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Finding the Right Trainer – 8 Tips

Finding the Right Trainer

Recent events in our happy little oasis have led me to want to write this post about finding and working with the right trainer.  Let me jump right in – folks, you pay an exorbitant amount of money, spend much of your free time and exert a lot of energy for your hobby with horses.  Please make sure you’re investing your time and money wisely.  There are many trainers out there (here in Northern Colorado, there are more than I can count – which says nothing about my mathematical abilities – and more are coming in), but not all of them are worth your investment.  Here, I will offer suggestions for you to help determine whether the professional you pay is worthy of you.

  1. Observe lessons and/or training sessions.  You should not be charged to do this.  While I don’t believe that a trainer should take time out of the session to converse with you, they should be available after to answer any questions and discuss what was covered during the session.  They should encourage you to speak with their clients, too.  Ask for an honest opinion of the trainer’s program.  Ask about progress made.  Ask if the client feels successful.  Look at the equipment used – it should be in good condition.  Does the trainer focus on the horse and rider throughout the entire session?  Or do they check their phone (watching for time doesn’t count), answer calls, send texts, etc.?  A trainer’s focus should not be split.  Where are they working?  If a quality facility allows a trainer to work there, chances are that the trainer has earned that privilege.  Is the facility run down, “backyard” or ill-equipped?  Why is the trainer there?  Hmmm…ask that question, folks.
  2. Look at the horses.  They should seem content, if not happy, in their work and be in good condition – this goes for horses owned by clients and owned by the trainer.  If you have a question about an animal, ask.  I’d also ask about the schedules for lesson horses.  If they’re used multiple times day and/or do not have a day off, that’s a red flag.  Horses should be prioritized in a trainer’s program, as they are the foundation and they should not be taken advantage of to make money.
  3. Do your research.  Find out about a trainer’s history, if you can.  Have they moved many times?  Why?  A trainer who moves many times in the same area may not work well with barn owners – RED FLAG.  Perhaps they did not pay their bills; perhaps they did not follow barn policies; perhaps they were simply difficult to work with.  All of these are problems!  You should be working with someone of integrity.  Not to mention, the chances of you having to move barns over and over again are quite high.  Eventually, you’re going to run out of places to ride.  Is the trainer educated?  Certified?  While this is not of extreme import to be a worthy trainer/instructor (as quality experience can replace them), it speaks to their commitment level to their profession.  Are they insured?  THEY SHOULD BE!  This should not need further explanation, but a trainer should be willing to do business the right way.  They should be willing to invest in themselves.  This speaks to character.  What do other professionals say about them?  Ask a vet, ask a farrier, ask others with whom the trainer claims to have a professional relationship.  Let me offer one thought once you’ve done your research, however:  use your judgment.  That is to say, if one person has something bad to say about your potential trainer, it’s quite possible that there is simply bad blood between them.  Conflicts are bound to happen, so again, use your best judgment.
  4. Do your research.  I know, I just said that above, but this is different research.  If you’ve observed a few sessions with a trainer, I suggest then that you find out if what they’re teaching, they’re teaching correctly.  I recently observed a trainer trying to teach one of their students how to ask for a haunches-in.  The problem (well, one of them):  she was telling the rider to bend the horse to the outside.  Wrong.  The horse should be softly bent to the inside.  When observing a lesson, ask yourself if the rider or horse is struggling to achieve something.  If so, do your research as to why.  Are they struggling with a canter depart?  Why?  This may offer you some insight as to the knowledge of the trainer.  Don’t pay to learn something incorrectly.  It’s a travesty to you and the horse.
  5. Check the cost.  Hear me out.  Is the trainer cheap?  Well, then the value of the lessons is likely cheap.  Don’t shy away from a trainer that costs a bit more.  I’m not saying that you should pay $80 a lesson when everyone else charges the $40-$60 range (unless there are obvious reasons for doing so).  I am saying that if you’re choosing a trainer strictly for what they charge, you’re likely getting what you’re paying for.  Invest in yourself by choosing a trainer who knows their value and who is willing to charge enough to reinvest in themselves and their business.  Horses are expensive.  Be willing to work with someone who charges more than $25 or $30 for a private lesson.  That really will allow a higher quality of horse care and will allow for the trainer to continue to educate themselves.  I’ll be honest, too.  A trainer who charges a bit more (aka, is within the realm of “going rates” in the area) is less likely to get burnt out.  Horses are hard work.  It’s highly rewarding and that’s why we do what we do – pure love and passion – but we still have to be able to justify our time and energy.  We cannot lose money or break even and keep doing what we’re doing forever.
  6. Choose for your goals.  Does the trainer train for your goals?  By this I mean that you should ask if working with this person will help you attain your short and long-term goals.  There are times when crossing over between disciplines is quite beneficial.  For example:  taking dressage lessons as a jumper rider.  Thumbs up.  There are also times when crossing over is detrimental to your goals.  For example:  taking lessons from a gymkhana, 4H, all-around trainer when you want to be successful in the equitation ring.  Thumbs down.  This somewhat applies to the “do your research” mentioned above, but these show rings DO NOT cross over.  Learning to compete in the 4H ring will not help you in the USHJA ring.  Sorry.  So, work with the right trainer for your goals.
  7. Trainer availability.  Ask if the trainer is willing to talk with you and/or be available outside of sessions.  If you have a question, can you call, email or text the trainer?  Will they happily respond and help?  While trainers deserve their rest, too, they should be willing to help you outside of the training and show rings.  Do they respond in a timely manner?  This speaks to their character and how they value their current and potential clients.
  8. Be patient.  I understand how much you want to ride.  Believe me.  But, don’t waste your resources either.  Be patient to find the right trainer for you (and your horse).  They are out there!

For what it’s worth, many trainers are good people and worth your time.  Unfortunately, there are also some who are not.  I hope this helps you sift through your options and find the right person!

Five Star encourages you to observe our sessions, come to shows to watch our clients and horses compete and please ask us questions!  We are available for you.  Sharon holds her BS in Equine Science and has been teaching for 10 years now.  She also maintains good professional and personal relationships with others in the area, just ask!  Five Star has made our home at Kayenta for the last two years now.  We would be happy to discuss our business history with you.  We are insured and we are happy to show you proof of such.  Our costs range from $25-$60 for lessons.  Please see our pricing pages for more information.  Our horses are happy, healthy and successful.

Best of luck!


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