Trainer Shopping: A Mom’s Perspective

BY Jamie Sindell

I’m not sure what’s been harder, raising five crazy kids or finding the right trainer for my daughter. My oldest, now fourteen, has been with several trainers. Finally, two years ago we found the right fit. We now lease a horse with this trainer and keep the mare in full training. 

Did I make mistakes along my child’s equestrian journey? Absolutely! However, with each mishap, I developed the confidence to know exactly what I was looking for in a trainer match. 

Here were my priorities for finding the right trainer for my kid.

  1. Safety 

If safety isn’t the trainer’s priority, this is the biggest red flag. I’ve seen and heard countless stories of developing equestrians riding inappropriate lesson horses. An adult friend of mine who recently began riding was put on a green Thoroughbred during a lesson with her daughter. This friend was bucked off and severely injured her back. Thank goodness it wasn’t her six-year-old daughter. 

A few years ago, I took my daughter for a trial lesson with a local trainer. During the lesson, young kids were jumping around on their own. A child fell off twice when her pony refused. The trainer nonchalantly told her to get back on and continued teaching my daughter. This scenario disturbed me on many levels.

Beginners jumping alone is unacceptable. Similarly, putting novice riders on stoppers or runaways isn’t “teaching them” how to be better riders. This is the time for learning the basics, not how to sit a buck. I refuse to look past an unsafe environment.

  1. Communication

 I’ve learned the hard way that if a trainer is unwilling to listen to concerns or opinions, that trainer isn’t right for my family. I’m not suggesting it’s cool to undermine the trainer’s authority, but it’s critical to feel comfortable asking thoughtful questions and offering input. The ability to have a dialogue is what makes any relationship flourish. 

I’ve had a trainer insist my daughter was struggling because she didn’t have the grit or drive to lesson. Over and over, my daughter told her the pony was misbehaving. She needed help! In hindsight, it is clear the instructor didn’t have the time or energy to listen and discuss. 

Under the wing of our current trainer, the pony was put in boot camp to correct his habits. Though it took time for my daughter to regain confidence, she is flourishing with a trainer who honors what we have to say. Even if her trainer disagrees with our perspective, at least we feel heard.

  1. The Vibe 

One thousand percent, finding the right vibe is equally as important as finding the right trainer. Is your kid a recreational rider right now? Then an uber competitive trainer at a show barn may not be the right vibe. Especially if this person is pushing you to buy or lease a horse when that doesn’t align with your kid’s current goals. I’ve had a mom recently share that she was being pushed into a pricey show horse, and something “didn’t feel right about it.” Her daughter had no interest in doing anything more than lessons and hacks.

Likewise, what kind of values does the trainer have? My daughter’s been at barns where drama between boarders was the norm. We’ve been in toxic situations where trainers incited drama by talking about clients behind their backs to other clients. You get the picture. 

This isn’t what I want for my daughter. I want a trainer at the helm who nips drama in the bud. I want a barn family who supports my kid because that is the expectation. 

My daughter’s trainer leads by example. She’s professional in her interactions. She makes it crystal clear that the barn functions as a team. I love this.  

  1. Horsemanship

Another deal breaker for me is a program that won’t allow the kids to touch the horse. Clients show up for the riding, and that’s all. It’s vital that kids get the opportunity to learn more than how to change their diagonal. They need to learn basic horsemanship: even if it is simply ten minutes prior to and after the lesson. 

Trainers that don’t allow for any of this critical interaction are not my top choice. Riding is a huge investment of time, money, and emotion.  I want to ensure I’m fostering passion in my daughters. I don’t believe ride time is enough.

  1. Teaching Style

Sure, I want a coach who will push my young rider to be her best, but not at the cost of her self-worth. Trainers who scream at kids and demean them, make me incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe that works for some parents. Not me. 

I want a trainer who strikes a balance between building my daughter up and pushing her enough to build confidence and skills. If your kid comes home and can’t wait to go back for the next lesson, it is often a sign that things are progressing. On the flip side, if your kid is constantly stressed about the next ride, it’s worth investigating. I’ve learned to watch my daughter’s lessons when I can. 

Teaching style varies and what works best for each kid varies. A child may not be able to articulate this, so it’s our job to pay attention.

  1. Empathy

At this point in my parenthood, empathy is the top trait I look for in a trainer. Before you accuse me of coddling my kids, empathy is different than enabling. It’s the ability for a trainer to put him/herself in a kid’s shoes, to find a way to connect. 

If my kid is struggling with her riding, I don’t expect a therapy session. I do need a trainer who can relate. I want authentic advice and direction rather than a simple “suck it up.” 

Last year, we sold our daughter’s outgrown pony. She was devastated. Her trainer was integral in supporting her through that transition. When we were between horses, her trainer came up with a plan for my daughter to “work” in exchange for helping to exercise horses. The plan provided a sense of purpose, pride, and a distraction until we could find her next match. 

A trainer with emotional intelligence is non-negotiable. 

At the end of the day, moms may not be horse pros, but we are parenting pros. It’s worth the time and diligence to ensure your child is in capable, caring hands. Pay attention. Trust your gut.

Read Jamie’s other articles here.

Jamie Sindell is a passionate equestrian blogger. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and a BS in Animal Science from Cornell University. She has ridden and owned hunters on and off throughout her life. She is a mom of five kids, ages 3, 4, 7, 11 and 14. She and her family reside at Wish List Farm, where her horse-crazy girls play with their ponies. Her oldest daughter leases and boards at a hunter/jumper facility. Her son and husband play with the tractor.