Trainers and Consistency

There is no doubt that having a lot of regular lessons (a lot for me anyway) over the past few months has really helped me connect some dots with my riding and especially my confidence. Amazing how consistency and repetition work, eh? At the little jumper show this past weekend there was another person who has made tremendous strides with her own riding in the past 6 months or so. We got to talking about it and our general consensus was “Finding the right trainer and dedicating yourself to regular instruction makes all the difference.”.  I thought she hit the two key things right on the head. Right trainer + consistency = improvement.

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the right trainer is literally a unicorn

Granted, there are a couple other trainers I ride with on occasion (one of which I’ll be riding with again this summer when Trainer is busy having a kid) but over time I’ve gotten incredibly particular about who I’ll ride with. I’d rather have no lessons than ride with someone I don’t trust, or who doesn’t understand my horse or me, or who has no idea what I’m ultimately working toward. To me that seems pointless. I think as an eventer it’s especially important that the person at least have a good understanding of the sport and it’s demands, even if they don’t specialize in it. Let’s be honest, riding with a strictly hunter trainer would ultimately be pretty pointless for me, just as riding with an event trainer would likely be pretty pointless for a hunter rider. They might have a few helpful tips but overall the nuance isn’t there and it just doesn’t mesh.

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Because I’m really particular, I don’t enter a clinic unless I know a lot about the person and how they teach, and know that their style would be complimentary to my regular instruction. Just because you’re famous or have an impressive resume doesn’t mean you’re the right fit for me and my horse. Not to mention that clinics are really expensive… I could literally have EIGHT lessons with my trainer for the cost of the average clinic. And I still walk away from her lessons having learned something every single time, plus she knows me and my horse and what we need to work on in every phase, and how it all ties together. I trust her to give me honest feedback and I especially trust her to keep me safe. There’s not a lot of appeal for me to spend a lot of money to ride with someone else at this point, although sometimes clinics are fun.

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Granted, I also see the appeal of spicing it up every now and then and getting a different set of eyeballs on you. Sometimes that can help lead to big breakthroughs. But again, I’m really picky about which eyeballs. I want everyone I work with to at least be fairly like-minded and have a similar style. Otherwise I’ll end up with so many different opinions that it comes down to a “way too many cooks in the kitchen” situation and I won’t make any progress. Been there. Done that. For me it was worse than no lessons at all.

I know that dedicating myself to one person’s program and showing up as often as possible makes a big difference for me. It’s not always convenient (ok it’s rarely convenient these days, it’s a freaking 4 hour drive round trip) but I kinda feel like either you really want to get better and will put forth the effort to do so, or you don’t and won’t. Hopping constantly back and forth from one trainer to another, or doing what’s most convenient, or just meeting up with someone for coaching at shows doesn’t work for me. It’s important that the person I ride with regularly also sees me at shows, so they know how everything translates for me when I’m in the ring. That’s how I build and improve.

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we do a lot of this

I’m curious about what everyone else’s approach is to training, trainers, and lessons. Do you prefer to stick with just one person, or a few people with a similar style? Or would you rather get as many different eyes on you as possible? Is being in a regular lesson program important to you or do you just take them as you can get them? Do you think it’s vital that the person you ride with have experience with your specific discipline? How important is The Right Trainer to you?

37 thoughts on “Trainers and Consistency

  1. I was literally just typing up a post about this last night. We had a guest trainer come in while mine were in FL, and he had an extremely different style of teaching. Not a bad style by any stretch, but it definitely got me thinking about how we choose trainers that mesh with how we learn.

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    1. There is definitely a certain style that works well for me too, and other styles that do not. Of course, it takes some trial and error to learn that about ourselves. 😉

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  2. Im a self professed lesson junkie and fully credit my small roster of trainers for helping me develop into the rider I am now, while always having an eye towards the rider I want to be. And especially now with such a green horse, I’m finding that sticking with our tried and true routine, staying the course with the trainers who know me best, is way more valuable to our development right now vs playing the field for the sake of it.

