So you are ready to get help from a trainer in your horsemanship journey. Where to start?
Do you go from recommendations on social media? Do you search the directories? Do you send your horse to a trainer your friend used?
Any of the above are a start to finding the right trainer. Maybe you want to send your horse away, or perhaps you want a trainer who can work WITH you and your horse as opposed to away from you.
In this discussion I'm going to go through the things you need to consider and look for in what I personally consider to be a good trainer suited to each individual's needs.......
1. The Trainer's location
Obviously to some degree this might impact your decision. If you are sending your horse away to be started under saddle or perhaps getting some re-training, you'll want to ensure you can inspect the facilities and see your horse as necessary. Perhaps the driving distance needs to be taken into consideration and in any event, I'd highly suggest you visit your horse every week to two weeks and discuss your horse's needs and requirements as the process goes along. Otherwise if you're wanting a trainer to work alongside you, again being somewhat close by is obviously an advantage.
Having said this - be prepared to travel for the RIGHT trainer. A good trainer often doesn't travel off their property too much as they may have enough bookings at their own place so it may be necessary for you to drive a little further than you would ideally like. BUT in the end if the trainer does you and your horse justice, an extra few minutes in the car is definitely worth it! You may even be lucky enough to find a trainer that ocassionally travels for clinics and lessons in your area so you can sometimes utilise their services closer to home.
2. Customer Service and Professionalism
In my younger days I worked in retail in the saddlery and pet industries. I managed stores and staff for many years, and I cannot tell you enough that for myself, customer service is a HUGE decision when I'm outsourcing for anything. I think it is a trainer's duty to communicate well not just with your horse but with you - the client. After all, you are paying them! A trainer may not always bring you the words of advice you'd like to hear, however it is important they communicate with you nontheless on your or your horse's progress. It is imperative that the trainer you choose is happy to reply to your messages either by phone, social media or email within a reasonable time frame, that they are honest and open with you about whatever it is they are discussing, and that they are professional in their mannerisms. Any trainer out there trying to bag out another trainer or competitor in front of clients or students, speaking with ego and bravado or generally saying distasteful things to their clients I believe shows a lack of professionalism and customer service. As a trainer my clients deserve my respect, attention during their sessions, my manners, and my professional advice. They are not paying me to say nasty things about others in the industry and they are certainly not going to enlist my services if I don't contact them back at an appropriate time! If you find a trainer with all the credentials and experience, but no customers service or professionalism I would personally stay clear of them - what else perhaps are they not professional about??!!
A serious trainer takes their job and their clients (both 2 legged and 4 legged) seriously!
It is true that not all amazing horse trainers have fantastic facilities. Many of us scrape by making a living out of what we love to do and what we are good at, however it is imperative that whatever facilities the trainer does have are safe! Good safe fencing, whether it's post and rail or electric fencing (for housing horses), safe footing, and some kind of suitable area to teach or train horses in are important. In an ideal world your chosen horse trainer has at least a round yard/square yard &/or an arena of some kind to work your horse in, plus perhaps a few trails around if you're lucky.
4. Qualifications and Insurance
The fact is the horse industry is not a regulated industry. There are many good trainers out there without qualifications, and unfortunatley there are many qualified trainers out there with very little experience in the industry. Ideally you can find a bit of both. For a trainer to get insurance they have to satisfy the insurance company they are with that they have protocols in place for safety at the very least, and enough experience to show that they can implement these protocols. Yes - many horse trainers work uninsured and I can tell you from experience that I've rarely been asked to show my insurance certificate by the average client. At big events we are required to produce this certificate, but for most lessons and clinics, it's barely mentioned. For me personally it's an important piece of paper that shows I am 'insurable' and have enough experience or credentials to satisty my insurance broker. It also implies to me a level of professionalism.
