Choosing the right trainer is crucial to your progression as a horseman (or horsewoman!) and a rider. But unfortunately, the right trainer for you isn’t always the right one for someone else. It’s always a mixture of credentials, costs, experience, and personality match. And that’s without even considering the horse’s personality!
What you should consider when you’re narrowing down your list of potential trainers:
- Your goals
- Their teaching style
It’s a combination of these factors, plus the way you gel together, which makes a good student-instructor combination. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Geography plays a bigger role for some riders than others. If you’re in an area where there are plenty of barns, trainers, and disciplines on offer then it likely won’t matter whether one is five minutes closer or not. But if you happen to be in an area where good trainers are hard to come by, you’ll need to look for someone who is close enough to fit you in on a regular basis – whether that’s weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. If getting to the lesson is more hassle than it’s worth for either you or the potential trainer, it likely won’t work out in the long run.
It’s true that some good coaches haven’t ridden at the top levels—just like in any other sport. Tennis coaches, for example, aren’t always Grand Slam winners. That said, you should definitely think about a potential trainer’s experience and how it matches up with yours.
If you want to ride Grand Prix, you’ll need a trainer who has experienced competition and trained plenty of riders to high levels. If you want to bring on a young horse to be a nice ride, you’ll want a trainer who has experience with young horses. If you’re just starting out and want to learn basics, you probably don’t need a trainer with a CV as long as their arm; just like a second grade child doesn’t need a college professor to teach them math!
Though it’s every equestrian’s dream for money to be no object, it’s rarely the case. Sadly! Unless you’re very fortunate, you’ll probably have to consider your budget when you’re looking for a trainer. Again, keep your experience level in mind. If you’re a complete beginner who really needs mileage in the saddle, it’s probably better to choose a less-expensive instructor so you can ride more often under supervision. If you’re looking to compete at high levels, you might get better results by paying for a more experienced instructor who you see less regularly but who can really challenge you in your lessons. Especially if you own your horse and can work on what you’ve learned in between lessons. (PS: here are some more tips about how to save money owning a horse).
Recommendations can be really helpful in finding the right trainer for you. Close friends, riding buddies, and social media are valuable tools here. People who know you, your goals, your horse, and your riding style are likely to recommend someone who they think will be a good fit. And asking around in community groups or horse groups online can help you to get a feel for a trainer’s reputation and client satisfaction.
Some trainers teach multiple disciplines, especially at lower and intermediate levels. If you want to dabble in everything or haven’t yet decided what discipline you’re going to focus on, this can be a huge benefit. By sticking with one trainer for each discipline, they can mix and match the lesson structure to suit your goals and the way you feel on the day of the ride. It can also be less confusing as you’re not going to get conflicting instruction.
If you want to specialize (or alternatively, want to compete at high levels in more than one discipline) you will eventually need a trainer who focuses on one discipline. While a jumping instructor can help you with some flatwork, they’re not usually going to be able to help you produce a PSG dressage horse.
- Your goals
If your goals weren’t important, you wouldn’t even need an instructor! But whether you have the ultimate goal of doing a trail ride safely with a friend or eventing at the Olympics, your goals are ultimately what drives the need to grow and progress as a rider. Choosing a trainer who can help with your specific goals is really important; a trainer who wants you to jump and compete if you’re nervous and disinterested is likely going to push you and create resentment. On the other hand, a trainer who focuses on fun, laidback group lessons for kids isn’t going to be the right fit for a teenager with big ambitions.
The first step is, of course, being honest with yourself (and any potential trainers) about what your goals are, both in the short and long term.
- Their teaching style
Finally, an instructor’s teaching style is crucial to your learning. It’s not that one style is better than the other, but we all absorb information differently. And we all respond to different levels of pressure and praise. You need to find a trainer whose style suits you; so you understand what they’re asking you to do and you feel comfortable riding with them. Some people feel motivated by an instructor who is stricter and pushes them, others prefer someone who is more gentle and who will gently encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. Again, neither of these are wrong – but getting the right fit for you will be key to unlocking your potential.
The last step
After you have a short list of trainers you like, it’s time for the fun part: trying the trainers out. Even when you think you have the perfect match on paper, it’s hard to tell whether that will translate to a good match once you’re in the saddle. Your own personalities play a big role, as do the way both of you communicate. Not to mention views on things like how horses should be fed, worked, stabled, disciplined, and so on.
So whenever possible, the best way to make a decision is to have a lesson or two with each of the trainers you’re seriously considering. If you have your own horse, try and ride them in the lesson. If not, get an idea of the types of horses you’ll be riding in lessons. Be open with them about the fact that you’re trying a few trainers before you make a decision, so that there’s a clear understanding from the start.
When you find “the one” you’ll know! It won’t necessarily be the person who has you doing the most advanced things, or even the person who teaches you something new – but the person who you think will create the best foundation for you to improve as a rider. And sometimes, that even means going back a few steps to unlearn bad habits before you can start improving.
With these 7 tips, you should now have a better idea which horse trainer or trainers will be good for you. Hopefully, you can soon look back on a choice well made!
How did you find your trainer, and what was it that made you love their teaching? Let us know in the comments!