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  3. I’ve ridden with a bunch of trainers in my life, but I finally found my own ‘unicorn trainer’ (via Google, no less) and have been with her for the past two years. I mean, she suggested I go try Roger after knowing me for literally 10 days and seeing me ride exactly twice…if that’s not a unicorn, I don’t know what is! I lesson with her as often as I can, and she has done wonders for both my riding and confidence, which is important when bringing along a young, talented OTTB the right way. My trainer actually hosts two clinicians over MDW every year, so it’s great to have those ‘fresh eyes’ on my riding. She’s known both clinicians for almost 20 years, and I know she wouldn’t let just any random John Doe host clinics at our barn, so it’s good to know that she trusts these clinicians and that their teaching styles and philosophies mesh with her own. Like you, I think it’s helpful to have ‘fresh eyes’ on your riding once in a while, but those ‘fresh eyes’ need to be complimentary to your regular instruction and leave you and your horse encouraged and educated, not confused.

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  4. I like consistency, routine and knowing exactly what to expect (and what’s expected of me). I’m not the easiest person to coach — I’m sensitive and while I try hard, immediate changes is something I struggle with. I’ve always been one to find a program and stick with it.

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    1. While I don’t think we have the exact same issues, I do think we’re alike in that a lot of our issues are mental. That’s why it’s so important for me to find someone who “gets me”… because if you address the mental stuff, everything else gets better too.

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  5. Not having my own horse (thanks, grad school) has made finding the right trainer even more important for me. If all I can do is lesson or maybe half lease, those lessons are really my main exposure to learning and I want to be learning the correct things. I was just telling a friend back home I didn’t realize what I had in my original trainer. I’ve spent almost two years here trying to find someone who isn’t batshit insane, much less up to her standards. Current trainer is sufficient for now, as she has a horse I really enjoy riding, but if I were to end up buying the search would continue. It’s been an interesting process, as like you say, there’s a lot of trust needed in this sort of deal and it takes a little bit to figure out if your trust is well placed.

    At this point I’ve been in the h/j program system for so long, I’m really tempted to go out on my own and do my own thing for a while and see where I’m at. That’s a huge difference, I think, between the eventing and h/j mindset. It would be good for me to get to jump without someone micromanaging every detail, but to have someone I could go to if needed. I think that’s the next step for me – to gain some independence.

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    1. I almost added a paragraph about the difference between h/j and eventing, too. In h/j there is definitely usually a lot more trainer involvement. Granted, since I’ve been eventing I haven’t really boarded with the person I’m riding with, so that adds a built in level of independence. Trainer isn’t there to see the day-to-day.

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  6. I take 2 lessons a week (one jump one flat) with my trainer. I L-O-V-E being in a consistent lesson program. It’s the only way I function.

    I also enjoy clinics, and I’m lucky enough that I live in area II and my trainers frequently bring people in to ride with themselves and I can take part as well.

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      1. yeah two a month is great considering how far it is. I’m a lesson addict… thats why I dunno if I could ever keep my horse ‘at home’ because i’d be like what do you mean there isn’t a BHS certified trainer here every day to tell me I’m riding like an idiot??

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        1. That part I dunno about lol. I like riding on my own and being forced to be more self aware and independent… makes it easier when I get in the ring by myself at shows. It would be nice to have someone on site when I wanted, though.

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  7. I wholeheartedly agree that consistency with the right coach makes a HUGE difference in how quickly I can progress – in skill set, fitness, and confidence. I feel so fortunate to have found a trainer who really understands my pony and I that I can afford to take lessons with every week. While her background is not strictly in eventing, her additional experience in show jumping and Centered Riding has really helped her help me with the things I find most difficult! While I was upset to have to leave my former (wonderful!) eventing trainer who is a 3* rider, first because she moved away from the area, then was too expensive for me to stick with when she returned, the trainer I’ve been working with over the past year is a REALLY good fit for me in all ways, and allows me to be consistent. And as you mentioned about clinics, price matters! The best trainer in the world can’t help me much if I can’t afford to ride with them more than once every few months. I’ve had the opportunity to ride in clinics several times this winter, and I’ve turned it down. I can get more bang for my buck with my regular coach at this point! And though being diligent about homework makes a big difference when I can’t get lessons regularly, regular lessons are definitely, for me, the better option! Wow I wrote a novel there!

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  8. I have always been in a consistent program. Mostly because as an adult I haven’t been able to own a horse, so I have to get my horse fix by taking lessons then eventually either finding a lease situation or just becoming good enough friends with people at the barn that they take pity on me and offer a horse for hacking between lessons. The challenge I most recently dealt with was coming to terms with the idea that my last trainer was no longer a good fit after five years of riding with her. My needs and goals had evolved and we were no longer walking the same path – through no fault of hers! So realizing that it was time for a change was tough.

