BY DANA SPRINGER
Trainers are the cornerstone of amateur riding (besides horses of course). They make you feel confident, safe, empowered and give you the skills to succeed as an equestrian. But sometimes we outgrow our trainers and need to move on. Over the course of my 25-year riding career, I’ve learned to recognize some signs that indicate that it’s time to move on.
Your Goals No Longer Meet a Trainer’s Expertise
One of the most exciting times in a rider’s journey is when you start to move up the levels. But, there are world-class trainers who teach amateurs to flawlessly execute a 1.40m speed round who wouldn’t know the first thing about winning an amateur owner handy hunter class and vice versa. Like any professional, trainers have their skill sets, and they don’t always correlate with your needs and riding level.
Returning to riding after a graduate-school hiatus, I rode with a trainer who focused heavily on showjumping with little care or knowledge of hunter division. While I had shown in jumpers most of my life, my heart was really with the hunters. I tried my hardest to conform to the program, but it just wasn’t going to include what I loved. After years of getting heart palpitations every time my horse got hot and picked up towards the fence (plus many, many time-faults) I had to be honest with myself: I was miserable. Despite liking my trainer as a person and a friend, it just wasn’t going to work.
You and Your Horse are Not Cared for Properly
The hope is to find a professional who can not only successfully get you to achieve set goals, but also take excellent care of both you and your horses. When you find the professional that does both, hold on for dear life! However, if you notice signs of inadequate horse care such as horses are not on a regular schedule with a farrier or veterinarian, or you often receive bad news when it comes to your own horses’ health—or client care—when you have trouble tracking down your trainer for lessons or a course walk… it might be time to consider other options.
I rode at a barn (for far too long that I care to admit) that catered mostly towards working professionals, aka weekend warriors, that waited all week for those precious hours on a Saturday to ride. I saw a pattern of capable riders getting bucked off left and right on a regular basis (myself included). When I inquired with other staff members, they anxiously told me that the horses were hardly exercised during the work week, and often without turnout. This left the horses stir crazy—unfit for safe lessons or showing. If you think something is up, trust your gut and ask around. Don’t ever feel nervous to make sure you and your horse are in a safe and healthy environment, especially if you see any signs of abuse towards people and or horses.
You’ve Stopped Listening
Imagine you’ve just completed a round. It didn’t go as planned. Your trainer walks you out of the in-gate dispensing advice and observations of where it went well and where it went wrong, and after a few minutes you realize you didn’t hear a word they said… and you don’t even care. When that happens, you need a check-in with yourself ASAP.
My current trainer of many years has given identical feedback to my trainer from high school. The difference is that he says it in a way that is digestible and adds encouragement, as opposed to criticism, which I respond to better. As we grow and get more experience under our belt the more we understand how we are best coached. There is no shame in not being able to ride your best when given direction under a “tough love” style, nor is it wrong to want someone more serious and forego the warm and fuzzies. What is right for you is whatever allows you to succeed and enjoy the ride.
You Move Geographic Locations
Sometimes, the scariest thing of all can be leaving a trainer when you don’t want to. Take the opportunity to be open to learning from someone new and also joining a new barn community. New friends are exciting! The equestrian community, at its core, is supportive. A simple way to make the decision of who to train with is to ask a friend or colleague of your current trainer.
Every trainer I have had, from 10 years old to my early 30’s, has taught me something new. Like every break up, you take away something you learned about yourself. Despite it being painful it often leads to something equally as rewarding on the other side!
Dana is a lifelong equestrian, and competes in amateur hunters. When she isn’t riding at the barn you can find her working on her latest documentary film project or hanging out with her family and two dogs.