Somewhere amid the many hours in the truck that Hillary and I have logged together in the past month (along with many WhichWich sandwiches and cups of FroYo – brain food, clearly), we had a long conversation about trainers. Specifically, details about some of the ones in the area, and why I ride with the one I do despite the fact that she’s 2 hours away. That, of course, evolved into a conversation about what qualities are important to each of us when it comes to selecting a pro to work with.
For me, it all comes down to trust. I am definitely not naive enough to try any of this without some solid professional guidance. In eventing especially, I want and need at least semi-regular feedback (or for XC – very regular feedback), and I feel like I have to be able to trust that person’s judgment 100%. At it’s core, it’s a safety issue. Sure, not all accidents can be avoided, that is the nature of horses, but having poor judgment sure can get you (or your horse) hurt a heck of a lot more often, and faster, and worse. Cross country especially is not something to be messed around with. I want someone who is just as invested in keeping me and my horse safe as I am, who knows us and knows what we’re capable of. I would much rather someone move me up the levels slowly, and take extra time filling in the holes in my and my horse’s education, than try to do things too quickly and get me or the horse hurt. If I trust their judgment and they say I’m ready, I will believe them and I’ll feel confident about it… because I trust them.
I also need someone who will be honest with me about how things are going. Blowing smoke up my butt is not helpful, and feels borderline insulting, as if I’m too stupid to know otherwise. I mean, I’m not the brightest, but I know I’m not a future 4* rider sitting on a future 4* horse. Plus, if I’m riding like crap and need to pull my head out of my butt, say so. If I need to go back to basics and re-think everything I’m doing, say so. If my horse can’t handle the level or my aspirations, say so. I would prefer someone to deliver a harsh truth 100 times over than to lead me on or put ideas in my head that won’t ever pan out. Realistic expectations and honest, open communication keep me happy. I need to be on the same page.
Of course, I also want someone that believes in my dreams and goals as much as I do. I want to be able to say “Here’s what I want to do someday… help me get there!” and trust that they will keep that in mind and help me develop towards those goals. I’m not expecting them to get me there for sure, nothing is a guarantee, and a trainer can only do so much, but I do want to feel like when they look at me, they remember what my goals are and help me make the right decisions to get there.
I also need someone that expects me to be a thinking rider. I like for things to be explained to me in depth, so that I can feel what’s going on and try to correct it myself. Or have them educate me on different questions/combinations and how to ride them, so I can execute these things when I’m on course by myself. Basically, give me the skills I need so that I don’t have to depend on them for success. I feel like a trainer should be a builder and a refiner, but not a crutch. Again, in eventing this is really important, since they can’t provide us with assistance when we’re in the ring or on course. But also since I am not in a program at a barn with a pro, I need to be able to take what they give me and go home, work on it, and be successful by myself.
It’s important to me too that whoever I ride with has a good eye for soundness-related things, and a lot of knowledge on care. Sometimes that little “hmmm… have you thought about maybe trying X?” can be the difference in night and day for a horse. That level of horsemanship is vital, IMO, especially since they see things that I might not feel.
For me, this combination of qualities has been hard to come by. In my 25+ year riding career, I’ve only come across a few trainers that I feel have really fit the bill, with the current one being one of those few.
Is it inconvenient to drive 2 hours each way for lessons? Uh, hell yes. It’s also really hard to fit lessons in with any real regularity or frequency, given that it ends up being a most-of-the-day commitment. When those are the stakes, you definitely have to want it, and you have to re-arrange your life sometimes to make it happen. I have no doubt that we’d be farther along, and probably more polished about it, if I had professional help at my disposal all the time. That just isn’t an option in my current circumstances. And I would rather get less frequent help from someone who meets all these criteria than regular lessons from someone who doesn’t. I have come to trust my trainer implicitly, so those are the sacrifices I make, and we do the best we can with the situation. It’s worked out pretty well so far.
Plus, like… if this woman has put up with my bullshit for almost 4 years now, clearly she is made of some tough stuff. Or she’s deaf. Either way, it works.
What about you guys? How do you choose a trainer? What qualities are most important to you? If you have to sacrifice something, what’s the first thing on the chopping block?