Who’s Your Trainer?

The timing on this works out great- Amanda was just talking about finding the right training program for her and Henny. With my own trainers gone to Ocala for a few weeks, I was ruminating on this myself.

First off, I LOVE being in a full training program. I lesson at least once a week- private lesson if it’s available- and will only cancel that lesson if I am too ill to breathe or something unavoidable gets in the way. My trainer is usually in the ring during most of my other rides during the week/on weekends, and will often give me pointers when she’s between lessons. We have her eyes on us pretty much non-stop.

She’s out of frame but WATCHING

She’s also the property owner and barn manager where we board, so all of Frankie’s care is united there. She tracks his deworming, farrier schedule, vaccinations, feed, turnout, blanketing, training rides, lessons, hacks, trail rides, shows, EVERYTHING. She can give informed advice on preventative vet care because she knows every detail of his workload. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted her saying “Frankie threw a shoe” or “Frankie has a scrape” and gotten the response, “I know, already talked to the farrier and he’ll be out later today” or “Yes, we put some Corona on it this morning.” Caring for Frankie is so ridiculously simple: I have one single point of contact that handles everything.

All this is to say that my trainer is the integral core piece of Frankie’s life in every way and that I lean heavily on her for advice and guidance.

Which finally brings me around to the point I really want to talk about: having a trainer that I trust, with a training style that meshes with my learning style, is immensely important to me not only from the perspective of learning to to ride horses moar better, but also because I very much like this integrated-care approach.

I’ve talked quite a few times about how much I like my trainer’s teaching style- most notably here, where I talk about how hard on me my trainer is sometimes and why I LOVE it.

Please tell me how to be less bad at things

However, I hadn’t ridden with anyone else in a very long time. I’ve been with my barn since I got back in the saddle as an adult, so the only two trainers I’ve been with have been Trainer and Assistant Trainer (who have very complementary styles). I did one clinic on Addy back in the day that I loved but that was about it. So I didn’t really know if I liked other trainers’ styles because I hadn’t actually ridden with other trainers.

Until recently, when we had a guest trainer come in to teach lessons for two weeks. And it was great! I gave a brief recap of our first lesson with him (where I was a potato but it was def an educational experience), and I’ll just tell you now that our second lesson went better and also included some great exercises. I am very grateful to have had the chance to ride with him and learn from him and get his perspective on some of the persistent issues I have in the saddle.

But. It really confirmed for me just how much I mesh with Trainer and AT. That may be due at least in part to familiarity (2.5 years of coaching leads to us knowing each other pretty well) and knowing what we expect from each other, but it also gave me an appreciation for how motivated I feel after a lesson with my trainer.

In a nutshell, here’s a few things I really like to have during a lesson:

  • Warm me up. Please don’t tell me to warm myself up and then you’ll jump me around. I want you to critique my flatwork and help develop that. I can WTC around on my own time- give me some harder exercises that I need your help with. I can warm myself up on the flat at shows when we don’t have a full hour, but during lessons I expect full attention for the full hour I’m paying for.
  • Constant feedback. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Please explain how these things led to my horse doing what he did. How can I change what I’m doing? During my walk breaks, please talk to me about why we’re working on what we’re doing today. As you’re setting jumps, please tell me why they’re placed where they are. I want to suck every teachable moment out of every lesson.
  • Tell me what to  change. If I biff a jump, I know I should go back and do something differently next time. I know what my options are. I can absolutely come up with something myself. But I’d really like your input on what you think the best option is.
  • Give me homework. If we struggled with an exercise, please tell me what I can work on between lessons to develop that skill. Help me be prepared so that we can continue progressing in our next lesson instead of re-treading ground.

What you’re thinking is true: I am a needy girlfriend in client form.

On top of all that, I also like my trainer to have an eye to the future. To believe in me. To suggest ways of stretching and growing and pushing comfort zones. When I say, “do you think someday I could do this?” to respond with, “dream bigger.” Who will help me figure out ways to pursue those big dreams.