Qualifications I put in the same basket - the horse industry is ever changing and progressing and the trainers out there seeking out more knowledge in the way of reputable courses run by leading experts are the trainers that are forever increasing their knowledge and experience ready to pass it onto their clients. Any trainer that is open to learning more to me shows a dedication to their industry and their profession. Yes we learn a LOT from the horses we are working with and I can tell you that one of my best trainers have been the horses themselves, but I have also learnt an immeausurable amount of knowledge from other experts in my industry during my involvement in training courses and programs and I find these invaluable in learning. I used to think 'just a piece of paper' wasn't really that useful - but as I've grown older (and god forbid a bit wiser) I can now completely appreciate how important many of those pieces of paper are and how they separate the good trainers from the amazing trainers. Our industry is growing and we are learning more and more about factual horse welfare and training practices, and this is being high lighted by the number of suitable training programs around.
This is an interesting one. What floats one client's boat may not float the next! I am forever reading on social media about one trainer or another who one person regards as 'fantastic' whilst on the next page someone is opening ranting about the poor job that same person did with their own horse. What you need to remember is that as a trainer - we cannot please all of the people all of the time. Some people will like one trainer's methods, whereas the next person finds them hard to understand. My advice? Do your research, take everyone's opinion on board but ultimately find out for yourself. A reputable trainer generally has good customer service and professionalism, is insured & perhaps has some qualifications or a long list of achievements in their industry, AND is more than happy for you to come along and watch them work with their own horses or other client's horses. If they are committed to their techniques, they will encourage others to watch and learn from them. Get talking with the trainer and get a feel for what their energy is like. Does what they are saying in regards to horses resonate with you? Do you feel they can hear where you are coming from in your wants/needs for your horse? Are they open about their methods and techniques?
Another indicator can be how much work they have on. Many good trainers are regularly booked out or very busy most of the time. Many average trainers are begging for work.
I find many of my clients who are friends with each other and do lots of 'horsey' things together, generally have the same ideals when it comes to their horses, so often they are agreeable on training methods and trainers. In this case, if you are watching your friend's horse and it is happy, confident, well educated and so is the rider, then consider going to the trainer that this friend recommends. Don't base your opinions wholy and solely on what your 'Facebook mates' might say if you haven't seen for your own eyes the results of the trainer in question. Having said this - if your horsey friend has only been to the trainer a few times and hasn't implemented the methods suggested by the said trainer - perhaps this person is not a good advertisment for that trainer either! Use a bit of common sense and go with your gut instinct ;)
6. Chosen discipline
This is a pretty obvious one. Regardless of the discipline, a good horse trainer that starts young horses should be putting basics in place regardless of what discipline you might like to pursue down the track. As a trainer, I want to develop a young horse with confidence, a good walk/trot/canter, ideally out in the arena and perhaps on a trail, I want to develop good ground manners and safety when it comes to lunging, backing up, floating, washing, saddling/bridling etc. And I also want the horse to understand to move away from leg pressure and develop bend and softness. After I've established these, it is up the owner what path they choose to go down - be it dressage, western, campdrafting, horse archery, or trail riding. However if you specifically want a western reining horse and you can find a qualified, insured, experienced, and professional reining competitor that also starts young horses, then perhaps consider sending your horse to the trainer that can develop your horse in preparation for your chosen discipline. Just ensure that the trainer doesn't try to 'push' your young horse too hard in the starting process and make a fully educated reining horse out of your unstarted 2yo in just a few weeks! Personally I believe young horses should be allowed to be young horses - it's more important in my books to work on softness, forwardness, straightness, confidence and safety in the young horse as opposed to fancy maneuvours in their first few months of ridden work. The fancy stuff will come easily later on ;)
However if you are thinking of sending away your quiet and fairly well educated horse to a trainer at an older age in your pursuit to eventually compete in dressage, then of course you want to pick someone who specialises in dressage and can ideally also do a few lessons with you as the rider once the horse has had some training.
