How do you vet a new trainer?

A lot of changing life circumstances have put me in an unenviable position! One was losing my perfect school master, another was horse shopping in a difficult market, and the third was moving away from my trainer and “horse community” just as I acquired a new horse.

At first the third part seemed like it had a silver lining. My new horse and trainer turned out not to get along (though she picked him!) and I was quickly losing confidence in their relationship. Every training ride, I seemed to get back a different horse (in a bad way). I loved my trainer, but our relationship was a lot different when I had a goldie oldie I never needed her to get on. If I hadn’t moved, I probably would have needed to leave anyway.

When I moved, it was all really fast and I didn’t immediately put the horse in a program. I have not been cantering, certainly not jumping. Mostly I would say I have been spending all this time maintaining where the horse was, and maybe settling him down somewhat because by the time I left my trainer, he was wound up so tight you couldn’t get on without someone holding him. He’s at least better about that now but is still green and needs a training program.

So now I’m at the point where I really want to get him in a program with somebody and eventually take real lessons. I checked a few barns out, audited lessons, and got really excited about one option. But now I’m second-guessing that decision. The program is small. I met two other riders, only really talked to one. I’ve probably spent 4 hours in total talking to the trainer. It’s not a show barn, more of a colt starting place, but that’s the level I think the horse needs now that I know him better. Unfortunately it also means there’s not a lot of video, not a lot of “made” horses I can see from this trainer, basically not a lot of information to go on that this is the right fit or this person is who she says she is.

I feel like I was very naive in my relationship with my previous trainer. Now I am having a deja vu feeling that I am lining myself up for another “trust fall” exercise, and it is quite the act of faith to believe this new trainer will catch me.

I do love the horse and really believe we are a match with the right guidance, but I am worried I’m making the wrong choice. Even if other people sing the trainer’s praises, I’ve now realized that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work out for my horse. But if I don’t have at least that to go on, it just feels like such a shot in the dark! It’s very stressful to have a green horse and know its education depends on you making good choices.

Most trainers won’t vet sound. Back and hip problems dominate the breed. But generally, I would simply have the doctor show up at the barn to do a jog and general wellness exams to start.


If you have an off season local shows you could attend and see if you like any, just listen to how they school their riders and how their placing etc.

Good horse starters are great, and if that’s what you need, you’re right they won’t have a show record, but you also need to be ready to move on when you’ve reached their peak, starters vs fine tuning are not often found in the same trainer. If their a solid sort they’ll let you know when they’ve reached where they can take you. Maybe ask, how they’ll communicate that to you?


So you are in a totally new geographical area? If I understand correctly :slight_smile:

Here is what I would do if I were you, and I am also a very cautious and careful person. Get on ye olde social media (I know I know). Get on the regional X Discipline page, ie NW Riders Party is a good one near me, but there will be “Midwest Dressage Riders/Forum” or “TN Hunter/Jumpers” or “Great Lakes Eventing.” Whatever and wherever you are. Also don’t be afraid to check other disciplines, like I mentioned: a better start for your young hunter might be with a dressage trainer, for example. Get on the pages and give a quick intro and question. Say, “Hello, I’m new to the area and looking for a trainer for my green Breed Gelding; he’s broke but needs some miles and I’d like someone who will be tactful and kind but also make actual progress, ie not take my money while the horse sits. Show home not required but would be nice if trainer took the horse out/went hacking/trail riding for exposure. Bonus if trainer also does lessons? Right now he is very anxious but not naughty or anything. Please give me your recommendations within X hours of X area. Open to either boarding him with the trainer or having a trainer come here. Feel free to PM me if you have suggestions or warnings you want to keep off the public forum.”

Something like that.

Then, research research research the recommendations. Go to the recommendations’ social media pages. Look clooooosely at pics. Look at other posts they have commented on, sale horses, show pics, look at the tack they are using (lots of hardware would be a pass from me), scope out the facilities and backgrounds in the pictures, look at how the horses are shod/trimmed, are they clipped when riders are wearing coats/vests indicating the horse has a workload still in the winter or not, just stuff like that. If on their page there is a Youtube link for a horse (sale horse, at a show, whatever), then click the Youtube username and look at their other videos as well. Here is a next step you can try if you are super paranoid: call the area vets and name drop, and ask if they would recommend this trainer.

