Finding the Right Trainer for You

Easier said than done right. It’s not an easy find really. A few things come into play for most people that are looking for the right trainer to train their most prized possession.

What are some of the things owners like to find in their chosen trainer:

  • good name
  • excellent horsemanship skills
  • experience
  • weekly training fee
  • value for money (eg: feed supplied, no added extra show fees etc.)
  • personality
  • approachability
  • availability
  • professionalism

I purposefully did not list these by number because what you look for most of all in your trainer would not be what the next person may choose as top of the list. It kind of depends where you’re at with regards to the end result. You may be looking for someone that will get your horse to first place in all of the major shows and that would be your top priority, others may just want a bit of training put on their horse so that they could feel safe and confident riding their horse out on a trail ride with other horses for example. Ideally, in a perfect world it would be nice to give all of the above a nice big tick of approval, they, and even more are all something you should look for when choosing your trainer.

Can anyone train a horse?

Yes. And, anyone who touches and interacts with the horse trains it. Trains it to do what? Anyone who interacts with, leads, rides, or feeds a horse, trains it to behave or not to behave in certain ways toward themselves and other people.

Can anyone train a horse to consistently behave in certain ways?

No. It requires a refined skill to make any horse perform unnatural behaviors. What are unnatural behaviors?.

  • Not spooking or not running when it is afraid.
  • Not to bite or not to kick
  • Being controlled with reins, hands and legs while being ridden
  • Being controlled while it is held by it’s halter
  • Walking, trotting, loping or cantering or stopping on command
  • Holding its head down and its neck in a nice topline, a relaxed frame when you ride it.
  • Standing still for the farrier, dentist or vet

You must understand, that when we train a horse we are asking it to act in an unnatural way. This is important to make the horse safe to be around.

Watch horses in nature, or in a pasture at feeding time. Learn what natural horse behavior is. We do not want our horses to behave as they behave in nature or as they behave with one another–nipping and having a bite at each other, pawing, kicking, rearing… We want them to be trained to be safe for us to handle, be around and to ride.

Training horses requires skill, experience and knowledge.

Can a good rider train a horse?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on how many untrained horses the “good rider” has ridden.

Horses are born with a disposition that is much like our personalities. Some are more quiet and placid, some are more sensitive and reactive, some are more brave and curious, some are more fearful and reatreating.

Good riders look good on trained horses, and an untrained horse will make a good rider look poor. A good rider is not necessarily a good trainer. Looking good on a horse is very different than making a horse behave in certain ways.

Can anyone learn to train a horse?

No. Just like not everyone or anyone can be good enough to compete and win in the Olympics, or to be on professional soccer, football and baseball teams. Not everyone will be able to have the skill to train a horse.

Should I try to train my own horse?

Only if it is already safe for what you want to do. If your horse is safe, meaning you are not likely to get hurt and the horse is not likely to get hurt in what you want to do, then yes, learn to train your horse. Will you be as good as a professional trainer, probably not, but that is ok. Your horse is safe, and you can both continue to learn things together. Safety is the bottom line.

How long does it take to train a horse?

It  takes many hours of handling, riding and working with a horse to train it.  I hear many people talk about their horses going out for 30 days training.  If a horse is not trained, there is not much that will happen in the first 30 days.  Horses learn by repetition.  It takes at least 150 repetitions of a task for a horse to really learn that task.  That means, after you have asked a horse to walk by sacking your legs gently or, if you push your horse on by squeezing your legs, and the horse has walked forward for about 150 times, it will probably be trained to go forward at the walk.  Will it be trained to pick up a lope lead after this?  No.  The truth is it takes much longer to finish a horse than what most people realise.  

If you are not a trainer, then it is important for you to work with a trainer.  There are many subtleties to horses that are only learned by working with and handling many horses.  A person who has been working with horses for only a few years just can not see many of the subtleties of horses, unless that person were working with many horses for many hours a day during that short time.  There is no substitute for time and experience.

What if my horse is not safe?

Sell it, give it away or put it in training and wait for the trainer to tell you if the horse will be safe for you.

Can every horse be made safe for every person?

Not really. Some horses have dispositions that are difficult or have learned bad, unsafe behaviours that are difficult to change. Perhaps a professional trainer could make the horse safe for themselves, but that may not make the horse safe for you.

Find a trainer who is honest with you and in whom you trust. Follow that persons advice, unless you feel you would not be safe.  Which leads me to the last question:

What do you want in a trainer

First of all, you should ask yourself some questions, bearing in mind there may not be a “right” answer, but merely a choice.

  1. Am I working on myself, on the horse, or on both.  All can happen, or you can work on  individual parts.  It is better to have clarity because working on all three together is likely to take longer.  Any changes in you or your balance or style may seem punitive to the horse.  In this case, you want to progress slower.  Not every horse has the temperment of a school horse– a horse that can tolerate the mistakes and learning curve of the rider.
  2. Do I want to have input into the process or to take a leap of faith and blindly trust another’s opinions, expertise and experience?  Communicate,  Some trainers do not want your input, others are happy to hear and learn from your perspective.  First, know what you want. Then ask the trainer if that is how they work with clients.
  3. How do I measure the trainer or the lesson?  Is the horse more relaxed than when he started? Is the horse closer to some defined goal at the end of the lesson?  Do we feel like we have had a small measure of success with our position, our timing or our feel?

One thing I would stress when your horse is away with a trainer

If I had to tell you one thing while your horse is in training with a professional trainer I would advise strongly that you stay in contact with that trainer throughout your horses stay with them. If you can pay visits – even better.

Many people often believe that the trainer they have chosen is such a lovely person which may very well be the case, however, lovely people personality wise, person to person are just that – lovely people. Many owners have thought this only to discover when they pick their horse up 6 months later they are basket cases suffering from burn out or under-nourished and ill treated.

Sending your horse away to your chosen trainer is a massive investment on your part, you are not only paying lots of $ to have your horse professionally trained, you are investing in your horse’s future with you, you want to spend your time with your horse as safe as possible and as educated as you wished him to be at the end of his stay.

So my one thing I would definitely say to you is to keep in the loop with your trainer, ask for regular videos of your horse in training, ask questions, don’t be afraid to ask anything you like, try and get in some visits where you are able to ride your horse under the guidance of the trainer, after all, who is working to save their money to send their horse off to the trainer? Riding your horse with your trainers guidance is the best thing you could do, you will learn much quicker which buttons are where and how you use these buttons. The more you ride with your trainer the better off you will be, this is about you and your horse as a team at the end of his training.

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I am a retired professional horse trainer, active Certified rider coach, I coach riders and their horses throughout Australia and New Zealand, I am the author of the book From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse, I am also a Certified Nutritionist and a professional Keto Coach. I am a keen fisher woman and I love the gym where I weight train 4 days a week. I travel Australia full time now with my husband and our Jack Russell Doug, booking and holding clinics and lessons throughout the country for many remote horse riders as well as not so remote. I love coaching riders and their horses along with helping people with nutrition and the ketogenic diet.

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