Ode to My Trainer

I’ve told you all ad nauseam how much I love my trainer. How she pushes me, teaches me, keeps Frankie fit and healthy. She truly works so hard for her clients and it’s inspiring to see.

But when I take a step back and look at the last few years with her (it’ll be three years next week!), I realized that she’s done so much more than that.

She has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she’s put in time and effort on my behalf countless times when there was pretty much nothing in it for her.

You may remember that I didn’t start out with her as a competitor. I started out as a once-a-week group lesson rider with no horse and no shows on the calendar. Heck, I couldn’t afford a horse or shows at that point. My trainer was making next to no money from having me as a client.

striped_vertical
A few months into riding with Trainer

After only two lessons, she went out of her way to arrange a half-lease for me. She didn’t get a commission on that and my payments all went directly to Addy’s owner, but she thought it would be good for the horse and knew I wanted to ride. So she made it happen.

When I eventually scraped together some money for shows, she made sure to let me know when the nearby local ones were happening and rallied other riders to go too, knowing those were the only ones I could afford.

culpeper_friends
She drove almost 4 hours round-trip in one day so I could afford a rated show

When I said I wanted to buy a horse to go do the 1.0m Adult Jumpers, she told me to dream bigger and found a mount to take me to 1.10m and beyond. Despite the fact that I had never competed over 3′.

Countless times she has sat with me after lessons to talk about how to word a sale ad, common conformation flaws, how course design affects the ride, the nutrient content of our feed, considerations when matching a horse and rider, potential upcoming USEF rule changes and the implications of those, and every other topic under the sun about the equine industry.

She has gone into the warmup ring and rattled, soothed, riled, encouraged me by turns, somehow always knowing what will get me into the ring feeling my best. She knows when to say, “not bad, but wait with your shoulders,” and when to say, “GET MAD AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.” She never fails to send me in with a pat and a “go have fun!”

jtc_fri_ringside
And she has fantastic taste in hunt coats

And a few weeks ago at Finals, as I was managing my second warmup of the morning and trying to overcome some mental hurdles, she pulled me in for a rare quiet moment. She looked me square in the eye and said:

“You deserve to be here. Don’t think for one second that you don’t. You have just as much of a chance to go lay this down as any other rider here. You’ve earned your spot in this competition.”

Somehow, without me ever verbalizing (and without me fully realizing it myself), she understood those insidious feelings of inadequacy that we all face every so often. She confronted them head on and gave me her confidence when she knew my own was low.

Of course I’m happy with my trainer from a “checkbox” perspective: my horse is healthy and happy, we are progressing steadily and safely, and we are continuously adding new skills to the toolbox. But she has my loyalty for so much more than that.

riverchase_26_white
She has taken me from this…
upp_sun_purple
…to this.

I’m one of my trainer’s more involved clients now: I board my horse with her, I utilize her training services in addition to my own lessons, I compete at the big shows regularly. But I’ll never forget that she’s been going to bat for me and believing in my dreams since I was just another lesson kid.

Advertisements

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.

cf_laugh
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.

LB_sat_warmup
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.

nov_plank
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.

WOMP WOMP.

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?

 

Interview with a Trainer, Part 1

Hey all! As promised, I have a fun little interview with one of my trainers here. I’ve referred to her as AT (Assistant Trainer) many times, but I honestly think we can lose the “assistant” at this point. She’s taught a whole bunch of our lessons, coached me at shows, schooled my horse, and helped me out when I’ve been hacking around. She’s a kickass trainer and a totally kickass person.

Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Introduce yourself! Or at least as much as you want to share on the internet.

Initially from the Midwest (Minnesota/Illinois/Iowa), Joanna honed her knowledge of barn management and schooling green horses early in her riding career. She taught beginner to intermediate/advanced lessons, was a summer camp director, and worked local shows – pulling ingate duty, announcing, and filling in for jump crew. Joanna also specialized in off-track thoroughbreds and retraining difficult and problem horses. She rode competitively in the hunter and equitation divisions before crossing into the jumper ring. Throughout her junior career, she helped pay her own show fees by braiding at shows.

