Finding a barn and trainer advice

Hi all,

I am hoping for suggestions on how to get going again. I am an experienced rider, grew up H/J, worked as an exercise rider and assistant at a three-day eventing barn, also took dressage lessons as a young adult, and owned a horse growing up. For the past 3 years I have only been riding off and on because of grad school and expenses. All of my riding experience and horsey network is in California but I recently moved out of state to Salt Lake City, UT.

I am now looking to get back into riding but want to try different disciplines and would love to try some western riding and maybe get into APHA showing but I do not know where to start in a different discipline. I am also interested in getting a weanling and learning how to bring up a young horse with the help of a trainer with the goal of eventually competing and also just having fun.

My question is, how would you suggest finding and approaching a trainer who is willing to help you learn how to bring up a young horse in the context of a show barn? My ideal situation would be to be learning more about western disciplines while I have a young horse but feel intimidated approaching performance barns with no experience in their discipline and also looking for guidance with a young horse at the same time, if that makes sense.

no help for a suggestion regarding a pathway for your goals but the long yearling we bought who was on paper going to be our English Pleasure horse for kids never ever did English Pleasure however did do nearly everything else very, very well.

My suggestion would be get an older horse who is on a course to become a good citizen.

There are always exceptions

My daughter two years ago bought a weanling from a breeder she knew. This horse has proven to be Better than expected. Within his breed he has developed into a world class horse in short order. But my daughter knew the breeder, knew the blood lines from personal experience so she was not completely blind.

But honestly buying a very young horse is like placing your entire bankroll on a single number on the roulette table, actually I would think the odds of success are better with the roulette table.


Moving to a new city and finding your way around in the local horse scene takes time. Is it possible to find a QH/APHA club or go to horse shows to meet people? Hey, anyone reading this from Salt Lake City that could help? From personal experience, just because someone is a trainer doesn’t mean they are qualified to bring along a young horse. As many have mentioned on this forum, there are cowboy-type trainers who might be better qualified. It’s really about finding the best person in your price range.

As a side note: If you’re looking for something fun to do try cutting horses. I did it for a year and had a ball. If you decide to show, it’s all about you, the cow you draw, and your horse. No beauty contests. I found the farm where I took lessons to be knowledgeable and had many adult riders. They sent all their young horses away to be broke and when they came back had an in-house trainer who worked with them. Good luck.

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I’d do one step at a time: Find some horse events to go to; hang out and ask questions. You have enough background in horses that you aren’t going to sound like a rookie, lol. “hey I can ride, but would love to learn…” Once you get some input, try lessons and see if you feel there is a fit. See if you like it. Get to know the horse market. Maybe buy an adult horse at some point.
For a bunch of reasons I would not rush into the weanling thing. But know that the APHA, and AQHA start their horse show classes at a very young age - on the longe line, under saddle at 2, etc. Watch, listen and be sure that you would be comfortable with the program for a young horse. Its different.


I would start with finding the barn, trying the discipline, making sure you like it, building a solid relationship with the trainer and getting an established local network before jumping into the weanling thing. Especially because “APHA showing” is pretty broad and there are a number of directions you can go there. Deciding what you want to do can help you choose (hopefully) the right youngster for the job. As you are looking for/trying/interviewing barns, certainly make sure to bring that up as a future goal, and choose someone who is skilled in that area and willing to help when you get to that point. But I wouldn’t be in a rush to try to do it all at once.


I agree with this. Get situated before you think about adding a baby. I’m a firm believer in turning young horses out until they’re 3 in big fields, with groups of other babies. I would not be interested in moving a weanling into a show barn. Going that route first might not get you into the scene and moving towards figuring out the discipline you want to aim for.


If interested in reining, here are some names in Utah off the NRHA website list:

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This is a big ask and, honestly, kind of the worst way to go about it.

I grew up riding H/J, then moved to APHA about ten years ago. It’s a WORLD of difference, especially as you go from english events to western events. The buttons are different, the horses are different - it’s a big, big difference. *Note also that “western riding” is an APHA event in and of itself; “western events” is what I think you’re probably referring to - pleasure, horsemanship, trail, etc.

Here are the obstacles I see just from a high level:

  • Most breed show barns that I know of don’t have lesson horses; which means you would need to typically lease a horse to test out the waters (I think lesson strings by and large are being cut regardless of industry, due to rising costs)
  • Most breed show barns are full service, meaning that it’s unlikely you’ll find someone who is willing to teach you how to train a horse while also taking you to horse shows
  • Most breed show barns will want to have input on your horse if you want their help, meaning it’s rare to find a decent trainer who is willing to take “whatever” you bring them.
  • It’s unreasonable to expect you to learn an entirely new discipline with an entirely green horse, it’s unfair to you, it’s unfair to the horse.

NOW. All of that said, I would LOVE to see more people come show APHA. We’re a really fun group of people and have some fancy horses that are also pretty to look at. :wink:

IF it was me, I would hit up Cooper Evans (Star Performance Horses) who is based just south of Salt Lake City. He is well versed in all things APHA and is someone I would trust to show you the ropes. I don’t know what he offers in the way of lessons or any specifics about his program (I’m in Texas), but he consistently has horses that are correct, look happy, and look healthy. One of the up and coming stallions is in his barn, they may have some in house foals they’d be willing to move and help you with if you kept them in full training with them - I really don’t know, so don’t want to speak authoritatively on it.

