While horse people often talk about their “trainer,” there are two very different roles this person can take on when working with a client. The term “trainer” can refer to a horse trainer or a riding instructor.
It can be very important for beginners to know the differences — as well as how to identify their needs and if the trainer is meeting those needs. Sometimes a trainer will work as a riding instructor when he or she actually is a horse trainer, or a horse trainer will attempt to be a riding instructor. Both these situations have the potential to go very poorly.
Riding instructors focus on the rider. The horses used in these lessons already are trained and respond well to the rider’s cues. As the rider progresses in a riding program, the horses may become harder to ride and need more precise cues or a more confident rider, but they should still be trained for riding.
During a lesson with a riding instructor, the riders should be working on their position, using their aids and giving the horse correct cues. Riding activities should work on building strength, proper riding position and figuring out how the rider’s actions affect the horse. The rider should not be worried about teaching the horse or fixing any problems with it, and should trust that the horse will do whatever is asked as long as it is cued properly.
Horse trainers, on the other hand, are focused on the horse. They are concerned about teaching the horse new things, reminding it of how to behave, and making sure the rider is getting the best out of the horse. The horse trainer should spend time riding the horse and teaching it, but also needs to make sure the rider can get the same results out of the horse.
When riding with a horse trainer, your goal as the rider is to learn how to teach the horse and how to get the proper response. Lessons should be focused on learning new skills and have specific goals for both horse and rider.
As a client, you should be honest with your instructor and trainer about the skills and experience you and your horse have. Dishonesty — even withholding information — can get you, your trainer or your horse into serious trouble or even injured. If you are unsure of anything your trainer asks you to do, make sure you ask questions and let him or her know if you are uncomfortable. If your trainer consistently makes you feel uncomfortable and does not help you work through the issue, you probably need to find a new trainer or instructor.