After college, Joanna ventured to Wellington, Florida to work for Stadium Sport Horses, in conjunction with Ashland Farm, as a show groom for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). While there, Joanna gained much of her experience from Debbi White (who rode and managed for Anne Kursinski), and Luis Madriz, a top groom for Ashland. Through WEF, she received an opportunity to be a rider and show manager for Wood Run Farm, based outside of Denver, Colorado. At that upper level show barn, she kept the show string organized, groomed, and prepared for various show seasons; which included hunters, amateur jumpers, and FEI-level horses.

Eventually, Joanna longed for a change of pace, and was encouraged by close friends to check out the Northern Virginia area. Here, she met Terri and Don and the Clairvaux family and knew it felt like home.

Most often you will find her at the farm with her dog, Tifa, keeping busy with the well-being of her four-legged clients and passing on her knowledge to her students.

(Editor’s note: she doesn’t actually talk like this, she just copied and pasted her bio from the barn’s website. Clever girl.)

When did you start riding?

My cousin got a pony when I was 3/4yo. I started formal hunter/jumper lessons at 7yo.

What was your path to becoming a professional?

I tried a lot of other normal-ish jobs, and finally decided that I might as well try to do the horses professionally. It’s the one thing I’m completely passionate about. I was in my early 20s, and didn’t have any strings attached to anything to stop me, so why not.

What’s your favorite discipline and why?

Jumpers. I’m not against other disciplines, or think that jumpers is the best, I just prefer it. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying without mechanical help. I also like that it’s judged objectively.

Favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?

So many, for different reasons. I think it’s easier to list the horses I don’t like (which are mostly limited to the ones that would prefer to stomp me into the ground).

Best/favorite parts about being a pro/trainer?

When the green horse you’ve been training does what you’ve been trying to teach it. When things start to click, no matter how minuscule it seems.

Same applies to students.

Worst/least favorite parts?

Dealing with drama and politics

What’s something important about being a trainer than you didn’t realize before you became one?

Not everyone has the same level of commitment that I do.

What’s the biggest difference between teaching kids, competitive juniors, and amateurs? Do you prefer one over the others?

Every person learns differently, even if they are competing at the same level.

I prefer anyone who has the desire to improve; I’ll take hard work every time.

What are the corrections you have to give almost everyone?

More leg. Outside rein. Outside aids.

(Ed. note: this is the soundtrack to my lessons. One day she won’t have to remind me as often. One day…)

Do you usually have a goal in mind for each lesson? Show?

I have a rough outline of what I’d like to accomplish in the day, but working with horses makes you be able to be flexible with plans. The horses (and sometimes riders) are good at not following your plan.

What tips would you give to an adult getting back into the sport after some time off?

Find a good trainer. Try not to overthink things. Have fun. Work hard. Let go (literally and figuratively). Lots of stretching. If you are only planning to ride once a week, have realistic goals for making progress. Don’t rely on riding to be your sole form of exercise, you’re an athlete – treat your body as such. When you’re an adult making a comeback, it’s a lot of mental strength, not just physical.

Any advice for an amateur on a budget to continue progressing?

If you have a good working relationship with your trainer, they’ll be able to help you make progress, no matter your budget. Be willing to get on anything and everything. Work hard. Absorb lots. Say you can’t ride in a clinic- go audit (it’s usually cheap or free to listen). Watch the classes you have goals to compete in; see what the level of riding is to be successful in those classes. Watch the pro classes- don’t be caught up in how well the horse goes, study what the pro is doing before, over, and after each fence to help the horse be successful.

Who is your favorite client and why is it me?

Lol. My favorite is anyone who wants to be a student of the horses.

(Ed. note: nah but seriously she just doesn’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings. Totally me.)

Anything else you want to share?

Have big goals, but have realistic/attainable steps to those goals. Be able to take constructive criticism and try to apply. As a trainer, I want you and the horse to succeed. I would never ask either to do something that cannot be done, I will not set you up for failure. Don’t get frustrated; if you’re having a rough round, take a breath, find the little things that went right, live to ride another day. Success in riding does not happen overnight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yeah I know, it’s totally awesome that I get to ride with her. Next in the series will be input from our other trainer/barn owner, so stay tuned for that!

Would you guys be interested in reading interviews with other people at the barn? I’m thinking maybe one of the barnhands, a parent of one of our juniors, another ammy, basically anyone I could get to sit down and answer some questions. Would love your feedback!

What Does Trainer Say?

Recently I had a lengthy discussion with my trainer about horse care, and I was so happy to hear that we have very similar philosophies on how to keep horses happy and healthy. She also had some new perspectives for me, so here’s the rundown on what we talked about:

  • Memory foam saddle pads- Not a huge fan. She made an interesting point that when the rider is posting or landing from jumping, the foam doesn’t spring back that quickly, so it’s not truly absorbing much shock. She’s a big fan of the classic sheepskin pads, because those move with the horse and are more breathable. I’ve been lusting after an Ogilvy pad, but now I’m going to consider it more. Readers with a memory foam pad- I’d love to hear your perspective on this!
  • Turnout- horses need it. End of story. She talked about how she worked in a professional dressage barn for a while after college, and one top mare received absolutely no turnout because it would throw out her back. Read that: this horse was stalled indefinitely because they thought any movement not under saddle would hurt her, and they couldn’t risk her career. Horses are made to wander and move around all day, not stand and wait for their rider! I feel so very strongly about this. It’s one thing to stall your horse when injured to keep them from getting hurt further, but horses are simply not made to stand still all day. The more outside time, the better. Addy is a case in point: when she had very limited turnout, she was a devil pony. Now she is so level-headed. I attribute that almost entirely to increased turnout.
  • Bits- better a softer hand with a stronger bit than a heavy hand with a gentler bit. Even the mildest bit can deaden a horse’s mouth if it’s being pulled on non-stop. If the horse is not responding to the simple snaffle, try a french link. If they’re heavy on the french link, try a slow twist. My trainer’s philosophy is this: if the rider has independent hands and can be trusted to release more once the bit is changed, that’s probably the right way to go. That’s why we moved up to a slow-twist with Addy recently- I’m able to be lighter with my hands than I was with the french-link and she respects my aids more. If the rider is still going to cling to the mouth, do not make the bit harsher. It has to be a conversation.
  • Regular saddle pads- probably not causing your horse to go lame/move better. This may be a little controversial; I’ve read quite a few product reviews by fellow bloggers that feel very strongly that certain pads make their horse feel better, and I don’t want to step on any toes. Maybe I just haven’t found that magic pad yet. But I use different pads all the time with Addy, and it had never affected how she goes. Whether or not she had turnout that day, how cold it is, how hard the footing is, how floppy-potato I am, all these things definitely make a big difference. But swapping out one all-purpose pad for another hasn’t done a goshdarn thing. Trainer is in agreement- equipment absolutely changes how a horse moves, but it’s not at the top of the list of factors she checks for. The first is always the rider.
  • Showing up for work- we actually chatted about this for quite a long time, because it’s so nuanced. If a horse really hates his job, then it’s probably not the right fit. Addy loves jumping, so we jump. Some horses hate jumping, so they don’t. There’s always the give and take to figure out what a horse’s “calling” is- the discipline that allows them to shine and be happy in their work. But there are always going to moments/days/stretches when a horse does not want to do their job (humans have those moments. Dogs have those moments. Every creature has those moments where they say “won’t.”). Or they want to do their job, but they want to do it their own way instead of listening. Case example: Addy loves jumping. Addy occasionally ducks out of jumps that she finds scary. In these cases, it’s my job to give her support and encouragement that the jump won’t eat her, but in the end she is going over that jump whether she wants to or not. She knows her job quite well; she needs to show up and do it. This is a rather rambling bullet, but here’s the TL;DR version: the horse needs to like their job overall, but the rider needs to push the horse through those off days.
  • Expectations- horses will generally feed back to you what you expect. Whether that’s expecting and enforcing personal space on the ground or expecting a spook in the scary dark corner. By anticipating a spook, the horse senses that there’s something to be scared about. By not enforcing boundaries on the ground, the horse knows he can get away with being pushy. While not always the case, if we expect better from our horses then we often receive it.

Readers, please share your perspectives on any and all of these topics! We all have different approaches to horsemanship and I’d love to hear yours!