Monday, July 13, 2015

trainers i ride with, and why

Megan from A Enter Spooking recently wrote about how she chooses a trainer. Jenn from Stories from the Saddle followed up with her take. Both posts were super interesting, and highlighted how the criteria for a trainer / program varies based on goals and priorities etc. 

I've had a roundabout path to my current roster of trainers and wanted to share some background. For context, I learned to ride at a very isolated farm with ONE trainer and ONE way of doing things. My eyes were opened to the wider world of horses after moving for college, and the new h/j barn had 3 trainers on staff, tho I stayed loyal to trainer A. 


Once back in Baltimore I was faced with finding a new program. I had minimal horse connections in this area (meaning I started with google searches) and also wasn't totally clear on my own riding goals beyond 'weekly lessons and the occasional schooling show.'


There were a couple hiccups along the road, and Isabel somehow fell into my lap a year in - so things have evolved considerably to my current situation. I won't bother outlining the barns / trainers I moved on from (unless you're interested?) and will just stick with where we are now:



Izzy says i need all the help i can get
The Trainers

(quick thoughts on privacy: abbreviations in instances where the specific location is discoverable, meaning it's clear where I personally might be at any given time. full names for people not associated with a specific place or with our home barn. Obviously the abbreviations don't fully mask the who / where element and anonymity on the internet is somewhat of a myth... but that's just my MO)


Trainer P at OF


I've been riding with P for just over a year now, as OF was ultimately where I landed after deciding to event. I learned about this farm via recommendations from an eventer at a previous h/j farm, and decided to investigate based on the farm's proximity to Isabel (I was truck/trailer shopping by this point) and their facilities (indoor, outdoor, dressage court, and cross country course). P is one of a few trainers there and her schedule worked best for me (I did the eval lesson with someone different).


I stick with her program for a few reasons:

  • P is a big believer in confidence first and foremost - she wants to see us safe and having fun. She is therefore very positive and encouraging. I really like this in a trainer and have never believed that a good trainer should make you cry regularly. That works for many, sure, but not for me.
  • This is where we get our reps in. P loves a good grid and certainly doesn't shy away from more technical questions, but really we just do a LOT of basic jumping and coursework here. Challenging exercises are good (more on this later) - but my confidence also requires that jumping be mundane and routine. Every pass over a simple fence or line is good for me.
  • IMO these lessons are under-priced. These are easily the least expensive lessons that I take, especially considering the value I derive from them. Not arguing!!
  • P has managed to slowly up the ante for us without upsetting my confidence. She's walked the fine line of moving me up (from the merest of cross rails to solid BN/N sized stuff) almost without me even noticing. 
Pretty basic criteria / reasoning here, and it works for us. Why mess with success, right?


left: summer 2015; right: summer 2014

Dan (travels to our barn)


The trainers at Isabel's barn have trained with Dan for a while and he started coming out for lessons when they moved their program in last summer (after I started at OF). And I just kinda jumped in occasionally for shits and giggles. Like ya do. 


We've recently gotten a little more formal with a standing weekly lesson time. And these lessons are REALLY working for me and Isabel. 


He isn't one for hand holding and prefers exercises that challenge both horse and rider. Even watching him ride, things rarely go perfectly smoothly - but it's by design. In his mind, if things are always peachy keen you're not learning anything. As an adult ammy, this took some getting used to and it's critical that I remember mistakes in his lessons are just part of the process. All the same tho, these lessons are often tagged in the 'fail' category haha.


What I like:

  • He's a proven competitor in his own right, having competed through the 4* level (finishing 21st and 26th at Rolex). Meaning he knows what it takes to develop an event horse. 
  • We work on really challenging exercises. Always. Very rarely are his lessons straight forward. Or, if the actual course is simplistic in design, the technicality comes in with how he wants it ridden. And these exercises are just as educational, if not more so, for Isabel. 
  • He pushes my limits and is unapologetic about it. I've jumped my biggest ever fences in his lessons. But he's not reckless and hasn't done anything to undermine the confidence I've worked so hard to build. 
top: summer 2014; bottom: summer 2015
tho we still find new and exciting ways to exasperate Dan lol
Trainer C at TM

I also found C by recommendations (a common theme!), and was shocked to learn just how close her farm is to Isabel's. This is the newest addition to the bunch, and I've ridden with her a grand total of 5 times since March. And hot damn has she revolutionized my dressage game. Like, WOW. 

Under her tutelage Isabel is becoming straight up fancy, and I'm learning how to show that off to the judges in tests. Aside from the Waredaca blip, our tests this year have taken on a degree of poise and precision beyond my wildest dreams. Not even trying to brag here - it really just blows my mind. 