But that’s me, horses are an expensive investment and I’m accustomed to doing backgrounds like this :wink:


This is good advice! And yes, the steps you outlined above are what I did. I didn’t post an ISO ad on the FB page myself, but I used others’ posts to put together a contact list and trainer shop. And I have done a lot of social media stalking. The trainer in question is dressage-based, whereas I’m hoping to do the hunters, but honestly, I agree at this level, it does not matter. She does a mix of trail, obstacles, round pen, all with a very strong groundwork basis. From a training philosophy perspective, I agree with everything she says. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll agree in practice, but it’s a better start than not agreeing at all! Strictly speaking the horse is farther along than needing a full groundwork curriculum, but he has so little confidence and is so inconsistent that I just don’t think he can get very far without a better foundation. He pulled a few dangerous stunts with my former trainer that really can’t become habits, especially not with me in the saddle. But I truly believe they stemmed from a lack of confidence and feeling overfaced. They do, however, make me that much more apprehensive about my next steps.

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Watch them work with horses. Watch some more. See how they handle it when the horse is confused or unwilling. There are people very skilled at self-promotion who are not good young horse trainers (though some are good at both). Some can say all the right things and yet their reaction to resistance or confusion is not what you want for your horse. Watch and you’ll see their philosophy in action. And if they won’t let you watch…that tells you all you need to know.


I apply the Hair Salon Principle–

  1. If I’m getting my hair did, part of what I’m paying for is hearing that it’s cute. If the stylist tells me I have a new career as a runway model, she’s shining me on and I’m going to question either her veracity or her sense. On the other hand, if she tells me I’ll crack a mirror at a hundred paces, I’m never going back… and I’m not tipping, either.

  2. I also expect to walk out with the sense that I can at least MOSTLY recreate the nice hair with my limited, non-professional skillset.

While I’m going to devote far more time to what I learned in a lesson than the three minutes I can spare on hair, the idea is the same–I want to leave a lesson feeling successful, and like I’ve been given the tools I need recreate the experience.


Went thru trainer drama recently in our household. Previous trainer was very nice, gets decent results at locals much of the time, spectacular results occasionally, etc. There were just a few occasions of what the heck, did that really just happen/did trainer actually say that? The end result was that my child’s confidence in her own competency as a rider was shaken so badly that there was no possibility of coming back to a place of equilibrium with this trainer. I have the feeling trainer was ready to be done with us, too. So, we ended up switching to my trainer – first with a leased pony – and just last month, a purchased horse.

It took me a long time to put my finger on the issue. Child’s previous trainer has enjoyed success with a few uncomplicated equines but is not a skilled technician or problem solver. Child had a few rough lessons with my trainer in the beginning. She rarely teaches anyone but adults, child is the only one under the age of 25 in the program & missed the social aspect of riding, & it took them a bit to figure each other out. Fortunately, all of the fellow boarders & barn staff there are just so gosh darned nice! Always asking how the ride went, complimenting the horse, & trying their best to be inclusive. The mic drop: child explained that she feels safe even pushing it to the limit in her lessons now because she knows new trainer won’t let anything bad happen. Whereas, it was a crapshoot with the old one.

In short, I get it & I sympathize. Personally, I think the most important thing is finding that person in whose abilities you have complete confidence. The rest will work itself out in time. 3rd


Sigh… it’s not a perfect art. I’ve been where you are and it’s never easy. You question the horse, you question your own ability, and you question your decision-making ability. All I can tell you is that trust your gut. Even if you find “the one” when it comes to a trainer on your first try… ride with 2-3 others to be sure. It’s ok to ask them if you can watch them ride a young horse and see if they would be the sort of rider that you think would exhibit the patience and ability necessary.

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Yes! Also check through past posts here, a lot of users have used COTH for trainer recommendations and maybe there is already a forum from your area.

In addition, you could call a local tack store and say you are new to the area and looking for XXX, do you have any recommendations? (Personally I think local pages and COTH is the way to go). Have a list of questions and a list of what is important for you and the facility. Call prospective trainers and ask to come visit and observe them teach. Ask for a lesson at your level and higher, personally I like to see advanced classes and ideally see the trainer ride either through social media video stalking, seeing them at shows, or ideally catch them schooling at home. Walk around the property, get there early. If you like what you see and hear, meet with the trainer and share what you are looking for, ask questions, and see if they can meet your needs. If they hesitate when you say you groom your own horse & their clients all do full grooming…it’s probably not a good fit. Look for red flags. Make a list for pros and cons for any potential options. Decide what is really important to you (i.e. social opportunities at barn, care, training options etc.) and what you can negotiate on. If helpful, I can send you a list of questions about facility and training I used when searching. A good trainer should have no problem with you coming out to visit (even more than once) and answering your questions.


