Monday, January 5, 2015


I am currently considering finding a trainer to help me achieve my goals in Working Equitation, especially the dressage test and the precision test (you don't really have to train for the speed test). The cattle handling will work best in the clinic setting, but the dressage and precision part of Working Equitation might progress easier with a qualified WE trainer. I actually have the ability to bring a trainer in where we board now (I should have had the ability at TMR, but was stymied by the trainers there). So, how does one go about picking the right trainer for myself and Ashke?

One of my most admired horse people wrote a blog on this subject just recently, as if he knew I needed some direction. (I love Mark Rashid!! Can't wait to attend his classes at the Horse Expo in March!)

You can read the entire blog here: and I would highly recommend you do. He has some great things to say.

So, in searching for and evaluating a trainer (rather than just using the one you happen across at the barn you are boarding at) I am going to take the following things into consideration.

Mark Rashid says:
"You see, I believe that in order for a student to develop their own individuality and skills in any activity (particularly horsemanship) the instructor’s primary role should be to teach the student how to learn, not just how to do, or worse yet, how to mimic."

This makes sense to me. I am riding a horse that is unique in the world (and I believe most riders feel this way considering how many different horse blogs and experiences there are out there) and I am unique. My horse will experience things differently than a warmblood or a QH because of his physical structure, his physical condition, his personality and his reaction to the training environment. He has a different background and different experiences to pull from. His early foalhood training will impact how he processes and learns things. His nutrition and stable environment will also dictate his comfort level and willingness to try. How I maintain his feet and the fit of his saddle will contribute to his overall comfort level. All of these things are factors in the training environment, so why would we as riders expect our horses to all act, look or ride the same way?

My past riding experiences will effect what I do and how I do it. More than that, my life experiences will also effect how I interact with Ashke and what my approach is at any given point. I want a trainer that understands I will not just throw on a pair of spurs to get my trot-canter transitions. I want real life coaching that teaches me the skill to do all of the elements of a dressage test, which I want to practice while riding on trail. I need a trainer who understands that life teaches more than an hour in an arena and that those lessons should be incorporated into any training session. I need a trainer who is willing to work with us in the bit we have chosen and who isn't so entrenched in their specific process as to expect me to tighten down a cavesson. I want a trainer who is willing to discuss training strategy, explain concepts and terms that I don't know and who will present the information in a way that does not feel like a fight with my horse. I want to be successful while still maintaining the relationship with my horse that I have worked so hard to develop.

Mark Rashid goes on to say:
"When a student understands the art of learning, they are in turn able to see and understand that very little of what they are being taught is ever carved in stone. Every situation becomes a classroom and all those they come in contact with become teachers. They understand that something can be gleaned from every person (or horse) and from every situation regardless of how positive, negative, significant or not that situation appears at the time."

I thought of Gail, from Journey to a 100 Miles, who reflected on the multitude of lessons where her trainer nitpicked at her position. This doesn't advance either the horse or the rider and really is designed to degrade and humiliate the rider. It should be clear to a good trainer when something they are communicating is not clear, since the rider is still not doing what the trainer is asking. The trainer should have the responsibility to try a different approach, or communicate in a different way, to achieve their end goal. However, I truly believe that a large majority of trainers have one way to teach, one particular goal in mind, and work to achieve exactly the same thing from all of their students.

I think students, especially students that are coming to this discipline out of love of the horse without enough experience to cry foul when their trainer crosses over the line, believe that this is the only way to ride. You get a horse and then you get a trainer. You learn to ride your horse because of your trainer. You want to continue to improve and believe that you can only do that via your trainer and so you work hard at achieving what your trainer is coaching you to do. If your trainer spends your hour lesson nitpicking on a single item, or saying the exact same things they said in your last lesson, and the one before that, what exactly will the student learn in that environment?

