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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Why Would I Even Want a Horse Trainer?

So as a instructor and trainer of show riders and horses (mainly Arabians and Half-Arabians, and soon Morgans!) I’ve been asked some really great questions lately and I want to share a couple.

These are things I hear ALL the time. In fact, there was a time when I asked these same questions. They are legitimate questions, and I feel that they also have very important answers.

The answers might not be what you'd expect ... Especially if you're in the DIY (or Do-It-Yourself) camp.

There are many different variations on these questions but they all revolve around the worth or value (or point) of having a horse trainer.

QUESTION #1: "Why would I want a horse trainer? Isn't that 'copping out'? How can I feel satisfied when I win if someone else does all the work? What if I turn into one of 'those' passenger riders who just gets on a trained horse but doesn't really know how to ride? Isn't it enough to take lessons? (etc ....)"


Okay so there are a few different aspects to this question and I'd like to work through all of them as I think they're completely related.

I'd also like to point out that I respond to this much differently than I used to.

I grew up as a DIY rider. I started riding when I was about 8 or 9 and started working with young and unschooled horses within a couple of years. We took some lessons but most of my time riding was spent with my friends taking a stab in the dark at how to solve all of our horse and riding problems. We learned how to stay on a horse (with whatever means necessary) and we prided ourselves on this ability. Good riders could stay on bad horses ... and that we could do.

"Collection" on a horse meant pulling on those reins until the head was down and to the inside. You then pushed as hard as you could with your legs to make it keep going. When you got exhausted, or your horse ran too fast or misbehaved, you reverted to clamping your knees and going into a half seat to weather it out. It wasn't anyone's fault. This was just how we all did it. The horses were green and so were we. Even if the instructor was giving correct ideas, we had no concept of the feel of a balanced or finished horse and the minute fear or ego came in, you just did what you were doing ... only more intensely.

So back to the point.

As a horse trainer, I ensure that horse and rider are able to progress together. "Progress" to me means continually moving towards balance, lightness, confidence, technicality, and control. Most show horses, even the ones who are in full time training and their riders only ride them in a weekly lesson, are still impressively difficult to ride. This goes way beyond just sitting on a horse and mechanically moving around. Their buttons and cues are intensely sensitive, requiring riders to have a skill and technical depth to their riding.

Think about it like this .... As a rider, would you take lessons from a total beginner? Someone who is just learning a concept or just getting consistent in their understanding.

Probably not.

And yet this is what we ask our horses to do when we decide to do it all ourselves. We ask them to learn from someone who doesn't know what they are feeling for. And likely someone who cannot commit to a regular schedule of 4-6 days a week of consistent work.

As a horse trainer, I help horses to understand a concept before teaching their rider to execute it. I have a feel for how the horse responds and resists and what works and doesn't. I can then teach my rider how to cue the horse, develop the skill or train the maneuver.

My goal is not to make my rider dependent on me. Instead I want to create riders and horses who progress together (much more quickly than they might on their own) with much less heartache and fear.

There are very few riders who advance to such a high level that they cannot benefit from someone else riding and schooling their horse and then providing feedback. The same goes for good trainers ... which is why they often seek second opinions and the advice or input of other trainers!

I mean, I guess in theory there might be riders who just want to plop mechanically on top of a horse, ride into the ring and collect a prize, but I actually have yet to meet any of these riders. Most people want to get better, deepen their understanding of horses, training and competing and continue to develop skills.

The thing about horses (in contrast to ALL other sports) is that there is not just a person who has a brain, personality and ability to learn. As it's been said, "In our sport, the ball really does have a mind of it's own!".

If it doesn't make sense for an athlete to try and compete without a coach or trainer who is constantly correcting, critiquing and advising, then WHY would we ask this of our equine partners (when communicating with and training a horse (especially at a competitive level) is so much more specialized and technical)? It just doesn't seem fair.

In this light, going into a competition with at least some kind of professional assistance specifically for your horse seems to make a lot more sense. There is no "hero" award for doing it all on your own, especially if you are not finding any consistent success. It can be frustrating and lonely to try and speculate why you aren't achieving your goals.

NOTE: I must address the financial aspect here because I know I will get a ton of comments from people saying it's too expensive to hire a trainer. I personally have a passion for helping folks get into the show ring. We do our best to keep costs low, cut extras where possible, and make the show ring manageable and accessible. For those experienced riders who are doing it on their own, finding success and are content, that is fabulous!

Riding is an expensive sport, there are no two ways around it. That said, leasing, horse sharing, fundraising, good planning, transparency of service providers, cutting out extras and showing at an appropriate and accessible level make it more feasible to consider going the "trainer" route. You just might need to look around to find a suitable fit!!



QUESTION #2: "What do you do for your clients at the show? What are they paying for? How do they learn anything if someone does it all for them?
I'm actually going to answer the third question first.

I'm a HUGE FAN of learning. I want my riders to be able to answer the tough questions, get horses ready for a class, potentially help someone at the ring side, or know how to groom and manage a show horse.

That said, the time to learn this is NOT WHEN YOU ARE PAYING A CRAP TON TO SHOW YOUR HORSE.

Was I clear enough?

I am willing to offer as much experience as I can to someone who wants to learn the "behind the scenes" of grooming and horse showing. I have mentored many eager new riders through a long and arduous horse show weekend of stall cleaning, feeding, braiding, bathing, clipping, lunging, class management, etc.

And what I have learned from all of this is that when you pay a LOT (like, A LOT) of money to prepare for and compete in a horse show you do not want to have to be exhausted before you even get into your class.

So to answer the question "What do I do for my riders at the horse show?"

Well, pretty much everything. And when I say "I" it might be me, or someone on the team there to groom or help (usually one of those keen folk who want to learn the ropes but aren't showing in that particular show).

Although I try to keep my show fees manageable they are also fairly non-negotiable.

I wake up crazy early. I clean stalls, feed, bath, braid, do feet, tack horses, warm horses up, coach at ringside, cool horses down, rinse, do tails, clip, etc. My show fees also cover the supplies to do this (it's WAY easier and more efficient to just have one set of prep supplies for all the horses ... and it all gets remembered!).

Sure, folks help out. Someone holds a horse in the bath, someone braids a forelock, someone throws a saddle or bridle on or lunges a horse. But for the most part, that is my job. THAT IS WHAT THEY PAY FOR.

This differs for every trainer but I think most barns are a fairly close variation of this.

I charge a "Show Fee" per show which covers all of the above (and is posted for each show at the beginning of the season). Some barns charge per class or day. I post my fees on my website and we discuss them at our show meetings so there are not usually hidden costs. Riders pay Entry Fees to the show, Show Fees for my services, and then hauling (if they do not haul on their own).

If someone wants to learn how to be a groom or get their own horse ready, we can do that at a fun show or they are more than welcome to come for a weekend and shadow. If we have a busy enough show we might even hire them as a groom.

I have learned that if you are going to take your horse show seriously and you are competitively training for certain goals, you need to focus your energies on your classes. I think if you ask my riders (many of whom started out doing it all themselves) they would entirely agree.


A good horse show team is a family. Your horse trainer needs to be someone you trust, not only with yourself but also with your horse. They will help your horse to find confidence and calmness, and this will make your horse show experience more safe, fun and successful.

And I'm pretty sure at the end of the day this is what we are all searching for, right?


~Jacquie