How often have you thought seriously about what trainer would be the very best choice for your horse? If you’re what we call a “recreational rider”, probably not much. Owners who show on most of the competitive breed circuits here in Southern California, however, expend a whole lot of effort into deciding who they want to lead or ride their horses into the show ring each year, and most of the time it pays off handsomely to those who do. My goal this time around is to try to help the average horse owner decide where to go when the time is right for putting a horse in training.
Your primary consideration should include an awful lot of thinking about what you want to do with your horse. If you buy a trail horse that you just want to enjoy going for pleasure rides on, he still needs to be well behaved and must know how to respond to you, his rider. So many riders have come to me complaining, “He only wants to jog on the trail, he won’t relax,” or, “When we turn for home, he just wants to run, what do I do?” What most of them don’t realize is that even a trail horse should have reasonably good rail manners.
The right trainer to school a trail horse will stand apart from most average show horse trainers in that they will have the time to actually get your horse out on the trail to give him some practical experience where he needs it most, plus they also should be capable of teaching the horse how to master the basics of good horse etiquette, such as knowing what correct leads are, what a decent headset is and how to yield to the bit. Too many show horse trainers just don’t have time to take their charges out on the trail, they either have too many horses in training that must be worked each day or they’re too busy going to shows every weekend.
What many people don’t know is that there are a number of good trainers who don’t show and who specialize in trail horses. Not to mention the fact that they sometimes charge considerably less than show trainers! I’m certainly not saying that a show horse trainer wouldn’t be capable of the job, but you’ve got to take the trainer’s schedule into consideration. An awful lot of trainers will accept a horse “in training” simply to fill up their barn, and if the horse isn’t one they consider to be a top contender in their field of specialty, the horse will just stand there. Sometimes even those who place show horses in training run into the problem of a horse who doesn’t get worked very often.
Don’t be afraid to ask any prospective trainers about their accomplishments, and be sure to get some references. Watch the trainer at home and/or at the shows, pay attention to their interaction with the horses and how each horse responds to him. Watch him or her school a variety of horses and talk to as many people as you can. Sometimes if a trainer knows you care about your horse’s education, they’ll put forth more of an effort to educate him. Another good idea is to sign yourself up for riding lessons, either on your own horse or on a lesson horse provided by the trainer. This also lets the trainer know that you want to be the best rider you can be. Even if you’ve been riding since you began walking, there’s always something new you can learn. The best trainers in the world view being involved with horses as one constant, lifelong learning process. If you find a “trainer” who thinks they know it all -- run, don’t walk, in the other direction!
Be wary of training stables that won’t let you drop in unannounced just to visit your horse. Requiring an appointment to see the horse actually worked isn’t too much to ask, as many trainers like to plan their schedules ahead of time, including lessons, shows and other duties. Most of the time there is a reason why the trainer and his/her staff don’t want you to stop by without advance notice -- and those reasons are never justifiable. Another sensible inquiry to make is regarding who will actually be doing the work with your horse. Many large training barns will have an assistant trainer ride or work a lot of the horses, so the head trainer can concentrate on his or her best chances at the winner’s circle for each upcoming show.
It should go without saying that if you are interested in showing you should first decide what discipline or division you want to show in, then research that area of expertise extensively. Then you should seek out the trainer who specializes in your area of interest which best suits your needs and meets your standards. If you want your horse shown at a specific event, you should also clarify in advance exactly who will be showing the horse, since trainers sometimes accept several horses in training for the same divisions or classes, even at the same shows, who then have to get somebody else to exhibit one or more of their entered mounts (this generally only applies to halter or pleasure classes, since horses are shown individually in events like reining, cutting, trail, dressage and hunters/jumpers).
There are many tools to to assist you in making your decision about who you should entrust your horse’s care and training to. Be sure to utilize as many of them as you can!