Regardless of discipline, most riders rotate through a variety of trainers throughout their careers. I’ve been riding for 20 years and have already been through over a dozen coaches.
In the last year, I’ve taken a step away from traditional trainers and have started training myself through the support of clinics and carefully selected online trainers. I’ve been happier than ever with my riding career and my horse has never looked or moved better.
Whether you’re currently happy with your trainer, thinking about switching barns, working with a national trainer or a backyard one, I challenge you to observe your trainer on the following:
1. What do their horses look like?
You can tell a lot about a trainer based on the outer appearances of the horses that they train. Do the horses have weak backs, inverted necks, or pointy bums? Do they track up when they trot? Are they broken in the third vertebrae? Don’t be deceived by the fancy horses blessed with beautiful conformation and good movement - these are the easiest horses to fake good training on. Look at all the different styles of horses and see if they are muscled correctly.
2. How do their horses behave?
Go beyond under-saddle behavior. How are their horses to turn in? Will they stand in the wash rack? Do they pin their ears when you walk by their stall? Most problems riders experience with their horses come from lack of respect and an absence of leadership. Good trainers know this and their horses reflect this mentality. A horse that shows no respect on the ground has major holes in its training.
3. Are they solving the problem or the symptom?
This relates to the previous statement about how their horses behave. If a horse bucks during a training session, does your trainer spend time correcting the buck, or do they spend the time fixing what caused the buck?
4. What tools do they use?
Is your trainer big on bungees, draw reins, earplugs, harsh bits, crank nosebands, various drugs, joint injections, and so on? Start judging these decisions and ask yourself WHY the trainer is having to resort to them. It’s likely related to the earlier points made.
5. How long do their horses last?
A good horseman is able to keep their horse sound through correct riding. If you notice that your trainer can only seem to keep horses sound for a few show seasons, that’s a major red flag.
6. Do they sacrifice good training for a ribbon?
Correct training is too often put to the wayside for the promise of a blue (or red) ribbon. Start taking note - is showing about making the horse a better athlete (both mentally and physically) or is it about doing whatever it takes to bring home the blue?
7. Have they ever referred to horses in a scientific way?
This will show you whether or not they are a student of the horse. Have they talked about the weight a horse puts on its legs while it’s galloping, the energy-conserving makeup of its skeleton, the use of negative reinforcement as a training tool, etc.? A trainer who doesn’t understand the evolution, history and future of the horse isn’t doing it any favours.
8. Are they willing to work with what you have, or are they constantly wanting you to upgrade and spend more? This can be a dead giveaway to the trainers who rely on fancy horses to build their reputation. Real trainers can make even the plainest horse into something special. Another thing to watch for is trainers who are after the commission that goes along with a new purchase. Take note if all the horses in your barn have been chosen by the trainer. If they are, what are they like? This is true for show equipment as well. Is your trainer constantly wanting you to spend more to get “the look”? Do you need to buy supplements and massages to keep your horse feeling good? Start questioning these decisions and thinking for yourself.
Stephanie has competed in A-circuit hunter-jumper, eventing, dressage, breed shows, and extreme trail. She is a fan of natural horsemanship, classical dressage, and is currently training a young Arab/Quarter Horse gelding.