I really like jumping big jumps, but I want to jump them BETTER and then BIGGER

So to recap, I want constant unceasing attention to every detail of my ride as well as an emotional and financial coach.


But I guess that’s why I have such a love affair with my trainers: because I have found exactly that. My motivation and excitement for the future expands after every ride with either of them. They take that internal fire and stoke it into something even bigger (thank you Emma for that analogy).

So what about you? What do you look for in a trainer, and in a training program?


25 thoughts on “Who’s Your Trainer?

  1. Liz 03/02/2017 / 10:51 am

    I’ve never had a trainer (due to my location I’d have to travel far and haven’t had that capability until recently), but you outline things I’ve always thought I’d want. I’ll be contacting your trainer late-spring, early summer I hope! (Thanks again for your help with this btw)


    • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 1:35 pm

      Oooh can’t wait for you to come out!! Our outdoor should be finished around then too, so lots of riding space 🙂 And you can meet Francis!!


  2. Amanda C 03/02/2017 / 10:59 am

    I’m definitely not a needy client but I’m really picky about finding someone that works for me and especially for my horse. It’s amazing how many people really DO NOT have a good understanding for how to take a sensitive thoroughbred and make them really blossom. I am the only english rider at my barn and only ever have pro eyes on me when I trailer out for a lesson, so I manage my own program and am quite independent in that way. But as an eventer I think its a lot more vital to have that independence than it would be for the average h/j rider. After all, once we’re in the ring no one is allowed to assist us in any way, so we have to get good at self-analyzation and self-correction. We also have to develop our own good judgement to keep ourselves safe on XC. So, it’s also important for me to have a trainer that can give me those building blocks and plant those seeds, where I can then go home and expand on the idea on my own. It’s a delicate balance that has proven difficult for me to find, so I’m clinging to it pretty hard now that I’ve found it. 😉


    • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 1:36 pm

      For all the investment we put into this sport- money, time, emotion- I think we need to be picky about who we work with. And you make a great point about that independence- my trainer will yell from the rail through every round at every show, so I’m pretty comfortable relying on her hahaha.


      • Amanda C 03/02/2017 / 1:38 pm

        Ha! Yeah we get eliminated if anyone tries to help us, soooo…


      • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 1:40 pm

        Oh lord I think I’d die. I usually need some “inspiration” during my rounds (meaning my trainer yelling “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS” so I stop sucking as bad)


      • Amanda C 03/02/2017 / 1:50 pm

        This is kind of exactly why I think it’s so important for people to train with someone who is very familiar with their discipline though, this proves the point exactly. Gotta make sure the eventers are able to remove their heads from their own butts. 😉 Not that we ARE, but ya know… goals.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 1:57 pm

        Motion to call H/J trainers Chief Butt-Head Removers


      • Stacie Seidman 03/02/2017 / 10:39 pm

        Technically, that’s not actually allowed in the jumper ring either. No one contests it, but legally, you aren’t supposed to get help from the sidelines.


      • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 10:59 pm

        Out of curiosity, which USEF/USHJA rule is that? I can’t seem to find it but I’m also garbage at searching things on my phone haha


      • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 11:25 pm

        Looks like this refers to physical assistance, not verbal- I wonder if they have a more detailed description of what they consider “physical assistance” somewhere.


      • Stacie Seidman 03/02/2017 / 11:30 pm

        I’m pretty old, so the rules may have changed. But when I started doing the jumpers long ago, it was technically not legal for someone to help you from the sidelines. No one ever really contested it though, so it is possible the rule has changed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. carey 03/02/2017 / 12:31 pm

    I want constant feedback, corrections, patience and encouragement, and pushing (for lack of a better word). I second guess myself frequently (was that my bad or is Cosmo being a turd?), so I need explanations of what is ACTUALLY going on and how and why. I consistently make the same mistakes, so I need to be reminded (again) to look up but I also don’t want to be screamed at and thanks for letting me know you can see I am trying and appreciate my effort and minuscule improvement over the last jump. I have confidence, but only in what I have already done, so I need a couple jumps on course to creep up or come up off that bastardly-sharp right turn so that I can show myself I can do it.

