I took my first dressage lesson in 2004 on my 4 year old American Saddlebred, Soleil, a stunning Pinto mare I had raised and trained since she was 4 months old. I thought dressage was an amazing discipline, the beauty and grace of the horse and rider moving as if they communicated telepathically. After 6 months of bi-weekly lessons and riding at home, it became a painful reality that my quest to learn to ride in this manner was coming to an end….a previous injury had torn my meniscus and I could not ride this way . After surgery to repair it, I realized that posting as well as the bend and grip needed in English tack was just too hard on my knee, so back to western riding!
With the wonderful development of western dressage I am now taking lessons again, this time on Bella, my home-bred Arabian/Saddlebred (NSH), the daughter of Soleil. Even though I have been riding since high school, in just the past couple of years I have come to realize the importance (and for me almost a necessity) of working with a professional trainer.
Here then are my 4 W’s of having a trainer:
What is a trainer?
According to Webster dictionary:
noun \ˈtrā-nər\ : a person who teaches or coaches athletes or animals : a person who trains athletes or animals
Who needs a trainer?
Even if you have been riding from the time you could walk, working with a dressage trainer will make you a better rider. No question about it. Heck, even the Olympic riders have trainers. New to riding? The best money you can spend is the investment in knowledge; learning the proper way in the beginning will save you more time, energy, frustration and aggravation in the long run. Everyone, from those wanting to go to WD shows and tests, to those who just want to be a better rider on the trail, will discover the benefits of working with a trainer.
Why should you have a trainer?
To help you become a better rider as well as learn the proper way to move up the training scale. Riding a 20 meter circle doesn’t sound too tough right? Try it. Not as easy as most think. Students will learn the importance of proper equitation, use of aids, balance, how to ride a test, dressage verbiage (change of rein? Oh, change direction!) and of course, developing your horse in a systematic way.
Were do you find a trainer?
Perhaps the most important “W”, where do you find a trainer? There is no one way to achieve this. Our website now has a list of trainers and it is growing, so start there. Ask any friends who are working with an instructor, or do they know of any? Contact your local General Membership Organization (GMO) and ask if they have a list of trainers. Go to a schooling show, watch and ask questions. I found my first trainer on Craigslist a few years back (of course vet everyone). Have a list of questions ready when you speak to them. What are their credentials? How do they feel about WD? Have they worked with WD riders? Do they travel to you or do you haul to them? Prices for a lesson? Group lessons available to help with cost? Can you come and watch a lesson to see how they teach? I highly recommend meeting a trainer in person (if you have never met them before) to get an idea about them.
All of us have different personalities so get a “feel” for this person who will be working with you. You sure won’t be excited or looking forward to your lesson if your personalities clash! Every trainer will have his or her own way of teaching. Some instructors may have an incredible resume and credentials but not be very good at communicating with the students. The same can be said about the student. For example, I learn better with visuals. I have a hard time with the geometry of riding, it just does not resonate with my brain when I am being told to ride a certain movement. But if the instructor gets on my horse and I watch her ride it, that ah-ha moment happens, I get it! We all learn in a different manner.
From my experience the most important aspect of getting the most out of working with a trainer is communication. We tend to lose our voice when working with a trainer, afraid sometimes to ask questions, to ask why am I doing it this way, or tell them “I don’t understand” ,etc. Also, not every trainer/student relationship lasts. You may find after working with a person for a while that it is just not a good fit….move on!
I will share with you: as I write this I myself am looking for a new trainer. Jack, my instructor for the last year, has moved to another barn and it is too far away for me. My last lesson was almost 3 months ago and I truly am having “lesson withdrawals”. I was just in contact with a lady in my area and plan on meeting her next week. If all goes well, I should get my “lesson fix” soon…..I am so ready.
Always keep in mind, It’s about the journey!