In the professional equestrian world, it takes all kinds of kinds — but there are a few types of trainers who simply might not be able to help you. Elinor Yee of “A Horse For Elinor” shares six.
There are many types of trainers out there.
I’ve been lucky to train for some really good instructors, but maybe you have met any of these sneakier types below? Being able to identify them quickly solves half the trouble!
These are found in all disciplines, but somehow most often in dressage. And yes, dressage riders still take lessons after 20 years of riding, don’t let anyone say something else. Spend the time wisely.
1. The Nay-Sayer (or “Neigh” Sayer!)
This Trainer-Professor will often ask questions during the lesson, only every answer you’ve got will always be wrong. This instructor already has a planned, single specific answer. No matter what you have to add, it’s going to be shot down. Your answer is always wrong.
A style that can fit many riders – just be aware that in the end, students taught this way will become more and more reluctant to answer at all. Your own response to your riding journey is stifled.
If dressage is an art, then art needs creativity… or at least an implied creativity. The Neigh Sayer will not feed into this.
2. The Theoretical Sermon Holder
At first glance, similar to The Neigh Sayer: questions are asked during lessons. Only here, there will be intricate questions you simply don’t have an answer to and this trainer won’t take “I don’t know” for an answer.
Maybe it’s a tricky question, or the subject is simply above your riding level, or you are too focused in the current task assigned with your horse (who is about to brace and evade any second now, you can feel it and better figure out what to do!).
The Theoretical Sermon Holder does not teach “in the moment” – instead asking some version of this question over and over. Preferably at a halt. At the end of the lesson there is — you guessed it — a lecture.
This riding session ends up more of a tirade, a theoretical oration, leaving the rider with that “I’ll just never figure this out” feel. Riding is shrouded in mystery, you consider saddling off for a couple of months to read up on more theory, or maybe switching disciplines.
Riding is physical, a sport with two athletes, in continuous motion. Want to talk about doing it? Want to talk about how to do it? Or want to try to do it while actually trying to do it? Just curious.
3. The Monarch
Under Monarch’s reign, your requests around your own barn/your own horse/your other animals/your own equipment are ignored. You’re in Dressage Queen/King Domain, and no matter what you petition, The Monarch will wave the dressage whip scepter and denounce your appeal.
If this is a relationship you want, a version of dictatorship of each minute detail on how your horse is handled, by all means continue on. It’s a very easy route; just do the right thing – just make sure it’s never your own thing.
But, riders not enjoying hobbled dependency, be aware of this subtle red flag! Soon, there will be no tack purchases without consulting the majesty, you will stifle any resourcefulness in handling your horse, and, most importantly, you will forever be second-guessing your training technique.
4. The Non-Stop Criticizer
With this instructor, constant negative comments are the the norm during lessons. It’s all “suck it up buttercup or get off,” in a George-Morris-Hopped-Up-On-Meth way.
No, that’s not it, don’t do that, stop, what are you doing, NO not like that, I see nothing, you’re not even trying, hands look awful, you’re not getting it, that’s never going to work, you can never ride with legs like that, too tight, that’s awful, I don’t think you’re getting anywhere.
Go girl! It’s never felt so good… to hop off.
Growth comes from failure. Reluctance to try, fail, and try again will never result in mastering any new skill – any area of life. Somehow though, especially perhaps in the dressage ring, there’s been an older tradition of heavy critique.
Look, I’ve run endless 400-meter repeats in the dark and wind on the track on winter nights. Only two people would show up, and a coach with a watch. The dedicated ones. I’d run them with the very best effort, and do it well, for nothing else than a “Good job” at the end. I’ve had very good coaches, one an Olympian, and been able to run results that maybe this body wasn’t made for. It still did.
Think it would have worked as good if the coach would have screamed “You’re never going to make it in under 70” when approaching the back curve? Or, “If you can’t stick 7.10 minute/mile pace for the whole 12 miles you might as well quit!” Or “Keep toeing out like that and you’ll cap out at 5.55 pace in the 5K and that’s it!”
In riding, there is a huge stifling of physical capability when a rider is told what not to do. The Non-Stop Criticizer is best left for toughening up coddled millennials, not the best ticket for learning.
5. The Monologuist
This one is simply exhausting. Lessons contain long monologues about the instructor’s own riding, or horses, or accomplishments. Current and past competition or training challenges. Yes, some snippets of really good information! A sprinkle of anecdotes from other riders and horses.
Chummy and chatty, sure. Easy to get stuck in this, because hey, it’s way more comfortable than sitting the trot after another unbalanced canter transition. But aren’t most of us too horse-poor to pay for this?
Best suited for “fill up” while getting the wedgie out of the breeches. Or, okay, I admit it, catching my breath.
6. The Horse Wrangler
No avoiding it – this one will be around. Forever. It’s a classic. The Horse Wrangler gives repeated pitches to sell your current incompetent scumbag of a horse and buy something else, preferably from their barn.
To be honest, if the right horse was there I would really want the trainer to bring up the connection, to help make better riding possible. Because better riding is better. (Please make this happen, now.)
If it was within budget… which it usually never is. Instead it’s a waste of time. And riders training for The Horse Wrangler will always feel inferior. Eventually they’ll think of leaving their discipline. Pick up trail riding. In a treeless. Mission accomplished? I haven’t figured this one out yet. Maybe it was the goal for The Horse Wrangler from the start…?
Ever met any of these types? Love your current trainer? Share in the comments section!
Elinor Yee is a dressage enthusiast originally from Sweden who trains and shows her young mare on her own. She is striving to get to 3rd level and writes about the journey to get there and about anything “Dressage On A Dime.” Oh, and she very rarely falls off.