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  9. For me, another really important aspect is having a trainer that believes in you and your horse. There’s plenty you can do with a not-fancy horse, and the right trainer not only knows how to bring that out but gets excited when you’re not-fancy-horse makes big strides and becomes a little more fancy. It’s kind of awesome 🙂

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    1. Sooo true Jenj! I have had experiences in the past where a coach has totally shattered my confidence by saying we weren’t ready to do something. It is so important to find a coach you have a solid relationship with who knows how much to push you and who you trust to push you just outside your comfort zone as well as a coach who will support your goals

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  10. I completely agree with you! Consistency is key to making progress. Plenty of different methods work, but trying something new every time you ride will not lead to forward progress. I used to like to clinic, but have largely given it up, particularly when jumping. I like to be with someone who knows me, knows my horse, and I can trust to tell me “yes you can do this” or “no, we should wait and try that another time.” It is a big safety factor for me. I have watched so many people get hurt in clinics because the clinician doesn’t know the horse and rider and the rider is too nervous to speak up and say they don’t feel comfortable doing something. Dressage clinics are a different matter for me. I don’t think they tend to pose the same safety risk, so I will occasionally participate in one.

    I am lucky because while I have been with the same trainer for a long time, his daughter, son-in-law, and even wife teach, so they provide opportunities to ride with people who have the same philosophy and style but might word something a little differently in a way that makes more sense for me. So I go to them when I am stuck with a particular skill.

    I also love to watch lessons, clinics and competitions. You can learn a lot from seeing what works and what does not work. And auditing different teachers might give you a couple of skills or ideas, without interrupting your whole training program.

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  11. “I’d rather have no lessons than ride with someone I don’t trust, or who doesn’t understand my horse or me, or who has no idea what I’m ultimately working toward.” YES. I pick the trainer, not the other way around. My current trainer is crucial to anything I do right with my horse. I have had a few situations over the years where a horse of mine wound up involved with a trainer that I either no longer wanted to work with or one that I never wanted to work with in the first place and such situations completely suck. Completely. Suck. (Even had one situation a number of years ago where a trainer started “teaching” me while I was hacking a horse for another trainer. AWKWARD.)

    I feel plenty lucky to have the current training situation I have now. This post is great and I am enjoying reading all the responses.

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  12. I’ve had so many ups and downs when it comes to my riding. As a beginner I was probably one of the most nervous and uncoachable kids because I would “put my blinders on” and get inside my own shell in warm up or in the ring. I’ve had the same trainer for years and now that I’m 16 with more of a “working brain” my trainer knows when to push, when to pull back and when to let me think on my own so that we are a team. I also do clinics with now “her” coach and watch their lessons. I definitely believe that a consistent program is very beneficial and know people that have the “too many cooks in the kitchen” ideas in their head.

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  13. I’ll echo the picky about trainers thing. At this point in my dressage journey, it’s not worth it to me to ride with someone who isn’t at the top of the game. I need instruction from someone who is a confident upper level instructor, as in confident and good at teaching the upper levels. That’s hard to find, and expensive. At the moment, the only knowledgeable trainers I have access too (with styles that mesh with my horse and I) only come in for clinics. That makes lessons even more expensive!

    Thankfully, I do not require or like a great deal of regular lessons to keep improving. I like to digest my lessons completely and experiment some before coming back for a lesson. I learn on my own really well, and often have to do a thing for myself before actually internalizing the instruction. That makes monthly or bi-monthly lessons really great. I also get a lot out of auditing. If I had a less honest horse, or was a less analytical and self-critical rider, this set up would probably not work as well. I’d also be way more broke.

    Not to say periods of intense lessons (like the week of daily lessons I had in Florida a few years ago with my trainer) aren’t great and don’t lead to breakthroughs, because holy crap they do. However, I personally feel like I take less away from frequent lessons. Somehow I don’t internalize the learning as much, and I rely on the trainer more. That makes me a weaker rider when it comes to competitions or schooling on my own. I’m a weirdo.

    Now that I’ve said all that, can someone convince Jeremy Steinberg to live at my barn and give me lessons on the daily? 😉

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  14. I agree completely especially since you have the horse involved as well. I know very well how much my particular (very sensitive) pony can go backwards after a bad ride that right now consistency, or at least working with someone I trust) is so important.

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  15. I’ve always found a trainer and worked consistently with that one person. There have been a handful that I really, REALLY did not mesh with, but luckily there were other options at those barns that worked better for me.

