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Spinoff: So how do you find a good qualified trainer?

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  • Spinoff: So how do you find a good qualified trainer?

    So since anyone can hang out a shingle, how does someone like me go about finding a decent trainer?

    I'm a middle-aged, out of shape, re-rider after a >10 year hiatus. I'd like to do some lower level dressage work with the horse I've been riding (and intend to buy). Neither the horse nor I are ever going to the Olympics but I'd like to progress with him as far as our respective abilities can take us.

    I'd like to find someone who is willing to work with me on my timetable. No pressure, lots of time on the basics, no gimmicks. I only rode up to training level previously and it's been so long I'm completely out of touch.

    So how do I go about identifying a decent instructor (no need for a big name trainer here) who would be happy to work with me? I need good solid basic instruction. The barn where the horse is currently boarded is a lesson/hunter barn and the people there are not really interested in dressage so no help there. I may consider moving him at some point but that isn't possible at this time.

    I'm not ever going to be a shining star and I'd like to find someone who can enjoy teaching me and not begrudge the time that could be otherwise spent on a more promising client.
    "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple” – Barry Switzer

  • #2
    I could almost have written this. I'm quite curious also. (And I haven't been riding at all regularly, so I'm kind of nervous/intimidated about getting back into things in general, nevermind having to find a good trainer *with* a lesson horse I could ride.)


    • #3
      I think the difference is in being very upfront and honest about exactly what one's experience and qualifications are.

      'Nice local rider deals with bad habits and backs youngsters' and saying to people, 'Well, I don't have the show experience or certification, I just help folks get started and get them over the bumps, they'll need to find a specialist trainer if they are interested in going into dressage or jumping in much more detail, but I'll get them started on the way' is very different from 'Baron Plubbie de Strattenberg now available to the sniveling adoring masses after his many Olympic and Spanish Riding School triumphs'.

      I think people new to the sport should start off with basic qualifications. Find an instructor with USDF certification and good references in your local community. Show wins aren't always a good indication of teaching ability, but they do show that the person has at least SOME ability to put the rubber on the road.

      My recommendation is to ignore promises of quick progress, to not be too put off if the trainer is not exactly Mr Rogers (most good instructors are a little blunt at times), and to expect that it will be hard work and one won't always immediately understand exactly what's wanted. Instructors do yell and get excited, but 'shoulders back!' or 'turn now!' is a little different from, 'you suck and your mother was a french street walker'.

      I would expect basic professionalism - setting up a time and sticking to it, not arriving late lesson after lesson, no long conversations on the cell phone during the lesson, and a teacher that walks around the ring and watches you ride from various angles, and does not sit on the fence or in a chair staring at the sky, talking to others, etc.
      Last edited by slc2; May. 10, 2009, 07:42 AM.


      • #4
        Get some recommendations and get started. Find someone whose qualifications match your goals, then buy a lesson package with her.

        Trainers' styles vary greatly. You may find someone who teaches well and to your goals, but you don't like working with her. You can always keep trying until you find the right match.

        If you're easily intimidated, find a nice, gentle person! There are some of them out there, and there are also a lot of loud, pushy trainers that might be too scary!
        Looking for horse activity in the Twin Tiers? Follow my blog at http://thetwintiershorse.blogspot.com/


        • #5
          Go trainer shopping/interviewing. You know more about picking him/her than you think you do. Please, please don't do what so many peeps with trainers do-- hand over their wallet, their horse and they're self-esteem and common sense to someone in expensive full-seat breeches and an attitude.

          You (we), the owners, remain ultimately responsible for both our horse's well-being and our own progress, IMO.

          If you have a local dressage scene, ask lots of dressage-riding friends who they like.

          Go watch at shows and clinics. Look for the rider who is effective and tactful with the horse she is riding. The horse can be of any quality or level.

          If you can see her teach, look for the one whose riders seem to "get it" when she asks them for something. If what she says produces a nice result but is over your head, don't worry you can ask for a translation in your lesson. Should she get her rider to do something to her horse you wouldn't (as in something too punishing for that horse), whether it "works" or not, this is not the trainer for you. In this case, you and she will always disagree about "does the ends justify the means" question that can enter all levels of horse training.

          Haul in for a single lesson or "first date." Ask if she can/will come to your place. You might need to see if your BO allows other trainers to work out of her place.

