When It’s Time to Leave a Perfectly Good Trainer

Photo courtesy of Lindy Gutman


There are lots of trainers. Good trainers, and bad ones, but a conversation that comes up a lot with equestrians of all disciplines and all skill levels is when is it time to move on from your current trainer?  Why are you even considering it?  What are your needs and what do you want to accomplish?

I ride English. Specifically, I like the hunters—both show hunters and field hunters. As an amateur, I need help and know that I need help. I want to get better. I want to do better for my horses, and become braver.

For years, I rode a Quarter Horse. He was quiet and pretty, and lots of fun to trail ride. He was honest outside of the ring, but in the ring he was not. Along the way, he’d suffered a minor injury. Because he was still sound, it was barely recognizable to most professionals. That’s where the trouble started.  

My horse that had always jumped around started ducking out before jumps. And he ducked out like only a Quarter Horse could. He’d prick his ears and lock in on the jump. I’d get a little bit ahead of him and then BAM! He’d drop his shoulder and duck out. 

I came off. Every single time. For a year or more, I stopped jumping. At the beginning, I didn’t miss it. A year later, I missed it a lot.  

Photo courtesy of Lindy Gutman

I only had the one horse, and started taking dressage lessons on him. Dressage means training, and it’s valuable for everyone that rides in any discipline. English or Western, jumping or not. The trainer that I worked with was positive, friendly and confident. He made you feel good about your riding during lessons. He’s a spectacular rider and the horses he brings along are fantastic. He helped me get my mojo back and get back to jumping.  As I got better and a bit more confident, I really wanted to go back to the hunters. So, I got a new horse.

My new horse, a young Off the Track Thoroughbred, was everything my other one was not. He was quiet, sounder, and wanted less contact on his mouth. He was hotter by breed, but not by nature. I started taking lessons on him with my trainer. As things progressed, I started feeling less comfortable.  Not with the trainer as a person, but with the way the lessons went. I wanted to go back to my first love—the hunters.

My trainer had done nothing wrong. He’d gotten me to the place that I wanted to be. It was timing. I was ready to fly. But whether you’re in my situation or something else, making a change is hard. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you having fun? I mean lots of fun. This sport is expensive. Really expensive. It should be fun. If you have goals, make sure that the person you are working with can understand them. If not, it’s time to move on.
  2. How does your horse go? If your trainer wants you to sit down, is your horse happy? How much contact does your horse like to feel on his mouth? Does your current trainer want more, less?  
  3. Do you compete? Does the trainer that you are working with attend the shows that you want to do? Does he/she understand your discipline?  
  4. If you are in one place all year, is your trainer available to you all year? My trainer started to spend lots of the winter in Aiken. I live in Maryland.  
  5. Is it easy to get to them or to get them to you? Are they easy to get to come and fix any problems that you have?
  6. Do you feel safe? There are tons of injuries that come with riding a 1200 pound partner at speed.
  7. Are you challenged appropriately and when appropriate? Does your trainer know when you have it in you to try something new that day? Do you have the horse that you want under you on the day that they want to challenge you?
  8. And when it’s time to move on, be honest. Be honest with yourself and your trainer. Tell them why you are moving on. This trainer did not know the hunters. He doesn’t approve of foxhunting. He’s a dressage expert. He’s a great guy. He’s a great rider. The jumpers, yes.  Eventing, yes. Show hunters, no.  
Photo courtesy of Lindy Gutman

I’ve referred many friends to this trainer since I left his tutelage. Some of them are doing things they never thought possible. I’ve been to visit him in Aiken, albeit horseless. But in a different program, I’m happy. I’m doing what I love. And it’s because of this trainer that I’ve gotten to this place.  

Follow your head and your heart. Do what’s right for you. It’s hard, but deep down, you already know.