    I ascribe pretty strongly to the theory that there are very rarely perfect trainers for your entire journey as a rider. My first real trainer (as opposed to my childhood instructors) was a great confidence-builder and taught me a lot of what I needed when I was starting Tristan as a green horse but we outgrew her. Second real trainer was a very talented amateur who unlocked some key things for us over one winter but would not have been great longterm. Third was again important for my progression but was not a good longterm fit. I love my current barn and training and am as close as I’ve ever gotten to a lifetime’s worth of teaching, in part because the top trainer at the barn has a superbly adaptable style and is a great communicator. I’ve only ever changed trainers when changing barns, so it’s more in retrospect that I realized I was moving on from those previous trainers.

    I would prefer to be in regular lessons but that’s not financially possible for me right now. Which is frustrating, because I would love to make more progress than I am making.

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  16. Being truckless and stranded for most of last year really stinks, so I took any chance I could to hitch a ride out. That happened twice, I believe, in the spring and one was with a trainer I’ve ridden with and watched for years now. I’m very comfortable with her and she always willing to help us with whatever we want to work on.

    Being stranded also meant I went and watched a ton of lessons. You can still learn a lot from auditing, and so I have a good feeling of which trainers in the area Bacon and I would do well with, and some maybe not. I’m just excited to finally have some freedom and get to the lessons. Now I have to find the funds so I can actually go to them.

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  17. This is really perfectly timed for me, as I realised that I have been avoiding taking lessons for no good reason. First it was not riding in general, then timing/scheduling problems, travel, and a crazy schedule, and somehow I just slipped into not being in lessons. I am so much better in regular lessons, and had forgotten that!

    I get along with a lot of trainers, though I’m not sure if they all enjoy me. I can be very demanding in terms of understanding what/why/how they want me to do things, and always want to understand in addition to doing. I hope that my enthusiasm for learning makes me good to teach, but I’m sure my chattiness bothers some people. But recently I’ve realised how much different trainers could accelerate or enhance my riding by pushing more and pushing on the right things. So it’s definitely something to think about.

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  18. i swear by the person i use for dressage (Emily Donaldson she is amazing anyone who lives in PA or nearby try her out!) and Sally Cousins for jumping. (I am so ready for Sally to get back up here to PA for the Spring). I ride with Emily as often as i can (Haul to her barn about 2-3 times a month if possible if not more) and once Sally is back I try to ride monthly with her (WOUld love to do more but schedule gets in my way sometimes). I trust both of them implicitly and know they know me and my horse and both actually seem to like both of us 🙂 SO we enjoy riding with them, ‘they get us’ and we get results (Maybe not huge results but every lesson can be an eye opener or an a ha moment). Considering i am only riding Intro (ie so low level and so low jumps why do they put up with me?) i find it wonderful these two trainers take the time and effort to talk me thru some of my craziness and fears and push me to do what they know i can do. I havent ridden in any clinics since really starting with those two! I keep thinking i will but havent yet. Since i love their style so much i am almost scared to try someone new. But yes it has made a huge difference in both our dressage and jumping improving! Some days are better than others but i love riding with them both damn the costs 🙂 Great blog post! Thanks!

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  19. I like to have a regular lesson schedule. I train with one person at home and another person during the winter season in Florida. Fortunately they are both on the same page with regard to training. I am hesitant about clinics unless I know what the approach of the clinician is. I did a clinic with Henk van Bergan last weekend and put up a post about it. My Florida trainer has trained with Henk for many years so I know this is a good fit. I am a dressage competitor only and so there is only the one discipline for me be concerned with. Interesting questions though Thanks for posting.

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  20. I have been in the process of formulating my very own ideas on this over the past few years, and figuring out what exactly the right formula is for me. I have absolutely been loving my new trainer in Arizona we really get each other. And my current stance on clinics is go watch as many as you can but don’t necessarily ride in them, I’ve had the highest of highs and lowest of lows from doing so and right now middle ground is feeling pretty great.

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  21. I agree. I love my instructor, she has helped me so much and really understands me and my pony. If I need to use other instructors, for example when she goes away, I generally get her advice on who will suit.

    Like most horse owners, affording lessons can be a struggle so I don’t want to spend money on an instructor that doesn’t help me.