You get what you pay for - we've all heard that right? Well in my experience it usually rings true, however I'm aware of a number of trainers charging big bucks and producing a fairly average result. Generally when I see a trainer charging as little as $100-200 per week for training I question their experience and the time that will be spent on the horse. If all of the above ticks your boxes then be prepared to spend a little more in order to get good quality. The average amount for a good trainer is somewhere between $300-450 per week. Individual lessons for a qualified and experienced trainer can be anywhere between $60-100 per hour dependent on location and travel etc. and again - sometimes you get what you pay for. Nowadays it's a very competitive market so I do often see good trainers and instructors not charging what they are worth in an attempt to keep clients. I find this disappointing as many of the good trainers I see not charging enough really should be charging double! Remember the value you will get from a good trainer is often worth spending an extra $10-20 per hour if it means you are getting quality information. Often the trainers will more qualifications and achievements, and who have insurance generally charge more. You are paying to learn all that knowledge that they have spent their own hard earned dollars on learning themselves so that they can pass it onto their own clients. Every horse they've taken off the track to re-train, every project horse they have learnt an invaluable amount from, every program and course they've completed, every hour of study and research, and every clinic with other professionals they've attended, they have paid for in money, bloody, sweat, tears and time - and they are there ready to teach you everything they have learnt. This of course, will come at a price.
8. Clinics, Lessons, Courses
Many trainers now run not only individual private lessons but also group clinics and courses. These trainers are a great avenue for you to continue with as you can get the best of both worlds. One on one help when you need it most, plus the advantage of a cheaper group rate in a clinic where you can work with your horse alongside the pressures of other horses &/or alongside your horsey friends to make it not only a learning experience, but also a social experience. If these same trainers can offer you books, articles, dvd's, or online training help, you can further your journey at times when perhaps you cannot attend a clinic, or cannot afford private lessons. Instead you can back up that information with the latest training article, some online help or perhaps a virtual lesson/consultation, or a training video. When times are tough or you are particularly time poor, or perhaps the float is out of action - you can still continue on your horsemanship journey without being held back by unexpected circumstances. If your chosen trainer can also see you face to face in lessons or clinics, they can back up any information you may have got stuck on during the times you were working off a video or book.
This is actually a SUPER important one! Do you get along with the trainer? Do you feel welcomed by them? Does your horse seem to like them? Or do you feel uneasy around the trainer? Does your horse seem nervous or unsettled when in their presence? Or do you find them condescending or rude towards you? If you can develop a great relationship with your trainer you will go ahead in leaps and bounds in your horsemanship journey. I learnt a long time ago that I'm not going to be every horse owner's cup of tea - and I'm ok with that! But I LOVE getting along with my clients and their horses as for me - it's not only my work but my passion. It's just as important to me that I enjoy my students training sessions as I'm sure it is for them. Yes some sessions will be hard work, and sometimes your trainer will encourage you and perhaps push you through your comfort zones, but that is our job and if you can't do it with a smile on your face at the end of the session, and feel like you have your trainers full support then you might need to consider finding another trainer. After all - for most of you this is your hobby and you should be enjoying the process with this half a tonne animal that chews up your weekly wage ;) Enjoy yourself and enjoy your trainer!
10. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
This might sound a bit weird but a big pre-requisite for myself when seeking out a trainer is that the trainer can achieve with my horse what they are wanting me to achieve. If the trainer I use cannot get up on my horse and SHOW me how it's done and also help explain to the horse what he/she wants, then what chance do I have? I am blessed to have a great dressage and archery coach who would never ask me to do something that he couldn't do himself. If your trainer is shouting expletives at you, getting frustrated that you are not achieving something with your horse, or not showing you how it's done, consider getting another trainer. A good trainer will offer to work with your horse when you are struggling with them. We don't want to see your horse getting more confused nor do we want to see you getting more confused. If I can go in and ride the horse or work with the horse myself, I can usually 'feel' what is going on and help the horse/rider/owner as necessary. Any trainer who can't hop on board your horse and help show the horse and yourself what to do is not an ideal trainer for you. If you can see the horse perform something perfectly with the trainer then you can also establish that the problem is not the horse but the operator ;) Often it's a bit of both - the horse being unsure and the owner being unsure. As a trainer - if I can show the horse that in turn can help the owner/rider.
The above blog is simply my opinion as a professional trainer and I encourage anyone reading this to explore their options and above all else, enjoy their horsemanship journey one way or another. Love your horses and encourage and support each other in this wonderful journey we are all on :)
~ Hayley Chambers-Holt