Sometimes, like in Gail's instance, you realize what is happening and ride down your trainer with your giant ass horse and a dressage whip. Other times you spend your lesson trying to absorb the information and your practice rides in tears until you finally realize that what you are working on is not your goal; it's your trainer's goal. Other times, you give up and sell your horse and find a new hobby, or a new horse, not because you can't be a good partner for your horse, but because your trainer is not able to think outside the box they teach in.

A trainer should be able to see where you are struggling and reach out to break through that difficulty, not just continue to say the same thing over and over. And perhaps I expect too much, but I would expect a trainer to be able to tell when you are frustrated or struggling with a concept and present it in a different way to further understanding. Or move past that movement and onto something else that does further your riding ability.

I think Karen, at Not-So-Speedy Dressage, has the right set-up in that she works with more than one trainer. She learns different things from each of them and yet is able to apply those concepts within her lessons. She is also open and able to share the experiences and insights with both of the trainers she works with, without either of them becoming adamant that their way is the only way. Any trainer worth their salt should not be offended or butt-hurt by enlightenment from another source.

Mark goes on to make the point:
"However, a student’s skills, thoughts and abilities can become severely diminished when an instructor intentionally, or even unintentionally, teaches a student how to simply mimic the instructor’s actions, movement, words or ideas. . . .While it’s true that some trainers these days consciously encourage their students to mimic them, thus ultimately hindering the student’s individuality and overall skills, others cause a students’ mimicry unconsciously by using the same phrases, terms and even ideas over and over with very little variation. Eventually the student becomes so immersed in these phrases, terms and ideas that there seem to be no other viable options for them, and they begin to repeat them almost without thinking."

I think this happens a lot. I think that often a trainer knows one way to achieve a goal and teaches to that goal, using the same language over and over again. I've listened to several trainers working with multiple students and some of them use the same words and phrases over and over regardless of the level of the student, the training level of the horse, or what they are trying to do. I think there are a lot of "catch phrases" in the dressage world, similar and different "catch phrases" in the world of hunters and jumper, and "catch phrases" in the world of western riders as well. A seriously good trainer will be able to teach without using those phrases. 

Going forward, I will watch any trainer I would consider taking lessons from teach other students. I would expect to see differing approaches based on the student in front of them, new verbage, different communication styles. I am also looking for problem solving on the part of the trainer, because there is nothing so frustrating as doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I don't want to be the carbon copy of my teacher. I want to be myself. I want Ashke to be the most Ashke he can be. And I want us to be flawless in our interaction with each other. Those are the things that are of importance to me, not how well we can shape a 20 m circle. The rest of it is just execution, which is a product of practice.

Mark goes on:
"Other trainers inadvertently hinder individuality by not allowing the student to do the work that is necessary for both the horse and student to progress together. In these cases, when a problem arises with a horse (or rider) these trainers simply take the horse from the student, do whatever work is necessary, and then give the horse back."

Mark is pretty committed at this point in his career to not riding client horses during clinics. His philosophy is that it doesn't progress understanding or ability between the rider and the horse. Any trainer worth their salt is going to be able to get on your horse and get them to do whatever they are asking for, within the horse's ability. For a student that is struggling, it becomes a vicious cycle: it is nice to see that your horse can do what is being asked, but also frustrating that as the rider one can not achieve the same goal. 

I want a trainer that is willing to work with me (not do it for me) to achieve our goals. I don't want to share Ashke with anyone else. I regret the two people, other than myself, who have ridden him in the past. Thinking of letting someone else ride Ashke, now, feels like letting someone else sleep with my spouse. It certainly didn't progress my relationship with Ashke (and I wouldn't expect letting someone sleep with my spouse would progress my relationship with her, either). I didn't suddenly learn something I didn't know before and he didn't suddenly acquire great skill or ability that he could then share with me. All it did was make him feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I would much rather take more time to learn a particular skill than to have someone else demonstrate it on my horse. I don't share well (horse or wife, thankyouverymuch.) And for the record, I don't want to ride anyone else's horse either. I have one horse that I am building a relationship with and that is the only one I am interested in riding.

Finally, Mark says,
"It can be argued that a trainer or instructor who takes the time to help a student figure out how to deal with an issue instead of just fixing it themselves is, as another old saying goes, teaching the student how to fish instead of simply giving them a fish."

I need coaching on how to execute some of the movements and obstacles in Working Equitation. I want a trainer who is invested in helping Ashke and I figure out how to be better. I expect a trainer who can change their approach to best suit the situation, on any given day, because a different approach may yield unbelievable results. And I want it to be fun. I want both Ashke and myself to enjoy the ride, while still gaining skill and ability.
Is that too much to ask?


  1. I thought this was a great blog post about training! I love the idea of being able to learn how to do something or change it to suit your needs at the moment instead of just mimicking and just listening to what people without ever learning why!

    1. I think one of my big problems is giving a trainer too much authority in my mind (this happens with doctors, bosses, etc) and not trusting my gut when it comes to taking direction. Part of that is trusting I know what I am doing and we are progressing, even on our own. Part of it is trusting that I am a decent rider and Ashke is better off with me riding him than not. (I know this on trail, but not so much in the arena.) Also, working with a trainer that is willing to put up with questions and comments, rather than believing I should take everything they say as gospel.

  2. Karen I am trying again.. Im not to good with computers..
    Any trainer that makes you cry or feel bad is not a good trainer. I don't care who it is. I have watched you and Ashke and you have a good partnership …You two will be very good at WE… Just with a little more feel and following of energy. The flat work is so important for WE. I wish there were more people out there like yourself that want to do there best to improve their partnership. I do think when people get stuck (and we all do) it is good to get on another horse for learn proper aids and feel the movement. Sometimes there is just a tweaking that needs to be done. Everything is so subtle and individual. Every horse and rider needs there own plan not anyone else's. There are some amazing WE flat work exercises with and without obstacles that make a difference with any pair quickly..Good luck on your journey and if i can assist you in any way please call.. Chris Stanko

    1. Thanks Chris! I would love to know your resource for WE flat work exercises. I am working with some of the dressage exercises in the 101 Dressage Exercises, but would love to work on WE specific stuff. I would love to work with a WE trainer (hence the post) but also want to make sure I'm not making the same mistake twice in picking who I am working with. I also think clinics and play days are awesome ways for us to pick up stuff, since 1) you can learn from watching other people learn, and 2) the intense focus to perform under pressure for an hour is not present. Does that make sense? Thanks for your support! I really am excited to do a lot with WE this year!!

    2. Karen ...Come do a intro lesson with me (no charge) for the first lesson.. then it is your decision from there..I won't push my lessons on anyone but i feel i have a lot to offer in WE..And if you don't want to thats fine as well ..The offer is there….Chris

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  4. I don't know where that puppy milk recipe came from! What it was suppose to say that I am so proud of you. You have advanced so much in a year as a woman, horse owner and rider. I have all the confidence that you will find the right trainer or trainers for Ashke and you. So have a great New Year

    1. Thanks so much. Glad you came along on my journey this year!

  5. I think your philosophy on trainers is great, Karen! I wish I could have figured it out sooner, but I guess sometimes we just have to travel the road. Mark Rashid is so amazing. I actually did a clinic with him when Nimo was a yearling and it was so eye-opening but getting a slot these days is virtually impossible, so I content myself with reading his books. His thoughts on body awareness and timing are awesome but they take years of intense study to really learn. I wish you the best in finding a good trainer to work with:)

  6. I've been riding with Mark Rashid for over 10 years now, and he's helped me make amazing changes in my horsemanship. There are trainers out there who can do what you want - it's just that they're very hard to find - word of mouth, and watching them teach, is probably the best method to find one. Mark's only out my way once a year, if that often, but I'm fortunate that one of his student instructors is an hour and a half from me - I don't ride regularly with her but did so intensively in the spring of 2012.