I have used a few different trainers over the years due to kids and me pursuing different disciplines (dressage, 3-Day, reining, Western Pleasure, saddle seat, etc). I look for two things:

  1. does the rider work well for the trainer? Frankly, the trainer can be the best in the business, but if the kid constantly says, “I don’t like Mr. X.” there isn’t going to be a good work ethic. Same for me. If I feel Mr. X isn’t working well for me and my horse, I look elsewhere. It you don’t trust, admire, your trainer --move on.

  2. proof of progress --that can progress for be me, my kid, or other kids/adults in the program. The BEST trainers I’ve ever had stated at the onset what the goal was, and how we’d know the kid (or I and the horse reached it. For one, it was Intermediate 3-Day level --the trainer flat out said when we started with him, that Intermediate was the highest he ever rode, and once the kid got there, she would need another trainer. Second was an up-down maybe cross rails instructor/trainer who said "kid rides better than I do,’ after 5 years when little kid had moved to bigger jumps than cross rails.

I immediately left a trainer who PROMISED both my kids would be ready for cross rails after six weeks of flat work, lessons twice a week on my two old hunters (who were packers). Six weeks came and I said, “Do you need help setting cross rails?” Response was, “Oh, I’m not insured for jumping.” —packed up the kids, loaded the horses and bad-mouthed her to anyone who would listen —and found I wasn’t the only one who had been duped.

Most confusing to me, I should just let it be --is a local trainer who has been working with the SAME group of ladies for YEARS --in some cases 20+. Maybe bad on them, maybe bad on her, but this is more of a “book club” than training. The ladies make NO PROGRESS nor do their horses --the just gather at the “trainers” weekly and “take lessons.” Some put their horses with the trainer for months at a time – and not much happens . . .but her praises are always sung . . . I am sure they have a good time --but I put that into the category of “paying for a friend.” Sort of like my hairdresser --we are BFF unless I change hairdressers . . .

So -that’s my criteria . . . and word of caution.


Oh, god, I don’t envy you.

I am kind of going through this now; and I’ve been in the same area for my entire adult life.

Luckily, I know who I absolutely won’t use.

Unluckily, the people I would use are either problematic for other reasons or full.

I always go back to an in person screening and lots of online stalking and hemming and hawing. :rofl: I know what I don’t want, so at a minimum - I start there.

I don’t want to pay a monthly bill and never be allowed to ride. There’s a trainer here who I love, he’s fantastic with the horses - his downfall is that he doesn’t like giving lessons. I had my horse with him a while ago, I paid three months of full training and rode my horse once that entire time. Horse was great, trainer was exceptional, I couldn’t deal with that one aspect of his program.

I don’t want my horse ridden by an assistant. This one most people say I’m dramatic about, but IMO if I’m paying for a trainer then I want that trainer on my horse most of the time. Assistant trainers, apprentices, etc are all fine and dandy, but my horse is not going to be their experiment. I’ve had this exact discussion with some trainers and if they can’t promise it to me, horse doesn’t go there.

I have one mare that I’m trying to find a place for right now. She’s a little squirrely, and leans more towards fight than flight. Love her to death but she’s one that needs a specific program, she isn’t some easy go lucky gelding where he’ll kind of survive anywhere. Was within days of taking her to a trainer that came highly recommended and then a few friends mentioned how aggressive he can get with his horses when he drinks. Unfortunately for him, I didn’t take the mare - he could be the nicest, best guy in the world, but multiple, unrelated people mentioned his aggressive drinking so he didn’t get the horse.

Finding a colt starter is a PITA. I wonder if any of them would do an evaluation so you could watch them interact with your horse prior to giving the go ahead for a full commitment?

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It sounds like this program will be good for your horse for the time being…and perhaps for a while. A complete restart does not sound like a bad idea for horse’s mental state. You can totally be on the same page despite different focuses (groundwork and dressage vs. hunters), as far as installing some good basics and working on that foundation of relaxation. I grew up with mostly “dressage for jumping” and pony club and then the big eq. as my experience with proper flatwork. My dressage trainer has popped over some small jumps occasionally but really knows nothing about jumping. We connected with my last horse who was going through some issues not dissimilar to yours, and horse really liked this trainer because we taught things in the same way… same type of progression, similar use of the aids. So while she could also be “bad cop” at times, we were all speaking the same language, and horse really appreciated that.