          Finally, don't overlook the Hunter trainer in your own back yard. If her horses go correctly and you are really just starting out, your desire and her skills might line up ok for the time-being.
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat


          • #6
            Since my daughter and I just went through two years of hell with this we are now driving two hours one -way so she can ride with a teacher who is excellent and has bought youth riders up the levels. But hell is an understatement-- if you see a big ego-- run the other way-- if they are not competing ( I know some will disagree) dont go there, when you are new its really hard to judge others so let the show-judges do it. I swear they should make an "Angie's-list" for this stuff..
            www.windhorsefrm.org and on Facebook too!
            Where mares rule and Basset Hounds drool!


            • #7
              All really good points! In addition, look for someone who has trained their own horses to some achievable, verifiable level. It does not have to be FEI, but someone who has not trained a horse above First Level in a decade is probably not on the right track. Many may have the show record, but on a horse they did not train- they were only riders. When you watch lessons, look for some substance or value in the lesson. Or, is the instructor pandering to the student and is the whole thing a bunch of fluff and waste of time? The facility and overall sense of the lessons should stress safety and proper techniques. The USDF certification program is based on a "system". Even if the person is not certified, there should be a system based on the training Tree. Read the German Federation "Principles of Riding" as a good preparation.
              Speaking from another who drives 2 1/2 hours one way for instruction.... a quality lesson one a month or so is much more effective than a mediocre one weekly. The instructor should teach you to be the trainer of your own horse so you can make correct decisions when you ride alone. Not create a rider who is dependent on the instructor for every little thing.
              "The sea was angry that day, my friends - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli"


              • #8
                MVP posted what I was going to say! Go to shows (or clinics) and look for students who are riding well, who have some good basics, who treat their horses well - ask them who they train with! Start a list - if you get the same name two or three times, that is a trainer to go visit! Look at riders who are at a similar level to you - if you are a First level rider, take a look at Training, First, and Second level riders (students) and ask them who they train with.

                Look in the USDF directory (or your GMO directory) for USDF certified instructors, at least you know they've been through a program.

                Then go try a few lessons, even better, go WATCH a few first. And when you go watch - take a good look around - how do the horses look? Are they happy, engaged, fit, healthy? Is the facility clean (doesn't have to be spotless, but neat and workable) and SAFE? Is the footing good in the arena(s)? Is their turnout? How do the horses react to the trainer? How does the trainer communicate to clients in a lesson setting? Is it communication you are comfortable with?
                www.MysticOakRanch.com Friesian/Warmblood Crosses, the Ultimate Sporthorse
                Director, WTF Registry


                • #9
                  Originally posted by mswillie View Post
                  . . . . I'm a middle-aged, out of shape, re-rider after a >10 year hiatus. I'd like to do some lower level dressage work with the horse I've been riding (and intend to buy). Neither the horse nor I are ever going to the Olympics but I'd like to progress with him as far as our respective abilities can take us. . . .

                  I'd like to find someone who is willing to work with me on my timetable. No pressure, lots of time on the basics, no gimmicks. . . .
                  It sounds to me from this as if you are looking for someone to come to you so you can ride "your" horse. Is this correct? If so, as you look for a trainer, you need to find out whether they will travel because not all trainers will.

                  Or do you want to go to someone who has school horses that are dressage horses? That is a different question & probably requires a somewhat different search.


                  • #10
                    I agree with what's been posted, and add a few things.

                    The quality of the school horses. Even though you'd like to train your own horse, it will be helpful to take (at least periodic) lessons on a school horse. Not necessarily a schoolmaster, as you're a lower-level rerider, but a solid, steady horse that will give you confidence and skill to transfer to your own horse.

                    An instructor willing to put you on the longe. A lot of them don't. I spent months on the longe, and while they were challenging, they have been worth every minute.

                    Watching lessons is important, especially if you can learn how the person relates to a person like you. Some instructors do better with children, others relate better to adults. You are looking for someone who can relate well to a mature re-rider. We have our own set of issues!


                    • #11
                      I forgot to add: if you want someone to come to your current barn, you need to find out whether the barn will allow outside trainers & what the rules are - do outside trainers have to prove they are insured? is there a fee charged to outside trainers? do you have to pay a fee to the barn for using an outside trainer?

                      If you want to ride your horse in lessons but a trainer can't come to your current boarding barn, what are your plans? Do you have a trailer to take the horse somewhere for lessons?


                      • #12
                        1. Find someone who HAS trained horses up to a higher level. Not just someone who is RIDING upper level horses who has not trained them to that level. And watch for those who claim to have trained them but have not.

                        2. Find someone who is training RIDERS. Amateur riders. Not just someone who trains the amateurs horses and competes on them themselves.

