As a DIY amateur on a budget one horse experience that had consistently eluded me over the years was actively going through the process of selecting a trainer for my horse. True to form for me, I set about carefully researching and developing a series of steps that I felt would not only work best for me but would also allow me to identify the best person for the job. Little did I know, despite my careful planning, just how challenging the experience would be. In this article I will share with you some tips I learned along the way that I hope will allow you to have a successful experience should you ever find yourself in need of a horse trainer.
Five Basic Strategies for Successfully Selecting a Trainer
At some point in your life as a horse owner you may find it necessary to choose a horse trainer. Perhaps you have bred a young horse that you would like a trainer to start or purchased a new horse with potential but no training. Maybe you are new to the industry but are seeking to commit to placing a horse in full time training, possibly aimed at a show career.
Recently I decided to select a trainer with the short term goal of adding a new set of skills to the training my current horse already had in place. I had neither the time nor the background to add those skills on my own. While she was away, I took advantage of the opportunity to both visit my mare as well as take lessons on her so that when she returned home I could continue to fine tune her new skills on my own. By following the strategies outlined below I was able to select a trainer that not only met my needs but also led to an immensely rewarding outcome.
- Integrate pre-selection prep work. I started the trainer selection process by asking for recommendations from more than one respected fellow horse owner. From their recommendations I compiled a comprehensive list of names and contact information. From that list, for those trainers that had one, I checked out web sites before I made any phone calls. Not every trainer had a web site but for those that did, the fact that they were willing to take the time to make a good first impression was important and played a part in my later decisions on which trainers I would interview over the telephone. I knew that attention to detail in one area, such as marketing, can sometimes send a message about attention to detail in another, such as horse care. One lesson I learned from my experiences is that web sites can be deceiving. In particular, photographs of facilities that are taken from good angles can be misleading. Barns, riding arenas, etc. can be made to look of higher quality than they actually are once visited. Even so, web sites are a good place to start.
- Complete phone interviews. Once I had narrowed down the initial list, I developed a file of questions that were important to me and began making phone calls. I knew from research that some questions I would want to ask about besides the obvious, such as cost, included those about a prospective trainer’s credentials and experience. How did they receive their training? For example, I know that many two and four year colleges and universities offer programs in equine science with courses in horse care and management as well as courses in horse training. Some also offer extracurricular activities such as fielding an equestrian team where an aspiring trainer could gain valuable riding experience. Students enrolled in these programs can specialize in certain areas such as managing an equine business or, though a degree is not required, gain certification through organizations such as the Certified Horsemanship Association leading to become a Certified Riding Instructor. They may also have completed an internship as a part of their studies. I asked if the trainers I was considering gained their education in this manner or through a less formal but still effective route such as completing an apprenticeship program with successful trainers in the disciplines in which they specialized. There are many different ways that a qualified trainer can gain necessary education, experience, and certifications but regardless of the method or methods they chose I needed, as the prospective client, to be able to verify it should I decide to take it to the next level. Once I had established that their background met my needs I asked some form of the following questions: What training could I expect my horse to receive during her time there? What methods would be used to accomplish it? How often would the training take place? And would others be assisting in providing it? Although my prospective trainer would not have seen my horse at this point, I provided him or her with an accurate description of my horse’s current level of training and what goals I hoped to achieve from my horse’s time there then asked if those goals, from my description, seemed reasonable. I found it beneficial to find out about how my horse would be fed, (would, for example, hay and grain be provided as part of the cost or would I be expected to provide them), turn out (how often and would my horse be alone or with others), and how any necessary farrier and veterinary visits would be handled along with any associated horse handling fees. My horse has special dietary and turnout needs, so I also asked if they were willing to work with those requirements. I asked about the protocol in place for when a client’s horse becomes sick or injured and what contracts are available for both my protection and theirs. I carefully recorded the responses so that I could refer back to them later.
