Unqualified "Trainers"

Hi all, lurker here, but the “maestro” thread struck a chord with me since I previously boarded and trained with a similar horribly unqualified woman masquerading as an upper level dressage trainer.

Granted, my own personal “maestro” doesn’t have the internet presence as our friend, Nick, but she had a similar story. She claimed to have trained up through Grand Prix but wouldn’t say where she trained or who she trained with. She had a USDF record that only had a handful of first level and second level scores, all lower than 55%. And she had that indignant attitude about all other trainers in our area and really just anyone competing higher than she was. She despised people who rode schoolmasters and claimed it was cheating and if she had access to a fancy warmblood she’d be showing GP. She was an awful rider and trainer and of course hadn’t had a single riding lesson since she was 20 years old since no one in our area was good enough to train her (we live in an area with a large amount of gold medalists…). And to make matters worse her horse husbandry was abysmal, the boarding horses and her personal horses were all in awful condition.

I will use the excuse that I was in my early 20s at the time of training with this person so I truly didn’t realize how unqualified she was and that just about anyone can hang a “trainer” sign outside their door and make a business out of it. I started riding with a legitimate grand prix trainer after about a year with the bad trainer and within 9 months had a bronze medal under my belt, who would’ve thunk!

Anyway, I still shamefully follow along my old trainer’s social media because it’s like a bad reality show at this point, hard to look away! She has an entire cult of beginners who absolutely worship the ground she walks on. She takes them to shows from time to time and they all get pretty poor scores at intro and training and will still proudly post on social media about what a training genius this trainer is and how she’s brought them so far. She’s got them so brainwashed that now they are all starting to get their own young horses and other projects to train themselves…it’s truly the blind leading the blinder. Her horses are in overall very poor condition from weight to hooves to muscling. And she is still claiming she is oh so close to securing her bronze medal (she has no qualifying scores).

My question for the group is this: how are trainers like this thriving so much? It took me one show where I got a 50% at second with my horse who had only a few years earlier gotten mid 60s at first level for me to wake up and realize I needed a new trainer. But her current students have all been with her for years and go to schooling shows regularly and score poorly consistently at intro and training and their horses look awful and yet they are singing her praises left and right. Have you all ever encountered a trainer like this? And if it is so prevalent in the US, what could be done by the equestrian governing bodies to improve the sport and those providing services within the sport?

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Sadly those “trainers” are everywhere. I have had a couple of them myself. Their personal horses never progress up the levels. Students on their own horses never progress. If they get a bad score at a show it was because the judge didn’t know what they were doing, or was biased against certain colours or breeds, or didn’t understand that Dobbin was terrified of the judges booth and should have been given extra consideration.

People who are successful inevitably have terrible training methods, or cheat by buying nice quality, well-trained horses. Perhaps they secretly abuse their horses behind closed doors too. The only reason Delusional Trainer isn’t on a national team is because their parents didn’t have money, or because they ride an off-breed, or a sponsor promised them the moon and let them down, or because judges just don’t know quality when they see it. It’s never due to their own limited knowledge base and lack of consistent, competent training.

Sadly these people also seem to have a vested interest in holding their students back too, instead of celebrating their successes. And woe betide anyone who leaves Delusional Trainer’s barn to train elsewhere, particular if they start making progress elsewhere. A move like that is a personal insult to Delusional Trainer, betrayal of the worst kind.

I wish I knew why there were so many of them out there and why they stay in business. I think the simple answers are that (a) anyone can claim to be a trainer without a shred of evidence to back it up.

(B) dressage is hard and there are a lot of riders out there who know little about it. We believe the problem is us when we don’t progress. It makes sense that such a difficult progress should take a long time and we don’t question a horse staying at Training Level for four years when we’ve never seen anything different.

© many of these trainers seem like nice, kind people, with no ill intent. Many of them truly don’t know how bad they are and aren’t intentionally misleading their students. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or ruffle feathers, or the barn is in a convenient location and Dobbin seems happy there, so we stay, even once we know better.

Like Nick, those trainers would often be fine up-down instructors for novice riders; many of them have decent enough knowledge of horse care and fundamental riding skills. What they lack are actual DRESSAGE knowledge and dressage training themselves, and an understanding that dressage isn’t just riding on the flat.

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Yup! You hit the nail on the head especially with the part about getting blacklisted if you dare leave Trainer’s barn. I committed the cardinal sin of not only leaving Trainer’s barn, but moving to an actually qualified trainer, succeeding under new trainer, and (gasp!!) leasing an FEI schoolmaster to improve my riding! I’ll put it this way, anyone who thinks that riding a schoolmaster is “cheating” has never ridden a schoolmaster… they can be the most humbling horses out there but I’ve learned so much. Word on the street is that my old Delusional Trainer is trying to get her own hands on an upper level schoolmaster. At this point I think it would be pretty funny if she actually got herself a nicely schooled horse and still failed miserably in the show ring, not sure what excuse could be pulled out for that one.

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Sadly, my first dressage trainer was like this. She also bred WBs and I had the “privilege” of warming up her stallion at a show for her. At the time, I thought putting black shoe polish on a horse’s side to cover spur marks was normal.

It did not take long for me to realize that this trainer didn’t know what she was talking about. Mega-drama with the family who “hosted” me. Purely with their pre-teen daughter, not them. I was devastated, but I was young .

Over time, the trainer made amends with me and I forgive her. My favorite horse on earth (still) was a horse she bred that was given to me by the owner of the pre-teen.

I think the onus is on the client to really learn about what they’re doing. Bad trainers are everywhere. Students that have been with that trainer for years and haven’t moved up/score poorly really have themselves to blame. Or, maybe, they’re very happy not moving up and just riding at an easy level. Some people with a full plate in life are very happy just riding on weekends. That should be recognized and if the people are happy at their level, everyone should be. Showing is competing but it is also a great social event - spending the weekend away with your horse, your friends, and no home duties. That appeals to a segment of riders.

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I think a lot of things play a role, I grew up with a trainer like this and here are my thoughts.

  1. Narcissistic personalities aren drawn to other narcissistic personalities so if a kid has narcissistic parents or even just really naive parents that don’t know the difference between competence and narcissism, they’ll end up looking the same.

  2. Because of the cult-like mindset that only this trainer “gets it” and everyone else doesn’t know anything, the trainer and their students are kind of isolated from the rest of the horse world so riders aren’t progressing but they don’t even realize they’re not progressing.

  3. Non horsey parents are just freaking clueless. There was a post on my local nextdoor the other day that was a lady looking for lessons for her 10 year old daughter. Others and I replied with names of great low key affordable but reputable trainers with a lesson program. Lady replies that actually she doesn’t want anything official… she just wants her daughter to bond with maybe just one horse and one horse person, who doesn’t even need to be a trainer. Oh and maybe it could be a working student arrangement. I asked why and she then tells me her 10 year old is recovering from trauma so she just wants her kid to have a one on one type of relationship with a horse person… doesn’t even need to be an actual trainer. I’ve been so infuriated I haven’t even replied yet.

I don’t know… I think non horsey people have a romanticized view of horse trainers. A good lesson program with lots of happy clients? Nope… “too stuffy”. A backyard dump in the middle of nowhere with a trainer that has isolated themself from the rest of the horse community? That seems rustic and authentic! Drives me nuts.

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Like the others I have found such trainers abound in every discipline and every location. I also agree that such self-proclaimed ‘gods’ are often classic narcissists who prey on those who are most gullible, ignorant and/or lacking in self-esteem. It is the responsibility of the rider/student to do their homework. