What Makes A Pro

whatmakesproWhat makes a pro a pro is a question that has been on my mind lately. Choosing a trainer to work with is for most committing to a serious relationship. Most people rely on their trainers to help them pick horses, bring horses along, and guide us to personal improvement as well.

To me a trainer is someone that has brought along a variety of horses and shown at the top levels of their sport or has years of experience showing well above my level of competition successfully on a variety of horses. In addition to a competition record that can help establish their credibility they also need to be able to and want to teach. You can ride with a wonderful rider but if they don’t know how to share their knowledge you will be wasting your time to some extent in lessons. It is also very important to me to work with someone that shares similar values per say when it comes to horse care. If I am going to trust this person with potentially riding my horse when I am not around or caring for said horse I want to know that I can trust them explicitly.

thanks for telling me not to be shit EW

Here’s the thing though… All of those qualifications aren’t as easy to find as you might think in one person. I am amazed by the number of people that call themselves trainers or professionals but have no qualifications like say… experience. Training a handful of horses and a handful of riders does not make a trainer. I think you could also say that there can be a very big difference in someone that is a good riding instructor versus someone that is a good horse trainer.

Again – this is just my personal opinion. What are your all’s thoughts on the matter? What do you look for when you are trying to find a trainer/instructor? Do you only work with instructors that also train horses (or have in the past)? Do you do a lot of research or kind of just fall into programs at various barns?

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  1. A huge one for me is a trainer who is willing to further their own education. I can’t stand trainers who never seek to improve their own skills. Whether is be clinics, or taking lessons from someone who has a higher skill level than they do. If I am going to trying to keep learning, I want a trainer who is also continuing to try and be the best they can.

    I don’t have a lot of good trainers in my area and truthfully it doesn’t take much for me too be turned off by a trainer and never want to ride with them. You like big bits cause you cannot ride? I’ll never ride with you. You want to use a bajillion gadgets? Nope. You don’t see the value of good flatwork before trying to jump as high as the horse can go? Never.

    Beyond that, the person has to be easy to get along with and want to help you improve. Someone who just doesn’t care or like you said is just not great at teaching.

    Given my situation, training horses can be important. It’s always useful and particularly since I have a more inexperienced horse who needs to know things that I won’t be able to teach.

    I will say in general, that finding a good trainer is not a fun process. It’s really nice when you luck out from the beginning and find a good one though.

  2. I definitely look for a trainer that will also ride my horse if need be, and that I trust to ride my horse. Finding a trainer is hard, especially with so many people who are techincally pros because they get paid, but aren’t actually what I would consider a pro. You bring up a lot of good points, and I agree that it’s tricky to find someone who fits all of those and doesn’t charge a first born child for each lesson.

  3. I have typically ridden with trainers who have competed at the national level and can offer me help without having a personality conflict or disagreement related to my horse’s level of care.

    You make a great point about a lot of unqualified people being out there calling themselves trainers, and also that there is a difference between a riding instructor and a horse trainer and not every professional can do both well.

    I think a few other factors for people might be budget and goals. For me personally, even if not showing, I need a trainer that has show experience, can ride, and can communicate riding instructions well. I have that right now and wouldn’t ever compromise on those things.

  4. I’ve been musing over this stuff a lot since I’ve been on the hunt for a new trainer. My old trainer didn’t ride anymore, but she was an excellent horsewoman when she did from time to time climb aboard, typically getting more done in 5 minutes than a lot of people can in one hour. She was also really good at teaching (me specifically) Where I still have my issues (everyone does, no one is perfect)I was able to become a decent rider and new trainer’s have made some flattering comments. Even though she didn’t ride, she taught her clients how to ride the horse that was sitting under them that day, I feel like I have a very full toolbox. I realize as I move forward that there are growing pains with coming to a new area, and I might not be able to find the same kind of trainer, but that I am better off for having the trainer I did to muddle through other programs and not have it affect me detrimentally.

  5. Totally understand this struggle. You already know all of this, but I’ve ridden with many trainers from various disciplines. Honestly the best I’ve ever found is S, and I think she more than meets all of your requirements. However, you also know my issues with her…. finding a trainer you mesh with perfectly is nearly impossible IMO.

