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?


Lighting the Fire

You go in and put in a mediocre round. There were some decent moments, but overall it was not your best riding and it showed. You come out of the ring and debrief with your trainer:

Scenario One: “Good use of your corners and I liked your controlled release going into those tighter turns. Next time remember that outside leg and push a bit harder for the striding and things will click into place more.”

Scenario Two: “I need you to focus and be more present, because this is not the kind of work I expect from you. Get it together and go do better. Here’s how we’re going to do that…”

You’re kinda nervous about tackling a bigger oxer. You pop over it, but knock the front rail. You land with a big smile. You look at your trainer for feedback:

Scenario One: “Great job! We’ll polish it up as we go.”

Scenario Two: “Again, and this time wait with your shoulders so he doesn’t knock the rail.”

Which scenario would you prefer? I promise I’m not setting anyone up to look bad here, because I can honestly tell you that I very much prefer Scenario Two.

This is what works for me. I need the fire lit. I hate being told I did a good job if I know it wasn’t good work.

Listening intently. Tell me everything.

For example: one time when I was about 11 I went to a horse show with some of the girls at my summer camp. I went in for my crossrails round and broke to trot in places, missed my leads, and generally flopped around the ring. I came out and my counselor said, “Great job Olivia!” I promptly asked to switch lesson groups because I no longer trusted her as a trainer.

Even as a child, I had no patience for that crap. Tell me how to get better or GTFO.

My trainer has other clients that are more uncertain. They are the ones that she congratulates for making it around the ring- because that’s what they need. They need to know that they can get the job done before they start working the kinks out. They are still unsure, so adding too much pressure would make it even more intimidating. These are the clients for whom she emphasizes the good parts and endlessly encourages.

But over the last two years, she has learned that I can take a little bit of heat. She knows I need some pressure in order to perform. She will always be constructive with her feedback and discuss how to improve, but she also won’t sugarcoat anything. She knows I have big dreams and she knows that I’m going to have to work my ass off to achieve them, so she makes me work my ass off. Because she believes that I can get there and she’s going to do everything she can to help me there.

LB_sun_warmup down
Including but not limited to physical labor in the sun at every warmup ring

Because another piece of the puzzle is that she wants us to achieve our goals, whatever those may be. If someone’s goal is to make it around a 2′ course of 8 jumps without wanting to vomit from nerves, she builds confidence slowly and surely with tons of positive feedback and sets them up to achieve that goal. If someone’s goal is to make it to the 1.10m classes (hmmm wonder who I’m talking about), she is going to demand precision, because misses start getting dangerous at that height. And at the end of the day, horse and rider safety is paramount.

So from my musings I think these different training approaches come down to two main components:

  1. What coaching style the client responds best to
  2. What type of goal the client is trying to reach

In my case, I respond best to someone pushing me hard and I have admittedly “reachy” goals. For the safety of my horse and for my own safety, we need to demand accuracy above anything else- including my ego.

Frankie heads to the showgrounds today and I’ll follow tomorrow, and I absolutely can’t wait for another weekend of learning and improving under her guidance.

But like I said- this coaching approach doesn’t work for everyone! So tell me:

What type of coaching style do you respond best to?