- Schedule a preliminary visit. At this stage in the process I was able to further narrow my list to those trainers where I felt an onsite visit might further aid my decision making process. It was with these trainers that I scheduled an introductory visit. Early on I found that I could tell a lot about what I could expect from the visit ahead by a facility’s curb side appeal. I understand that not every up and coming trainer, especially if they are just becoming established, can have professional landscaping and a barn that is a veritable showplace. They can however have fencing that is safe for horses and in good repair and a barn that has had regular maintenance. I observed what types of structures were available for training in inclement weather and if the jumps were safe and in good repair since my horse would be receiving instruction in this area. I also observed the quality of turn out areas. As is often the case at training facilities, pasture quality can be difficult to maintain due to having a large number of horses on a small property but even keeping this in mind turnout areas should be free of deep mud and toxic weeds. That said; I did keep the weather in mind when I visited. To illustrate, recent heavy rains can have a negative impact on any facility’s appearance but good planning, set up, and care can prevent mud from becoming a health and safety hazard. I looked at the turned out horses themselves to see whether or not they were of good weight and appeared well cared for. As I advanced up the drive of any facility that I visited I noticed whether or not it would be easily accessed while pulling a trailer. Once I arrived and was being shown around I found it helpful to observe whether or not fresh, clean water was available in turnout areas as well as in stalls and paid attention to the caliber of their hay and whether or not it was being fed on clean, dry surfaces whether indoors or out. I looked at resident horses that were currently in their stalls to further determine their care and condition and asked questions about any I was concerned about. During my tours I both checked to be certain that the stalls were reasonably clean and that the barn isle ways were swept clear and equipment stored safely away. Depending upon the season, if insects were still a concern at the time of our visit, I monitored how well they were controlled. I asked to be shown tack and feed rooms so that I could determine whether or not grain was being properly stored to keep rodents at bay, if hay was kept dry to prevent mold, and that any tack I saw was clean, in good repair, was correctly stored, and well organized. Safety was a big concern for me and often times I found that I could tell a great deal about a potential trainer’s attention to it in small ways such as whether or not there were quick release snaps on the crossties in wash racks and grooming bays. Speaking of safety, dogs were also a concern and if I noticed any dogs on the property I had additional questions to ask. Important citizens of many horse training facilities dogs should nonetheless be confined or on a leash, at least until I could determine how they interacted with horses. Following a tour and if the visit was going well I asked to see the trainer actually riding a horse asking questions about their methodology if there was something I did not understand. As many questions as I asked and observations that I made it is was important that the site visit was not a one sided conversation. I was prepared to answer and expected to be asked questions about my horse’s current health and vaccination status, etc. Many times whether or not a trainer had questions for me was very telling, as much as anything I had observed or asked questions about myself. It raised my confidence levels significantly to know that a potential trainer cared about the health status of a new horse they were considering adding to their facility. I found that the trainers that I gravitated towards were the ones who were passionate about their jobs and excited about the prospect of adding a new client’s horse to the mix and whose high standard of horse care most closely matched my own. Near the close of a visit, if I was interested in pursuing the process even further, I followed up on any lingering questions I may have had from my telephone interviews and asked for recommendations from clients both past and present and then followed up with contacting them. I asked whether or not unannounced visits were welcome both before and after, if necessary, I had made my decision. After the visit I jotted down notes of important parts of the meeting as well as of my overall impressions.
- Arrange for a riding lesson and/or evaluation ride. By now my list of potential trainers was becoming quite narrow. For those remaining I tried, if possible, to set up a riding lesson using my own horse. It helped me to see what a potential working relationship with a particular trainer might look like and would also allow them to see, after either watching my horse perform or riding it themselves, if the goals I had discussed over the phone were attainable given the period of training time I could afford to budget. Though it wasn’t always easy to hear, I was appreciative of honest and upfront assessments of both mine and my horse’s abilities.
- Finalize the process. Realizing the high standards I had set, even if the experience was less than positive, I made certain to thank each trainer for their time following every interaction. Finally, once I had made my decision, I asked how often between regular visits that I could expect to receive updates on my horse’s progress. While I did not expect to receive reports too often, knowing there would be little to report during short time spans, I did want to keep the lines of communication open such that I did not miss important information.
Even though selecting a trainer for a treasured horse can be a harrowing experience I was glad that I devoted the time to select the right one. Depending upon your specific needs and what you hope to accomplish, you may see areas to expand on these basic strategies. However, by following these simple tips you can help make certain that the decision you make is the right one.
Choosing the correct trainer took longer than I had anticipated but thanks to a thorough vetting process I felt very comfortable when my mare arrived at her temporary new home and was quite pleased with the progress she had made once she returned home.