                        3. The prettiest rider may not be the best trainer.

                        4. Visit their barn and observe their lessons, their training, their barn management (do the horses act like prisoners or do they act like they are glad to see you when you walk down the aisle.)

                        5. Ask about how often horses are worked and ask to see how they keep a record of how and when the horses are worked.

                        And if you are just starting back, a really good hunter trainer with a strong background in dressage could be a great option for you.


                        • #13
                          I have a bit of a different twist on "show record".....I would expect the trainer to have a decent, active show record, but more importantly, I want to know they have STUDENTS who do relatively well in the ring even if that isn't your goal. Having students who do well indicates they CAN teach....not all can.

                          I think the most important thing is whether you "click" with your instructor and the only way to know that is to visit, watch, try out. And, don't be intimidated to not ask questions. Remember, for the time you are with them they are YOUR employee that you are paying a service fee to. It's got to be a win-win situation.

                          Also be forewarned about any instructor who "will not allow" you to take from visiting clinicians! A good/great instructor will want you to audit or ride in clinics and observe many different techniques (and hopefully will accompany you) to see if there are other ways for you to hear and respond to training. It's a partnership for sure for continued success.


                          • #14
                            A bit more...

                            Look for a trainer who has clients similar to yourself - middle-aged and re-rider.

                            There are lots of us out there and some instructors do very well and others end up tearing their hair out and losing interest. Because, lets face it sometimes this demographic can be a little difficult to instruct (too hard on ourselves as we are remembering the glory days) and sometimes we carry some baggage (fears/ideals/expectations...).

                            I would ask where their students (like yourself) started from and when, and where they are today. Being able to help you progress and accomplish your goals is what you are paying for after all.

                            There is also no harm in asking for student references.


                            • Original Poster


                              Thanks to everyone for some really great ideas. Gives me some great things to think about and questions to ask. Any more thoughts are always appreciated.
                              "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple” – Barry Switzer


                              • #16
                                well i am going to be the odd man out here. but i dont think a show record means much as an indicator of being a "good trainer". neither does students doing well at shows. winning at shows indicates good ring craft ) and that is important but maybe not for the OP.

                                i think that what works is to go and spend time with each trainer and watch them teach/ride. for as long as possible. watch the horses. how do they look? are they happy and soft eyed? is there a lot of resistence going on? a lot of riders kicking and spurring?

                                do you see draw reins and other gadgets?

                                you can tell alot more than you think just by being open to how things "feel" - you arent going to know if what they are doing is correct - but you can absolutely tell if the horses are happy in what they are doing. and that is a start.

                                then if all of that looks good, then ask what their creds are. how their students do, etc et.

                                i say all of this after having spent a lot of time at the barns of the popular/winning/student winning/medal winning et et trainers..... and i didn't get the education i had hoped to get.

                                i *am* however getting that education from a very low key trainer (who does of course have his creds) - who shows rarely (some of his students do show tho and do well)....

                                and i knew right away i wanted to work with him. just the way he handles the horses and how he trains. my gut knew. just as surely as my gut knew that what i was doing before was not right for me.


                                • #17
                                  I agree with mbm,if it "feels" right in your gut.then it probably is.

                                  You have received some great info and this to consider.Remember,right for YOU doesn't have to be fashionable or right for anyone else.

                                  I live in an area where there are no trainers.I was fortunate enough to be directed to EqTrainer by this BB.

                                  Thanks COTH,and good luck in your search.
                                  Equine Art capturing the essence of the grace,strength, and beauty of the Sport Horse."


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Donkey View Post
                                    Look for a trainer who has clients similar to yourself - middle-aged and re-rider.

                                    There are lots of us out there and some instructors do very well and others end up tearing their hair out and losing interest. Because, lets face it sometimes this demographic can be a little difficult to instruct (too hard on ourselves as we are remembering the glory days) and sometimes we carry some baggage (fears/ideals/expectations...).

                                    I would ask where their students (like yourself) started from and when, and where they are today. Being able to help you progress and accomplish your goals is what you are paying for after all.

                                    There is also no harm in asking for student references.
                                    I work with several people like you. It takes a great deal of patience and a lot of empathy.

                                    Look for instructors who teach the student to ride the horse. We all know that the instructor can ride the horse, but can they teach you to do so. While there is a training scale for horses, they neglect the rider sometimes in the scheme of things. There are instructors who put green riders on their finished horses and teach them the tricks, but how and why these "tricks" are performed goes by the board. I've also learned over the years that many UL riders and teachers take for granted that you already know the basics, so tend to skip by them, leaving the student floundering.
                                    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                    Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.