So I’d take it as a good sign that your philosophies appear to line up, at least in conversation. It would be great if you could watch her work with a young horse or two. And discuss a plan for what happens when you need to start transitioning away from her program to some jumping… you may not be able to just stop one and start a new program without some in-between with this first trainer to ensure the horse maintains confidence. Could you set small jumps and cavaletti at this farm? Does this trainer incorporate any raised cavaletti in their usual work? Would you need to trailer out? Could you bring someone in occasionally?

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Yes, the facility is really well-appointed for horses at his level. There is a little bit of everything. A fantastic enclosed round pen with good footing, a trail with a long “safe” section that is in full view of the horses in turnout, a tiny indoor arena (the walls make a great e-brake, I’m sure!), and a mini cross country course with small, natural jumps. Unfortunately it’s a little under a 90-minute commute, but to your point, that also makes it easier to rationalize leaving at a certain point.

I do appreciate the trainer isn’t “secretive” and encourages coming out for a weekly lesson from the very start. So if it’s going sideways, I won’t be totally in the dark. I think my main hang-up is weighing the money/time investment against the possibility that I may not get results I can work with.

I am not expecting miracles, but I do hope I can do more than walk and trot on the rail by this time next year :joy: When I first bought the horse, he was sold as competition-ready in a program. Working with my trainer, we started to realize that was not the case. My feeling is that he was stretched as far as manageable on as little training as possible to maximize his sale value, without ever getting a basic foundation. Of course I suspected some of that, but I have had to scale back my expectations considerably! And now I’m feeling just slightly “burned” — by the seller, by my trainer, and by my own intuition and decision-making ability, so I’m worried I’m being naive once again and investing in what will turn out to be a dead end. From a more humane perspective, however, I think it can only benefit this horse that he is finally getting someone to work on him with no ulterior motive besides his own betterment, even if I do end up selling him to someone more advanced. Fingers crossed this is the right move!

Difficult to say. Ive had some trainers that were completely awesome, and others well not so much. I know sometimes trainers have reviews on yelp, only slightly helpful. I think references and really talking to the riders at the barn or in the general area is a good start. Honestly, wish people would be more forthcoming with info, both positive and negative. I had a trainer who i actually felt use to somewhat emotionally torment me, she was really hard on me and well would shake my confidence a lot. So, sometimes you dont really know until you take a few lessons. Some trainers don’t let their dark side out immediately, they want you to like them, so they can get your business. It’s unfortunate, but very true. I then went on to have a really really negative experience with this trainer’s groom, and how she ended up handling the issue. Sometimes a person’s true colors don’t come out for a very long time.

What if you think of this kind of like specialized rehab. Sometimes, the place is not convenient, but if you can try to be there a few days in the beginning and at least a couple times a week after that so that the trainer can work with the both of you, this could be a good investment in your time as well as money. Having a horse this fragile in another program that is wrong could render this horse to where it’s never really safely rideable for you.

If you can afford to take lessons or do a half lease even on a closer h/j barn to where you live while this is going on, that will also benefit both you and your horse because it will help you rebuild your confidence, which your horse will need from you. And give you an opportunity to test out closer barns in your discipline, since it sounds like this trainer’s barn is likely not going to be workable in the long term anyway because of the commute.

Maybe that will help you meet another trainer that could take your horse sooner than later, but I wouldn’t put a timeline necessarily on this horse…it takes however long it takes. Maybe new trainer can make good progress in 60 days, maybe not. Often, undoing past experience and associations is a much harder, longer process than if the previous owners had sent this horse to the right “colt starter” trainer from the beginning. But even so, if the goal was to put $X into him and get him to Y level so he’s worth $Z, for some horses that’s just an impossible ask because some just take a lot of time to do it right.


Have you found a vet or farrier in your new area? It could be worth asking them for suggestions.

Another thing I like to do is ask to take a lesson with a trainer I’m considering, on a horse already in their barn. It can give you a sense of how they train their horses. And them knowing the horse will also tell them a lot about you which can help as well.

At the very least if you are involved and at the barn regularly, whether to watch or lesson, once your horse is there it should allow you to keep an eye on things and make sure they are not going sideways.

It sounds like you’ve looked into this trainer pretty thoroughly. But at some level, you can never really know if it’s a good fit until you try. Can you be up front with the trainer that you’d like to try it out for a month to see if she’s a good fit with your horse?

Just remember, while you are vetting the trainer, the trainer is vetting you.