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Ann Kirk – Selecting a Trainer

The new year is here. There is snow on the ground and cold in the air so it’s hard to think about summer riding but the days will fly by and spring will arrive before you know it. So I want to share some tips for selecting a trainer or instructor to work with you and your horse when the time comes.

Because there are no mandatory classes to take or licenses to earn, nearly anyone can put an ad in the paper, hang up a shingle and call themselves a horse trainer. With so much information available on video or TV, a person with a little knowledge and a lot of determination can come across as knowing more than they do.

But learning some techniques and having the experience to apply them to each horse specifically are two different things. You may end up paying a chunk of money without getting the results you’re hoping for or your horse may end up worse than when you started. The stories are endless that I have heard to that effect.

Now, with that being said, I would rather send my horse to a trainer with good methods and little experience than to one who has been training for many years but uses techniques that are hard for me to follow or reinforce with my horse when I get it back. Many trainers are good at training the horse to their ability level but cannot break it down for the less experienced rider. Because they can ride the horse well, they are satisfied and expect that you should be able to do the same.

You have already invested time and money into your horse. Before you invest more, you owe it to yourself to take the time to get the training you are expecting. This is a good time to start looking as you have a few months before the weather opens up for Spring. You don’t have to be in a hurry to make a decision. Let me give you a few tips to get you started so you can get the results you are looking for in this new year.

The first thing you need to know is what you are looking for. Whether you have a horse that needs started under saddle or one with a particular problem, what you expect needs to be very clearly defined. Sit down and write out a detailed description of what the perfect horse looks like to you. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to know if the person you are evaluating can produce those qualities in your horse.

Next, be clear about your goals with your horse. Whether you plan on showing, gaming or trail riding, your young horse will take to the discipline easier if it is given time to become comfortable with just being ridden first. You may need to hire one trainer to get your horse solid in the basics and another that specializes in the discipline you acquired your horse to participate in.

There are some trainers that are good at both. But there are others that start out focusing on the discipline while skipping the foundation needed for the horse to properly adjust. Then, when the horse rebels out of fear and uncertainty, he is blamed for being a tough horse and you are advised to get a different one. While this is sometimes necessary due to physical conformation or such, often it is from rushing or eliminating the processes necessary for the horse to learn.

Another step is to decide how involved you want to be in your horse’s training. I have had owners who drop the horse off and only return when the horse is ready to go home. I have also had a few who are here almost every day. I find the second are far more successful with their horses. But know what you want or can do. Some trainers will not let you come watch for the first 2-4 weeks they have your horse so you’ll need to decide ahead of time; and lessons with your horse are always a good idea, so evaluate the trainer’s people skills and teaching abilities when deciding. Does he or she make you feel confident and able when you work with your horse? Or do you come away feeling like you should just bag the whole idea?

Now for the cost. When you are asking about cost, you must take into consideration the amount of actual time your horse is being worked with. Some trainers sound like they are very reasonably priced but when you find out the amount of time they are actually working with your horse, the hourly rate may be very high. On the same note, it also works the other way. A trainer that seems to be very expensive may be working more time per day and the hourly rate works out to be less than the first trainer. So know what amount of time you are paying for when you hire a trainer.

When you find someone you are interested in, set up a time or a day to go watch him work. It is best to watch him work several different horses at different levels in their progress. Ask him questions if he will allow it when he does something that you do not understand. File the answers and ask yourself if it makes sense or if you want him treating your horse the same way. Go and watch him several times and get references. If you do not have much experience with horses, go watch several different trainers to get an idea of different training styles so you can make an informed decision.
Bottom line, it is your choice and your responsibility to do the best you can for your horse by finding a good trainer. When you send him to a trainer, be sure you have done your homework so you can give him the best opportunity possible for becoming a faithful riding horse. The right trainer for you is out there so take the time to find him or her and enjoy the results in your well adjusted horse.
Until next time… God Bless.

For more information on Ann and her Sensible Horsemanship Programs go to www.annkirk.com. Beginning Sensible Horsemanship is available in a DVD series with a new addition – Sensible Trailer Loading.

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