    One thing I would add and something I always look for in a trainer is the ability/willingness to put training rides on my horse. For days that I can’t make it out or when I go on vacation. This is harder to find than you might think, especially in certain areas of the country. There isn’t a single trainer in Auburn that I would want to school my horse. Very frustrating.

  6. I’ve had a really tough time finding someone long term to work with. I took a few terrifying lessons with an UL eventer who is a fantastic rider…not so much as far as instructing. I got really lucky with finding both my dressage trainer and my event trainer. Both have excellent resumes as far as riding, training and coaching, and both are always improving their own education, which is super important to me. The only thing I feel like I’m missing is someone that can ride P when I can’t. Thanks to work and family, there are some weeks I can only make it to the barn 3-4x/week, an P really does best with a 5-6x/week program.

  7. While I’ve found a trainer I really like and trust, an injury (among other things) has prevented her from reaching higher levels, but she never stops learning. I am gaining confidence back and some tools/re-learning how to effectively ride again. However, I am the opposite (and probably the weird one) in that I don’t like training rides- if my horse needs training, I want to be the one to do it, so I can continue growing as a rider (and on my budget, it’s lessons OR training rides). It works out well since my current trainer cannot physically ride, but is a fantastic horsewoman.

    I really miss my trainer from KY who was fantastic in every sense- former upper level rider, managed a H/J barn, etc. and really knew how to pull out the best in every rider/horse combination. She also (physically) can ride, but rarely did because it forced her students to ride. She would get on if we were struggling with a particular issue so she could explain it better, but that was rare.

  8. Unfortunately it doesn’t take any sort of special qualification to call yourself a ‘pro’, but I wouldn’t hire a lot of the self-proclaimed ‘professional trainers’ out there. In the past, the trainers I chose to work with had experience competing at the national or international level of my chosen discipline, a long track record of their own show ring successes, successful students, and a teaching style that worked for me. I thought for a while that those first few traits – namely the high-level show experience – was the most important. My current trainer has proven that totally wrong. While she doesn’t have any sort of impressive show record, she’s worked for some of the best riders and trainers in the country and is an INCREDIBLE teacher, and a great rider in her own right. She is quick to tailor the lesson to be exactly what I need, she understands the way I work and the way Dino works, and even though she doesn’t have any high-profile wins under her belt, she has helped me improve myself and my pony, supported me in my goals, and has facilitated re-building my confidence in amazing ways. For me, the most important thing in a ‘pro’ trainer is that they’ve got to be well-educated, and they’ve got to be talented in teaching. I’m not paying them to win blue ribbons, I’m paying them to teach me how to be a better rider – and the ability to do that is what counts!

  9. So, my trainer is past her “ride all the horses” phase… and she’s also past the “set foot in a show ring” phase. Which is really different from what a lot of people want, but it works for me. She has the experience, knowledge and willingness to teach — which for me is the most important thing. Plus, we see very eye to eye on what is most important in terms of riding, horse training and horse care.

  10. For me, pro and amateur are semantics. There are some non professionals whose skills are amazing, and some so called pros that are only that because they call themselves that.

    I always hesitated to put myself out there because I am always chasing knowledge, was looking for a mentor. It never happened. But I offer what I know if people want to hear it. I think your point about imparting knowledge is very important. I have had trainers who could not get on and ride or fix the problem for me but were so amazing at explaining. I can ride, that’s not the question, but for me, I remind myself that most people don’t want to pay the pro to ride and show all the time. The goal is for them to ride their horse. So I strongly support educated owners and riders.

  11. My #1 in choosing a trainer has always been whether my horse likes them. If they’re good with my horse & are teaching me things that make my horse calmer & happier as well as more educated, I’m all for it. & if my horse is happy, I’m happy! I also look for someone who’s methods mesh with my knowledge of biomechanics, equine behaviour, anatomy etc. So show records rarely come into into it & experience is also less of a factor than what they have to teach me.

