Finding the Perfect Trainer
It often seems that there are horse trainers everywhere we turn. But when it comes to finding a highly qualified one for our own horse, suddenly it doesn't seem so easy. "What makes a good trainer?" "What should I watch out for when choosing a trainer?" "How will I know if this trainer is right for me and my horse?" "Do I want to be an active participant?" "What makes a good training program?" These and other questions may, and should, go through your mind. Not only are you concerned about the welfare of both you and your horse, but you want good results and to get what you pay for.
There are many good trainers/clinicians available these days and you may have seen some of them in action. Going to just one clinic and observing only one trainer, however, is not enough to give one a good view of the options available.
Some trainers offer videos of their clinics with information on how to train your horse yourself. These may work well for you, but you may feel uncomfortable trying that. Or you may have tried that and got stuck somewhere in the process. If you decide that you want a trainer to do the job of training your horse, then you will want to find a good one.
What makes a good trainer?
A good trainer likes horses and shows kindness, patience, and respect. He is consistent, open to new ideas, and level-headed. A good trainer will provide an explanation of his methods and their purpose, and these methods should work for all horses. Any equipment used should be safe, humane, and have a stated purpose. What is learned should be transferable to the home turf and should hold up in any situation.
Training should be complete, going beyond just a first ride, and up to the point agreed upon in the contract. A good trainer will be able to understand and interpret the horse's "body language" accurately and will be willing to learn himself. He will know when the horse is tired and won't push him beyond his limits. A good trainer will also possess knowledge of what behaviors indicate a future problem, and he will know how to deal with them. They'll work to achieve suppleness and cooperation from the horse and will keep the role of resistance in perspective. If there is resistance, he will know how to utilize it to teach. A good trainer will demonstrate good horsemanship, mounted and on the ground, as well as acting out of intelligence rather than emotions. Common sense and non-abusive, humane methods must always be used.
That's a lot - is it even possible? Of course it is; most successful trainers fit this picture. Though these ideals may be a standard requirement, they are open to individual interpretation and implementation. That's why we have different trainers with different ways yet common results. One of the most important qualities of a good horse trainer is the ability to understand the horse. And how does one do that?
According to Roy Yates, highly acclaimed horse trainer from Grand Junction, Colorado, it takes time and practice. "I don't believe there is any 'standard text' when it comes to learning to read horses. This comes from learning how a horse reacts under many different circumstances. The best way to learn 'horse language' is to be around horses, and to be around someone who has great equestrian tact and many years of real practical experience. This takes time and you can't attend a couple of clinics and think you have the same feel and timing as that clinician who has probably been at it for many years."
Many horse people are capable of these ideals themselves, and with proper guidance can safely accomplish their training goals on their own. But many others are not and for them, training is best left to the professionals.
What should I watch out for when choosing a trainer?
Some trainers may think it is acceptable to put themselves at risk of harm. Not only is it a bad example, it is also foolish and is not necessary to accomplish reasonable goals. A good trainer will know how to prevent accidents, not cause them.
Some trainers may overlook the safety of the horse. For young horses, leg protection should be available. Says Roy, "I believe that leg protection should be required for young horses at all times because they are learning a new balance and there is a risk of slipping. Also, when they cross over in turn-arounds or perform the lateral movements, the hooves can strike the legs. If they hurt themselves, they will become discouraged instead of encouraged in the movement. I feel splint boots and bell boots are the best for the front legs. I don't like leg protection used for support, simply because the tendons don't become strong on their own. They can also bow if the leg boots are applied too tightly during practice."
Avoid trainers who focus on bragging about themselves, condemning other trainers, or ridiculing owners and horses instead of teaching. A trainer who thinks that his way is the only way or that there is only one right way to do everything is not open to improving his program or learning anything new. As Roy points out, "The art of horse training is an ongoing learning process." Also, any trainer who shortcuts or skips necessary steps in the training process provides an opportunity for future problems to develop.
How will I know if this trainer is right for me and my horse?
A visit to the various trainers' facilities before choosing the one you want is always a good idea. Many trainers offer videotapes of their programs and this can give you a good idea of what to expect. Asking questions about their program is essential for you to make the right decision. Ask about their credentials and the performance records of the horses they have trained.
Roy says, "Go and visit the trainer that you are considering and watch him or her ride many horses. Find out how they train and interact with the horses and students over several days. Ask to see the horse(s) that the trainer has actually started and trained up to a fairly finished product; see if you like how that horse goes and if you would like your horse to perform the way that horse does. There is usually a cost involved in this, but it is probably minimal in the long run compared to paying training bills for a year then finding out that the trainer wasn't as knowledgeable as you thought."
If you see something that appears to be harsh treatment, ask the trainer about it. An observer may see a training method used that appears to be stressful to the horse, but it can be difficult to interpret whether this is the horse working through the learning process or being treated harshly. As a rule, the end result in a learning situation is a calmer, more willing and cooperative horse. There is little willingness in a harshly-treated horse.
If it is not possible to travel to a trainer and his facilities for training, you may be able to find a good trainer who will come to you if you have adequate facilities.
What makes a good training program?
All training programs differ to some extent, and that allows for choice. These basic principles, however, should be followed to ensure an effective and safe program:
An overview of the training program should be available prior to making any commitment.
The owner and trainer should both be clear on goals and what is expected of them.
Owner participation/education to a pre-determined extent should be required.
Safety is a must for human and horse. Nobody should get hurt or endangered in the process.
Roy explains, "Safety should be the number one priority for first the rider/student and then for the horse. If you see a potential trainer do something that seems like it would cause harm or pain to you or your horse, try to use common sense in making the decision not to use that trainer."
The standard goals should be:
· The horse accepts that the human will be the 'leader', the one in charge.
· The horse will not be asked to do anything that he isn't ready and able to do.
· The horse will have a clear understanding of what is being asked of him and will cooperate willingly.
· All steps defined in the training process will be completed.
· The horse will be able to perform all the lessons consistently, for the participating owner as well as the trainer.
· The horse will perform with willingness, suppleness, and lightness.
"A real trainer works, above everything else, for the principles of suppleness and lightness in every horse," says Roy. "This includes longitudinal bending, lateral bending, straightness, and tracking up in straight lines and in circles. Every trainer should know about taking a horse through the mill of the three effects - lateral, straight and diagonal." Roy is a philosopher of horse training who bases much of his philosophy on those of French and Portuguese trainers who rode their horses on a slack rein. He says, "I believe in using true horsemanship to train a horse and not gimmicks or quick fixes." He has a proven system of horse training from start to finish.
Do I want to be an active participant?
Having a horse does involve having a relationship with him. If you are going to ride him, you are part of the training process. Every ride is a training ride in that both training and riding are occurring. If you are trained to ride your horse properly, your communication reinforces what has been taught. If you don't know how to ride, be willing to learn, because an untrained rider can undo a lot of training.
Roy points out, "It is very important for the owner of the horse to be present for and participating in the training process. When the owner takes the horse home, he needs to know how to ride and work with the horse properly, or the horse and rider could run into trouble. This is a protection for the owner, the horse, and the trainer."
The purpose of training is to educate not just the horse, but the rider or handler as well. Communicating and establishing a working relationship with the horse is a must for human and horse to complement each other. Good training will improve the relationship between human and horse by expanding the rider/handler's knowledge and understanding of his horse.
Natural Horse Magazine thanks Roy Yates for his help in preparing this article.
For more information, contact:
P.O. Box 30159
Grand Junction, CO 81503