Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Selecting a trainer

This is all hypothetical at this point since we're a decent ways off from any jumping, but I'm struggling finding a jumping trainer and was hoping for input from anyone who has successfully found trainers they love.

Plz send halp

I have a dressage trainer who I LOVE. I rode with him way back in high school through Pony Club. He had Zing doing passage with me on him. He brought us up to second level with shockingly few lessons. And when we struggled with canter-walk transitions he hopped on, put him in a collected canter, dropped the reins to the buckle, maintained the collected canter, and then did a beautiful canter-walk. Okay yeah, I knew I was the problem, but you really drove it home. Anyways, once I got my own rig last summer, I looked him up again and started hauling J, the warmblood mare, up to his farm for lessons. Yoshi got to go twice pre-lameness. When I was only lessoning with him intermittently in clinics with Pony Club, I struggled with replicating lesson quality at home. He really rides every stride with you, providing feedback on what you should be doing and also making sure you feel when it is right and when it is wrong. With more frequent (q2-3 weeks) lessons, I started being able to replicate that feeling and timing at home. By riding every stride with me in lessons he really teaches correct feel and timing. I wish I could share a video, but he requested no videos or pictures at his farm be posted online. 

I haven't found a jumping trainer in the area who I love, and honestly I'm a lot less experienced vetting jumping trainers. The area I live in is a mecca of trainers though, with TONS within an hour haul. I don't mind paying a decent amount for a lesson, but the more I pay, the more I need to get out of it to take home because the less frequently I can lesson. 

I've been trying to ponder what makes me LOVE my dressage trainer and have come up with: 

- Correct training: maybe where I struggle with finding jump trainers... I have a much better eye for correct dressage work than correct jumping. I can see striding and pace, but beyond that unless things are horrendous or perfect I struggle to figure out the effect the riders position is having on the horse as well as the technicalities of the jump itself. When I have overlapped with my dressage trainers other lessons, they are riding at a level I want to ride at with beautifully correct horses. And as noted above, he can also do the damn thing himself. He has ridden grand prix so clearly knows how to do it and also, his students show he knows how to bring a pair up the levels. I don't necessarily need a trainer who can still get on and do the things, but I do want one who has done them at some point in the not too distant past. Does this mean though that since my eventing dreams/goals are much more limited than my dressage goals (no desire to go more than training level... ever... if that) that I only need a trainer who has competed through training level? Something tells me no... but I'm really not actually sure. 

- Enthusiasm/timing: dressage trainer is a cheerleader for you but also will nail you when things are incorrect... Not in a mean way, but you don't get to toodle around the ring with a hollow, stilted horse. I like in the moment corrections, both in dressage and jumping. I don't want to do a whole course then dissect it, that's harder for my brain to breakdown and respond to in a better way the next time. 

- Availability: My work schedule is all over the damn place. I love being able to text the week before and choose a lesson day and time. I can't do a weekly scheduled lesson. I can schedule much further in advance than one week, but I cannot commit to the same day and time each week. 

- Exercises at home and freedom: I am independent, and I've been riding for 25 years at this point. I am so, so far from an expert or an advanced rider, but dressage trainer encourages me to ask for more at home. The amount of confidence he instilled when he said "I'm giving you the exercises, you have the feel to know when you need to use them" was awesome. And helped me feel confident in asking for correct work at home. The flip side of that is when I was giving Yoshi a head tilt to the right, we scheduled a lesson for that week, and he helped me figure out exactly what I was doing and how to fix it. 

Alright dear readers, if you're willing to take the time to share, what made you click with your trainer? What things did you look for? What were definite red flags? 

Also, how does one go about trainer shopping? Is it strange to ask to watch someone else's lesson first? I could try to stalk trainers at shows more and watch their students ride there first. 

Pico meeting Uno. Totally unrelated, but it's a reward for making it through my rambles. 


  1. I'm not much help with this, but I'll bite. My current trainer is the only one I've ever really shopped around with. I had been looking for a Silver or Gold medalist to take occasional lessons with in addition to (at the time) my home trainer, and had taken trial lessons with two other local-ish trainers before I met this one. I attended a clinic at her barn, she wasn't teaching, but I knew I wanted to get more indoctrinated into this clinician's way of teaching, and GP trainer was the closest thing I had to her, so I gave her lessons a shot and loved them.

    Things that made it right: she has a barn full of "off-breeds" in addition to imported WBs yet her students still score AMAZINGLY well at shows, her teaching style uses a language framework from Mary Wanless that I'm familiar with and that works for me, she's been-there-done-that as far as going to GP and bringing students to GP, she has a very horse-first approach, and she's constantly seeking to improve her own riding and sharing that information with her students.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Very cool on the off breeds thing, I hadn't even thought about that because baby TB is pretty common in the eventing world. Definitely different world in dressage though and awesome to see a trainer getting the scores without the huge moving WBs that are so prevalent in dressage today. I just started reading Mary Wanless' book on fascia and am learning SO much; very cool to have a trainer using that language and framework.

  2. oh man... there are just so many components to what makes a successful training relationship.... and i'm not exactly satisfied with my own situation either so.. yea lol.

    i kinda like having a 'roster' of coaches. my current weekly lesson slot is inexpensive and great for getting confidence building reps over a variety of courses and grid exercises -- but there's not much focus on technique. ideally i'd supplement with more nitty gritty or intensive sessions -- like clinics once a month.

    in your shoes i'd probably play the field a little bit and see what feels like a good fit.

    1. Interesting point on the building reps vs. very pointed focus on technique/getting into the nitty gritty. I am very open to playing the field, I'm sure I'll learn something from every lesson even if it is what training style doesn't mesh with me! Most of my experience with trainers in the area came from back in pony club when we'd have 5* level riders for clinics who were working at low cost bc pony club. Obviously not something I can afford on my own there, but I'm trying to find a happy medium.

    2. What were formerly 5* riders, new system aside because this was 15+ years ago lol

  3. This may be obvious, but since its jumping, look for safety first. What is their attitude when a horse/rider has a problem? Ive seen lessons that cause me to walk away. Are the horses careening about like racecars? Ditto. We all need support but shouldnt be overfaced. Where you fall on that continuum is personal & needs to match where the trainer draws the line. $0.02

    1. That's an excellent point. Honestly I'm still kind of confused even by the different methods of dealing with refusals and have seen some that border on dangerous/abusive from some of the UL riders coaching students around here, so a good point to note. Even if it doesn't happen to me that day or in the first 10 lessons, it will eventually.