  12. I’m not sure if it’s true everywhere, but there are a lot of trainers around here that I could ride circles around. And I’m not a very good rider. Ask my OTTB, he’ll tell you all of my shortcomings. Lol.
    I agree with you completely. For me I have the added difficulty of finding someone who can come to my farm because with my job, commute, and 3 horses to take care of, I can’t be shipping all over the state for lessons. I got really lucky and stumbled into a great situation with my trainer. She’s incredibly accomplished, not just on already made horses, but with young ones too. She gives me excellent advice, and can hop on and fix what ever I’ve completely messed up on my horses. (Because I do that.) She puts her horses health and safety first. We also have similar taste in the type of ride we like. Something I discovered since riding with my current trainer, is that as a short girl, it’s harder for me to learn from a trainer with a completely different build from me. I’ve ridden with some really tall riders and/or males riders who have an advantage with strength and leverage that I don’t have. It’s hard to explain to a tall person why my leg just doesn’t do to my horse what their’s might. Cause I can’t reach under the belly! My trainer is a bit taller than me, but not much, so she feels the same things I do. (We actually ride in the same stirrup length even.) While it’s not a requirement obviously, it was a nice thing to find! And best of all, her farm is 7 miles from mine. BUT there’s a downside too. She’s only up here at that farm from May through October. And during the summer it’s only two weeks at a time. So while she’s the perfect trainer for me, it’s not the most perfect situation since I’m on my own much of the year.

    1. Someone my BO works with goes south for the winter as well. Interesting. I have never thought about the size of a trainer impacting me. I’m kind of middle of the road height I guess at 5’4

  13. I see and agree with a lot of these comments. I think experience is key. I see so many people that believe riding to a certain level makes them a qualified “trainer.” I’m lucky in that the area I live in (Middleburg) has nearly unlimited upper level riders to choose from, but I also think despite experience some people are just better teachers. Some riders are great at just that, riding, but they can’t always translate that as well onto their students. What I really like about my trainers now is that they are experienced but they are never against learning. They constantly seem to be trying to expand their repertoire for exercises, concepts and knowledge, and I think that speaks volumes when your trainer is always trying to get better than they were before, as a rider and teacher.

  14. I think everyones making some great points. Unfortunately, in our sport to be a pro is as easy as changing your status on USEF. Theres no TRUE certification process that pros are required to go through to maintain that pro status, although there should be. Theres also no way of controlling or putting a stop to the backyard yahoos that claim they are pros.

    Finding a trainer has always been hard to me. I admit, I sometimes fall prey to the accomplishments a person may have, but I’m getting better at taking lessons first and seeing how we mesh.

    Things I look for in a trainer:
    -Willingness to ride, and to do training rides as needed- I can’t ride with a trainer that has never ridden Libby. She looks like one thing from the ground but feels completely different under tack.
    -Willingness to expand students education (and their own), even if its not with them-I haven’t actually been with a trainer like this, but had a friend that had a trainer not allow her to do clinics. That is ridiculous, as are the trainers that believe they know all there is to know in riding, and that they don’t need to learn anymore. Not saying they need to take lessons, but there are always was to learn more about our sport.
    -As you said, a similar care program-It doesn’t help me when my trainer thinks my paranoia and OCD tendencies are hindrances. If they can’t keep their horses as clean and healthy as mine, I probably won’t respect them enough.
    -And one thing one other person touched on, similar build- I haven’t always believed in this, but recently I’ve noticed that I, and Libby, improves the most with trainer built like myself. I think it has to do with the fact that they are more in tune to how I can move my body to get certain things accomplished. All the men trainers I’ve had had a hard time communicating upper body strength to me, or lower leg strength, which is obviously because I’m 5’2” and weigh 110 on a heavy day. I don’t have the same amount of power they do in their lower limbs.

    I think everyones requirements are different, but its interesting the certain things that are important to people.

    1. Wow please forgive my awful grammar and spelling in this whole post. It’s obviously been a very long day in Shelley-Land. Time for bed 🙂

  15. This is such an interesting topic, and one I’ve mused on a lot- the distinction between a good horse trainer and a good riding instructor is something that gets lost in translation sometimes, but makes such a huge difference. You always want both obviously, but the latter is more important to me right now. I have a broke horse and I appreciate my trainer’s help in progressing him and maintaining him, but my priority is on getting my own abilities up to snuff. She has other clients with young horses, and their balance is much more on the horse training than on the riding instruction- I think being able to clearly communicate both skill sets is rare, but extremely valuable.