The Right Trainer
Just lately I’ve been chatting to riders and asking them to evaluate their lessons, how they feel it’s all going and if they have any particular queries in their mind about the whole process. Perhaps any questions or niggles that might me hindering their progress. I’m sometimes amazed at the torrent of stuff that’s obviously been held in there but I ALWAYS welcome it.
(Note: If you are struggling with a concept or something your trainer has asked you to do. ASK!)
It seems that traditionally, a lot of riding instruction comes in a fairly standard format. The instructor stands in the arena giving instruction and the rider does their best to show the instructor what they want to see. It seems that it can often be felt by riders, that questioning the instructor is not the “done thing”, OR that they should in some way already understand all the concepts and terminologies used and that asking questions makes them feel silly, inadequate or rude.
I always encourage students to seek the idea that a rider, trainer relationship is just that. A ‘relationship’ where information is shared, questions are asked and answered and the input and feedback of the rider is valued by the trainer as much as the other way around. I once heard Charles de Kunffy say that he often feels as if he had learned as much from the student and their horse as they had from him.
The world is full of wonderful trainers, and some not so wonderful, but all with their different strengths and weaknesses and it can be a confusing task and sometimes a process of trial and error to work out who is right for you and your horse. “Experts” are around every corner and if as a rider you feel your knowledge is limited then it can be difficult to know who to put your trust in. And trust in your trainer you must…
Owning and training my own horse again recently reminded me of how important it is to have the right trainer. One that you trust and one who can help you understand the true nature of your horse in training. Someone to help you remain focused on the right things and ensure that you remain objective when challenges arise. They don’t have to be super-human and they can’t do it for you. But progress must be made, not just words and money exchanged.
It’s terribly easy to become emotionally focused when training your own horse. I know this only too well. It’s all very well for your trainer to come along and tell you ‘Oh he’s just reacting with his natural flight instinct’ or ‘It’s OK, its not personal’ As you’ve just watched your horse gallop off into the distance or found yourself spooked across the arena for the hundredth time. For some reason, when it’s someone else’s horse it’s a training issue, when it’s your own it’s personal. What IS that all about? Another post perhaps… lol
The fact is that when things occur in our training that feel unwanted, it is almost ALWAYS either a training/symmetry issue, a trained resistance or a pain issue and so often it is just the former. And I say ‘just’ because the great thing is that when it’s a training issue, which is often associated with asymmetry, we can objectify and realize it, meaning there is always something we can do that will reliably work for the horse. Seeking answers from this perspective can often help to prevent us getting upset and working from our emotional state; sometimes rushing off to do stuff that isn’t really useful, like buying the latest gadget or supplement or spending a needless fortune with the vet or even subjecting your horse to the local ‘horse fixer’ or perhaps taking up Parrelli. (Did I say that out loud :-\ lol)
When you are struggling with your horse and he doesn’t appear to be ‘doing what it says on the tin’ You may feel that you have exhausted all the reasons you can imagine for the unwanted behaviour or underperformance. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons that you hadn’t thought of or you just don’t understand at this point in your training, and this is what a good trainer is for. Not just someone who can tell you which arm and leg to put where, but someone who understands the nature and biomechanics of the horse. It’s so very much easier to depersonalise it and therefore become 100% more effective when you understand…
So when choosing a trainer here are a few things to look out for… Pass by on anyone who tells you your horse is naughty, plotting against you, dominant, or needs to be dominated in any way, either physically or mentally. The same for anyone who wants you to use any kind of gadget (tight nosebands included) that restricts or shapes the head, neck or indeed any part of the horse’s body. Also anyone who spends most of your lesson on their cell phone or attending to issues outside of your lesson. These are not bad people they are just lacking in the knowledge and respect you need and deserve.
Instead look for a trainer who feels as if they seek to ‘enable’ both you and your horse. They should feel as if they have a sound knowledge base which they are ready to share, and that what they say makes sense to you and is always in the interest of the horse. As a lesson progresses your horse should feel easier, lighter and more willing, not stronger, heavier and exhausted, even if the lesson has been a tough one. Look elsewhere if by the end of a lesson your legs are dropping off, you have a face the colour of a tomato and biceps like Popeye.
Employ someone who understands how to, and is prepared to work tirelessly with you on improving your equitation at every step of the way. And last but not least, a person you feel has a genuine love and respect of all horses for their horse-ness not just their athletic ability…
It should NEVER feel forced, coercive or abusive in any way, no matter what anyone tries to convince you. If this is happening then that trainer has come to the end of their knowledge and subsequently, their ability to help you. Question it ALWAYS! On the flip side, wafting about still doing the same thing after months and months, still not being allowed to pick up the rein contact means that appropriate progress probably isn’t being made, which is no kinder to your horse really.
At the end of the day, trust in your instincts. You don’t have to be an advanced rider to now when things feel right in your soul. So go with your gut instinct and listen to your horse because he is relying on you.