What I like:

  • The proof is in the pudding and judge's comments don't (usually) lie - these lessons work for us.
  • C is super positive and encouraging, seriously down to earth, and easy to talk to. She also knows her stuff (and has her bronze). 
  • It's about a 15min drive to this farm, tho I'd happily drive farther.
  • She wants to see me ride effectively. That doesn't always mean I do everything perfectly like a pro would do, but she teaches me how to get the results first, and then refines my techniques second.
  • She's big into strategy for tests, especially how the different movements flow into each other.
this moment brought to you courtesy of 5 lessons with C

So that's our program. It's a lot of lessons, sure, tho I'm fortunate in that my resources are not tied up in the typical expenses of a horse owner. 

What about you - are you in a specialized training program? Or do you ride with multiple trainers? Or maybe just the odd lesson/clinic here or there? How have you made those decisions?

40 comments:

  1. I loved your description of Dan lessons...definitely not a hand holder and does push for more, but its never reckless. You KNOW if hes saying to do it he truly thinks you both are more than capable.

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    1. haha that's the truth - but of course we both know that we have to repeat that mantra over and over again to avoid thinking we're awful failures. it's like finding this inner zen of 'it's just part of the process' (or something like that?)

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  2. I'm going to straight up give some kudos to C for her instruction. She got right to business with you guys, and it SHOWS. What also shows is that you are willing to take all of the knowledge being showered on you and work on it on your own. That's being a good student, and that makes all the difference.

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    1. i really really love this trainer. and honestly am trying to figure out how to fit in more lessons with her. i love the jumping, and both P and Dan work on flat work with me too.... but we really need more C in our lives.

      and re: taking the lessons home to work on, i maybe should have included this is criteria in the post. if i'm finding that i *cant'* take the lesson home, or can't recreate that magic at least in part, the lesson probably isn't working for me. so i need trainers that teach in such a way that i can 'hear' them even when i'm on my own working. but yea, i'm a big believer in being a good student - hard to justify the cost otherwise!!

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  3. Sounds like you have a GREAT mix of trainers, each providing something unique and different. Good for you!! :)

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    1. thanks! it's kinda crazy considering i previously only ever rode with my ONE trainer (all else was apparently blasphemy haha), but the philosophies of each of these trainers mesh really well so it works

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  4. I love to ride with a variety of coaches, and I would really love to jump in on a lesson with Dan...

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    1. it's a shame you're not closer - he's holding an xc clinic on the 25th (linked on my events page) and there's still room to register! but yea, i'm really liking a variety of trainers now bc they all want similar things from me, but they say it differently and you never know what will click!

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  5. Wow, huge improvement! You guys have come a long way.

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    1. it's definitely been a journey!! but yea the progress is very real. maybe one day i'll do a more formal post on that haha

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  6. I need a P-like instructor in my life! I've had too many tough instructors that are known for making you cry....turned me off lessons for a loooong time. Sounds like you have a great program for you and your horse :)

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    1. i really can't abide by mean or overly-critical trainers. sure, i occasionally walk away from a lesson frustrated and feeling like crap - but it should be good more often than bad, and the right trainer can help me see the good parts even when i'm discouraged

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  7. That's great you have such a good combination of trainers that work well for you! The improvement is noticeable, and you definitely look super fancy in your dressage test!

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    1. thanks! we're definitely working at it, and the current combo seems to be nicely balanced.

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  8. I LOVE that you've found three trainers that all speak to you in a different, but effective way. The way you've grown as a rider and been able to develop Isabel over the past year or so is absolutely astounding! Way to go :)

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    1. thanks!! the crazy part is that there are actually a couple of other trainers i've really liked too - but our bandwidth is kinda maxed out with just these 3 lol.

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  9. OF sounds like the jumping version of my barn. Such a perfect place to be for us ammy types. :-)

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    1. oh man, i agree completely. and to be totally honest - i would NOT be able to hack it in the lessons with dan if we hadn't already been working with P to reestablish my confidence and basics.

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  10. I feel like you deserve an award for gathering such a powerful, diverse group of trainer around you and Izzy. No wonder you always have such great lesson takeaways!

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    1. haha thanks - really tho we're spoiled here in maryland in that we're surrounded by top notch instruction in pretty much whatever discipline we choose. and having a trailer means that it's totally up to me to find something that fits the bill for us.

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  11. I think that is awesome you have the ability to utilize such diverse and awesome instructors! Sounds like they all bring a little "something" to the table. Kudos to you for using more than one trainer and sticking with the ones that work for you and Iz!