    I had all this with my trainer up north and I am lucky to have found it again with my current trainer and it’s made a world of difference for me and Cosmo.


    • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 1:38 pm

      YES. SO MUCH YES to all of this. That communication and encouragement and patience and coaxing can be such a hard balance to strike, but when you find someone who does strike that balance, it is so so wonderful

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tracy - Fly On Over 03/02/2017 / 2:18 pm

    We’re very similar, in that we both want to be solidly in a program. I like the consistency and the routine!


  5. Emma 03/02/2017 / 3:36 pm

    My relationships with my trainers are a little different bc I don’t board with any of them. So the vast majority of my riding is done without their observation. So they sorta have to take me and my horse as we come. But the other elements are all the same. Unflinching trust. The ability to discuss my horse care and riding as holistically as possible. And the ability to see me as the rider I am now and challenge me to grow into the rider I want to be tomorrow.


    • hellomylivia 03/02/2017 / 4:49 pm

      That look forward I think is the difference between a good trainer who can correct your bad habits and teach you, and a truly great trainer that can tease out your potential.


  6. Micaylah Strukelj 03/02/2017 / 6:22 pm

    I 100% agree with you, but I have something to add! I love when my trainer asks me questions. Because half the time I don’t understand but am too shy to speak up. So not only does she ask me if I understand after explaining something, but when something goes wrong she wants to know why and what I would have done. Then she tells me the best way to do it (and sometimes I am doing it right!) It really helps me continue to grow. But yeah I HATE when they are like “go warm-up on your own” My brain just goes herp-derp


  7. Stacie Seidman 03/02/2017 / 10:42 pm

    I kind of miss all those things you talk about. Having eyes around all the time and what not. Since my horses live at home with me (except for Badger), I’m on my own most of the time. But when I DO have my trainer’s eyes around, I agree, I want undivided attention. My trainer is great for that.
    Since I ride mostly alone, I want my trainer to help me figure things out myself. So when I make a mistake, I like that she helps me figure out how to fix it, without just telling me. They say you learn best by doing, and I feel that’s pretty true.


  8. CallyJumps 03/03/2017 / 11:20 am

    I’ve been in a program, and not in a program, and definitely prefer a GOOD program. I appreciate not having to coordinate a farrier visit around my crazy work schedule, and splitting vet calls for vaccines with the rest of the barn without having to coordinate anything myself. I like knowing we’re on a set schedule for things. It’s also easier to set and achieve goals, since you’ve got someone focused on how to get you there regularly.

    I do, however, appreciate that sometimes my trainer doesn’t tell me what to do. I’ll muck up a jump/line, and she’ll just tell me to come around again “and do something different this time” which I am slowly realizing is to see if the point of whatever exercise we’re doing is sinking in. Though I just generally assume, after hearing it constantly, that the answer is pretty much always “more leg!”


  9. Nicole Sharpe 03/03/2017 / 2:44 pm

    I’ve been happy with my current trainer for a while, but every once in a while I’ll get the kind of constant-feedback training from a clinician that makes me wonder how that would have affected my riding development… it’s an interesting thought. I don’t personally know someone in my area who would be better for me, but it’s definitely something I will look for if the possibility of moving to another area is on the table.


  10. heartofhope10 03/03/2017 / 4:13 pm

    I’ve always been a part of a program, and benefit greatly from it. I think we have very similar requests of our coaches, especially the “tell me what to change”. I don’t want to harp on what is wrong, tell me how to make it right! So much better in the long run.


  11. Heather 03/03/2017 / 7:14 pm

    Well basically all of this. But also, I want all of the explanation and extra homework so that I can also learn to be more independent. Make me explain to YOU what happened and went wrong, and come up with a solution. If it’s not right, correct it, but one way or another, let’s talk about EVERYTHING. I tend to tune out anything other than “shoulders back” and “sit up” while I’m in the ring, and I like it better that way because I stay focused on my horse and the task at hand, but I want to tools to be effective when I’m in there on my own, which come from super detailed instruction out of the show ring and forcing me to think through things.


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