Tips for Choosing Your Best Match
by Kim Roe
Recently I attended a clinic given by someone I find gentle, patient, and classical. I enjoy riding with this trainer because I know my horse will be safe and I won’t be pushed into an uncomfortable place that I can’t recover from when the clinic is over. Surprisingly, a friend of mine found it just the opposite. She felt pushed hard, and needed to have a good cry afterwards. We both had similar lessons, but our take-aways were incredibly different. Luckily, the world is full of good horse trainers, riding instructors, and clinicians. The trick is finding the right one for you and your horse.
Know Your Goals – Take the time to ask yourself what you really want and write it down. What are your goals? Why do you ride? I’ve had people come to me for lessons who say, “I just want to have fun with my horse…” You need to define that. What’s fun for me might not be fun to you.
Know Yourself – Are you a social person who enjoys riding with other people? Do you like group lessons and activities like potluck dinners at the barn? Or do you prefer a peaceful ride and a private lesson with no one around to distract you or the trainer? Is fear a problem? Boredom? Are you lost in your training and need motivation? Do you want your trainer’s undivided attention or do you prefer less scrutiny and a little down-time during your lesson? Do you hate barn drama? Ask other riders about an instructor’s teaching style. And by all means, go watch a prospective trainer teach before signing up.
Know Your Horse – Find a trainer that has had success with a horse like yours – his breed, phenotype, and personality. I have a Lusitano and have had the most success working with people who understand and regularly work with this breed.
Know Your Discipline – I’ll admit I’m not hard and fast on this, as I do learn from different disciplines. I’m a dressage and working equitation rider, but I enjoy jumping, ranch riding, and cow horses, and will audit clinics given by these people. I’ll hear the same things dressage people say, but in a different “language”. This can lead to epiphanies. But realistically, if you want to show hunters, you need to be in a program with someone who specializes in hunters.
Know Your Time and Commitment – If you are going to struggle to find the time to saddle your horse between lessons and practice, it’s best to avoid overly ambitious and competitive trainers. Be honest with your trainer and yourself about your commitment to your riding.
Respect and Trust – These are different sides of the same coin. Having respect for a teacher leads to trust. Trust enables you to do what you’re asked in those moments when your instructor says, “You can do this, try it.” Trust helps you push past self-doubt and fear. There’s no telling why some people gain your respect and why others won’t. Don’t take lessons from someone you don’t respect or trust. It’s not fair to them, and a waste of your time.
Further important points:
- Ride with a trainer who sees the whole horse. Trainers often immediately assume all problems are training. This is what they’re good at, so that’s what they see. I prefer instructors who think about why a horse might be having problems picking up that right lead. It’s not always about the training. Sometimes a hock is sore, a horse is suffering from ulcers, or the saddle doesn’t fit.
- Find someone aligned with your training philosophy. If you have a certain idea about how horses should be trained, find someone who believes as you do. Never forget we must always advocate for our horses. If a trainer is doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable and worried about your horse, you shouldn’t be there. This comes back to trust.
- Just because someone is good at riding doesn’t mean they can teach it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a world or Olympic champion will give you a great lesson. It will be expensive, but not necessarily educational. Regular lessons from a competent, caring instructor will get you further than a rare clinic riding with someone famous.
You might need to stick with someone for a while before you know for sure, one way or the other. Sometimes you aren’t quite ready for the intensity of a certain instructor, and then months (or years) later you find it’s just the experience you need. Remember, to grow and learn you need to get outside your comfort zone. Be willing to stretch a little!