    For myself, our instruction up North is limited. We pretty much have Beginner/Novice trainers around here and while they give good instruction, they aren't "top notch" or competitors. Usually whenever a good clinician comes up, I try to take lessons if I can but with my hectic work schedule it almost never works out. So, I rarely take lessons now, but it seems that with the few scattered lessons we get a year, it helps shape us and keep us on track. I'd love to take more lessons, to be honest.

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    1. i can't imagine how frustrating it must be to have such limited options... tho it seems like you've done a good job jumping in on the good clinicians when they're around. at least in my experience it doesn't really take a 'big name' pro to make a big difference for a horse and rider - just a good horse person who knows how to teach. still tho, finding even that is not always easy :(

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  12. Why not come and post your super equestrian blog at Haynet for more to read and follow? Come and join us at www.hay-net.co.uk to meet more equestrian bloggers!

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  13. You've got a great selection there! if I'm honest, my trainer help is usually based on proximity...there's just not a lot around here. That being said, I've lucked into some really good coaches that way!

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    1. proximity was my number 1 deciding factor for a LONG time haha, and still definitely plays a role in my decisions today. imo it definitely matters!! it does sound like you've made it work tho - and i'm sure curious to see where things go with your new program!

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  14. I envy all the lessons you can take! I have my tride and true dressage trainer but I can't afford weekly lessons as much as I thought. Still haven't found a jump trainer

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    1. That's definitely an advantage of leasing. The day I become a horse owner that lesson budget will evaporate into much more boring things like board and vet bills... Trying to take advantage now while I still can!

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  15. Just one trainer for me.... it sounds like such a great program though to have three different trainers that address different things and have different training methods!

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    1. the best thing is that they actually all address the *same* things, but from a different perspective

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  16. Your dressage trainer sounds freaking awesome. I WISH I had access to so many cool horse professionals.

    I have no trainer. I have no one near me either. If I want to get lessons (which I hope to start in September) I have to travel about 2.5 hours over mountains. As a result, with Griffin and I beginning to pursue eventing, I film my jumping work and send it to Saiph to review and give me pointers. For dressage, I will begin taking 1/month lessons in September with any luck. I anticipate taking my first many lessons on the trainer's horses, but hope to be able to take Griffin in the new year. It's going to be a costly endeavor, but the lady is pretty outstanding. I may end up sending Griffin to her for a month or so next year...time will tell!

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    1. that's frustrating to be so far away - but sounds like you've at least got a plan for getting the ball rolling. i actually really like riding lesson horses too bc riding a variety of horses helps to keep the rider sharp - but also bc the trainer knows those horses so well they'll be able to pinpoint which issues are the horse's and which are yours. good luck!!!

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  17. How awesome you are regularly taking lessons with a variety of trainers. I stick with 1 trainer and then take the 1-off "clinics" with other trainers or visiting clinicians. You and Isabel are progressing so wonderfully, clearly this system is working out great.

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    1. thanks! i like 1-off clinics too and hope to do more in the future. my biggest concerns are always : 'will i be able to replicate this at home on my own'; and 'does this trainer's approach work with, or directly against, my current trainer'

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  18. Love the picture of Isabel with her head up in the air from last summer with D leaning against the standard with his head in his hand. I feel like that is a perfect representation of what I feel like riding with him most of the time!

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    1. lol that might just be the most frequently re-posted pic on this blog. it encapsulates my riding life concisely and eloquently haha, and is a very accurate representation of riding with Dan :P

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  19. I've always ridden with one trainer at a time, so I loved reading about what you get out of each different type of lesson!

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    1. thanks - it's a totally new thing for me too (or, at least just in the past year!) bc i always just rode with one trainer. so far i really like it tho!

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  20. Ah - I do remember reading this post now. How much experimenting did it take to find trainer P initially?

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    1. so there's two answers to that question - the short and long views.

      1 - short view: P's farm was the first eventing farm i tried after deciding to event, and i learned about it through recommendations. i did my eval with a different trainer, but P's schedule fit mine best. right away i liked her and the rest is history. however that doesn't really account for my history up to that point,

      2 - the longer view: by the time i met P had i lessoned with at least 10 different trainers. some for extended periods of time (only ending when they left the farm or moved on, for instance) and who played a huge role in my formative years as a rider, and some only a few times that left me dissatisfied. so in some ways, i already had a clear sense of what i needed and wanted in a trainer, and got lucky to find P, who fits the bill perfectly, so early in my foray into a new discipline.

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