I would think a better approach would be learning the disciplines you want to show first and then find an appropriate horse (a western pleasure winner is usually not going to be the western riding winner, and something doing the trail is not always going to cross over into the pleasure, etc).

Good luck!

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Well, here’s how I ended up where I am at. The biggest driving factor for me was I could not afford A rated shows. So I went around to smaller class shows and found the trainers that were at them enjoying a variety of things. Variety is the key. Most big names stick to one type of showing. The ones who do large fun shows usually do a variety. Then I did lessons with a trainer I liked. And now I have mine at home and take for lessons and tune up training. The thing of it is you kind of just have to go with what is popular in your neck of the woods.


There’s a combined APHA and QH show April 23-25 at the South Jordan Equestrian Park. Go and check it out. Talk to people there and get a feel for the horse scene there.


I agree with much of what has been written!!!

But I may diverge in this point: IME, english riders wait until the horse is 3 or 4 to start. They often have a more mature skeletal structure. Western riders usually start the horse as a 2 year old and for showing, definitely. Many/most of these horses in the show world have tons of mileage as 10 year olds and often aren’t sound after that. Some are. You’d have to be willing to play the odds. Also, having watched the experience of a western rider friend who wanted to have her nice horses in training with western riders from show barns, some of the show barns are awful experiences for young horses. You’ll have to decide if you want your horse to go through awful experiences.

I’d suggest your #1 asset and thing you have to be aware of is your own experience with horses. You really know enough to decide whether you’re willing to train with someone / bring a youngster along with someone or not. There are a lot of western trainers that I’d never train with but few that I would and do. I’d find someone who has ridden english before (even in a little for clients) who understands your previous aids and rein contact. MOST of all, I’d go audit lessons and clinics from interesting trainers to see if you agree with them (the Western natural horsemanship trainer out of my barn has clinics with many english and dressage riders - I’ve been one of them) and see how they work with people of different disciplines, different horses, young horses and knowledgeable horses, etc. The trainer I mentioned above has been having an active role in apprenticing a former hunt seat rider into an effective “ranch rider” and she so loves the transformation. She has not only learned to ride many different horses but she’s learned to work a flag in the arena, work cows in an arena, and work cows on a working cow ranch.

She just approached the trainer. I don’t know how many lessons she paid for but I’ve known her to offer services for lessons. He’s thrilled. She is freakishly nice. He has a similar arrangement with another woman who brings her own horses for training in exchange for helping him. She is also freakishly nice. THAT SAID, everything is above the board at our farm. I know there are other farms where similar arrangements are below the board. Please keep that in mind. GOOD LUCK to you!

Oh, buying a weanling? You’ll need to identify someone good at bringing up weanlings and that may not be the best person to start the horse depending on how that person brings up the weanling. What is your goal? For YOU to ride and show the horse or for someone else to ride and show it? I’d recommend you AGAINST bringing up a weanling in a sport you have no experience in. Especially in a western show barn. It’s not a great experience for a weanling. Horses are more utilitarian there, IME. You don’t want a young horse with serious baggage. AND, you’ll likely hear stories of how great the horse can be under the trainer if you foot the bill for showing. I suspect that happens in every discipline but I know that it is present in a new discipline as soon as you say “I’m new to this discipline”.

How to find a trainer in a new discipline? Go watch them all as they train (with their permission). A good trainer will allow this. Watch them multiple times on multiple horses. Is that how you’d want to bring your youngster along? Trust your gut.


When to start a horse has been discussed many times, for centuries now.

The latest research indicates that starting horses earlier, not later, is beneficial to horses, something many trainers, especially in the race industry, know from experience:

Most of us older now were taught that waiting to start a more mature horse was safer for the horse, but studies today seem to indicate that may not be so, if we want the best possible performance and long lasting soundness thru the horse’s life.

We can see that with humans, a gymnast waiting to start training once mature, around 20 years old, will not perform at the level of one that started practicing and grows into the body and mind is going to be required and would be more apt to get injured as now mature physical parameters are not as flexible to the changes needed as fitness improves.
The one that start training as a very young child will have a very definitive advantage in performance and more apt to stay sound, as it grows into the task.
Horses seem to be similar when in training.

When it comes to how to train, of course that is also critical, at any age we can train wrong, over or under train and accidents happen.
Studies now show that when such happens, those started training earlier seem to be more resilient and have statistically less injuries than those started later.
Definitively when starting horses, training properly for the horse in front of you, no matter what age, seems to be more important than what age the horse may be.
New studies indicate that, once the right training protocol is established, starting earlier does has an advantage, contrary to what we used to think.

Those of us that learned the old wisdom of waiting to four to start horses may want to now learn about the new studies and how to apply that knowledge when starting horses.


Thanks, I will definitely plan to check this out

Thank you all for the great advise! I appreciate all of your thoughts and suggestions :slight_smile: