bread and butter, it does need to be a business where you get paid for your expertise and time. But no one wants to feel like talking to their trainer is like going to their lawyer.

              I now check everyone out on centerlinescores.com. I've discovered a couple of straight-up lying trainers with that one! And no, I don't think that show scores necessarily translate into better teaching. BUT, if you can't do it, you can't teach it. When I was last looking, I found no fewer than three local trainers who only had USDF scores in 2nd level.

              The most important thing for me was finding a trainer and barn where I felt comfortable and happy. Every rider/horse has different needs, and understanding what me and my horse are (goofy, talented, and flawed ) and where we were going did me the world of good in finding a new trainer/home that is perfect for us. I am not headed to the olympics, and neither is he. Also, now that I am in a barn with a good community of fellow riders, I don't know how I did without it! The social aspect of a barn is huge, and the trainer is only a part of it. Good luck to everybody in searching!


              • #8
                So, I'm a pro at centerlinescores stalking, so I use CS to find out how clients of trainers are doing (Trainer riding GermanHorseX, owned by Client). I ask around at shows and in the GMO to understand who's around. I research websites. I may ask if I can sit in on a lesson. But none of that will tell me how a trainer will do with me and my horse, so ultimately I've got to toss my horse on the trailer and take a lesson.

                It's also fun to go to the shows and see the trainers show and coach their clients. Again, not a perfect snapshot of their training philosophies, but just another data point.

                To help the trainer help you, on your first lesson have a short term/long term goals list. "This year I'd like to..." and "In the future, I want..." can really help the trainer tune lessons to your goals. For instance, "This year, I'd like to sit the trot and maintain effectiveness" coupled with "In the future, I want to show Grand Prix" will get you a very different set of lessons than "This year, I want to enjoy my horse" and "In the future, I'm not sure what I want."


                • #9
                  Originally posted by oldernewbie View Post
                  I really appreciate a sense of humor. I enjoy riding and I want to enjoy being taught. It doesn't have to be a joke a minute, I just work better with someone who likes to laugh now and then. Dressage isn't a religious experience, I'm doing it because I like it. Fun and positive helped me get through the many many struggles I've had in the past two show seasons.
                  I feel the same way. I've had trainers who were the "push, push, push" kind and I fel like I was always under pressure, so I was always stressed and unconfortable during my rides. I feel that having a sense of humor is just as important as having a vast experience as a rider and trainer. I don't intend to show and I'm not competitive so to me Dressage is about becoming a better rider but also about having fun.
                  Yes, I smell like a horse. No, I don't consider that to be a problem.

                  Originally posted by DottieHQ
                  You're just jealous because you lack my extensive koalafications.


                  • #10
                    On the trainer experience site, like having a trainer that has horses in full time training and is showing regularly.

                    On the more qualitative side, I look for someone who makes me feel comfortable and confident riding. Of course I want to be pushed, but I want to enjoy lessons... laugh at some of my mistakes occasionally. Being an amateur is hard enough! I also want a trainer that helps set goals in my riding or showing too.


                    • #11
                      I want a coach who can communicate to me in a way I can understand what I need to do, when. This means the person who's default is "Let me ride for a minute" is not the coach for me. The best coaches I've had have never asked me to surrender the horse to them - and not because they won't (I saw them ride other people's horses) but because they felt that it wasn't necessary. My horse and I made more progress with these coaches. I have had a couple of coaches who did ask to ride my horse (yes, I let them) and I didn't stay long with either. They were better at doing than explaining.

                      I want a coach who will push me, but not drive. I want a coach who will start me on an exercise and be able to explain the intended result, the purpose and what errors I should beware of so that I can play with it on my own between lessons. I want a coach who cares about keeping the horse relaxed and happy in his work, but not to the point of never demanding better. I want a coach who understands that I am training to better myself and my horse, not to show - though I will show sometimes (sans coach).

                      I appreciate a sense of humour, and fun that doesn't interfere with the learning as well.

                      The above works for ME, for the way I learn. Many people need to see it, or have the coach get it in the horse for the rider to feel it for a moment. You really need to figure out what helps you learn and find a coach who can teach that way. The best coaches can teach in many styles to suit the needs of each student.


                      • #12
                        A good coach also has to be part shrink. ;-) The rider's goals come first and foremost and no goal is to be ridiculed. Coaches will get on now and then to ensure what they are seeing is what the rider is feeling. Sometimes that is a big disconnect. Some riders learn by visuals (think lines of flour in the sand to learn shoulder in), others want a ton of theory, others want to know just the aids. Some riders learn one thing at a time, some riders are perfectionists, some riders don't know how to fail well and some coaches don't either. A coach pushes rider outside their comfort zone when their gut says they can. Riders progress at their own rate, on their timeframe. I usually have a plan in mind once I watch horse and rider warm up...I want to see what horse is willing to offer and always always set rider up for some sort of success no matter how bad the lesson goes...we ALL need encouragement along the way. A coach is there to be your eyes on the ground. Find someone older who has been around the block and sat on a gazillion horses, not some 21 year old...sorry youngsters, you guys just lack a tad of saddle time. Some of the best ones are not big names and have no show record. But their students sure do well at home and way from home. A good coach teaches student to work independently either at home or at a show. A good coach teaches the student to ride with what they feel, not with what they see. A good coach doesn't sugar coat. Each student comes with baggage, either from a previous bad trainer or something else. A good trainer/coach will know that automatically without being told. It's hard to find a good trainer with a good fit. A good trainer is flexible with their program...it has to be so it can fit a diverse group of horses and riders. There is no one way to Rome...what works for the rider and horse at that moment in time is what to go with...
                        Bethe Mounce
                        Head Trainer, AmeriCan Romance Equestrian
                        Brentwood CA


                        • #13
                          and there has to be respect...respect for time, both student and trainer. We're all busy. We have families and dr appointments and vet appointments etc. Cancel 48 hrs in advance if you can, please! Not the night before. Emergencies come up, of course....but plan ahead. For a coach to do justice for all, time starts to become a priority. I don't wear a watch because for me, lessons take what they take. I ride for as long as I need to and I just cannot watch a clock with a youngster. My students are very understanding of that and they get extra time when I am behind. My days are long and busy and very educational every day! Time off? What is that? ;-) LOL!!!!!
                          Bethe Mounce
                          Head Trainer, AmeriCan Romance Equestrian
                          Brentwood CA