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  22. Being in a program is important to me. I don’t trust myself to school over fences over anything bigger than 2′. I know what mistakes I make, but I can’t always tell you which of the many I made at a particular jump. Plus Cosmo is a wise old man and will take advantage of me if I let him. That is to say, I don’t know sometimes if he’s not getting what I am asking or just being a jerk since he knows I am/was hesitant to give him a smack.
    I have found that riding with the right trainer twice a week is what I need and can afford. I can hack on my own and work on exercises and such, but to really push myself I need consistent instruction. I was with a trainer that turned out wasn’t the best fit for over a year and while it wasn’t a bad situation, I was not pushed as much as I should have been. The past 9 months I have seen so much growth in myself and in Cosmo that is obvious to me I am in the right place.

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  23. I feel like this comes down to what I can feasibly do versus what would be ideal for me training-wise. I would love weekly lessons from a wonderful dressage trainer. This is something I both can’t afford and would require hauling at least an hour (most likely–I’d have to shop around). I don’t have a truck and trailer and probably won’t for at least a couple years if I’m realistic.
    I’m in Mid-MO and there isn’t even a dressage-specific barn in my area. There are a couple eventing barns, but I don’t like the quality of horse care as much as where I keep my boy (they’re not awful, but I’m picky).
    For now I get randomly spaced lessons from the BM (who has done some lower-level dressage) when I want eyes on me. I probably do a little less than once/month. I also try to hit up clinicians when they’re either cheap or I hear good reviews.
    Hopefully someday I will get a truck and trailer and find someone who I really like and get out there about once a month, but until then I still believe I can learn something from just about any instructor.
    Disclaimer: I really really like the BM where I keep my horse. Her training methods are great and she is 100% who I would have start a young horse if I didn’t want to. She is very knowledgeable, but I’m sure I’m going to find holes in my horse’s dressage training as I progress (also my fault because I’m the one riding/training him). Dressage just isn’t her specialty.

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  24. I think experience is important. Because I’m broke I don’t really mind not having a consistent lesson schedule. But I have a good personal relationship with my trainer so lessons are the least of what we do. As I begin looking for other trainers to suit my needs, I like the idea of trying a bunch to get a feel of what I want. That being said, if someone is teaching in a way that doesn’t agree with methods my other trainer uses, I don’t think I would stick with that program.

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  25. I agree with you 100%. My trainer and I were talking about clinics the other day, and she kind of thinks they’re a little pointless. It’s hard to really figure someone out just seeing them and their horse go around for an hour. So while they may offer some insight that’s useful, they’re not really able to transform you in that hour and a half (or whatever) that they’re seeing you that day.
    Currently I’m floating around in limbo since my soundest horse is in FL with trainer, and I’m stuck home in the frozen tundra with two geriatrics and a jerk to “ride”. I’ve taken some lessons with someone I KNOW I’m not going to learn from. But for right now, it’s the opportunity to get on a horse (I ride her horses since mine are unfit and mostly limp) and jump some jumps. It’s kind of a waste of money if you look at it from the point of view that I’m learning nothing. But it’s totally worth it, if when when spring comes I’m not loose as a goose on my wild animals and maybe even have a little confidence too.
    But to address your questions, I prefer to have one trainer who really understands me and my horses. If she thinks she knows someone who can help us with something that she’s not getting through to me, she’ll tell me who, and set it up. I’m fortunate that she’s very well connected. And also, when she’s home in CT, her farm is only 5.5 miles down the road. I’ve actually run there before.

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  26. The right trainer is everything to me. One day I may blog about the worst trainer I ever experienced but I don’t know. That’s a lot of negative energy to funnel into a post. I train with 2 trainers but they are a husband/wife combo and teach the same (and are very accomplished in their respective disciplined). I also feel it’s very important to ride with a trainer that understands the discipline you are learning or working towards. It hasn’t been easy for me as a working equitation rider but finding a dressage trainer is an excellent runner up since dressage is part of working equitation. Clinics are fun and can be worth an ‘a-ha!’ moment or two but I have learned over time that the best eye on me is a trainer that knows me and my struggles (or my horse’s struggles). At least for now.

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  27. I’m in a similar situation to you Amanda. I live in an area where the the coach we use lives 12hrs away, so she flys up to us about once every two months. Fortunately she is able to give me heaps of homework for in between her visits , but at times (like now when my horse and I are both learning flying changes) it would be so amazing to be able to work with her on a much more regular basis.
    That being said I do think that when you ride on your own a lot it can teach you how to problem solve as well as decreasing your fear of making a mistake

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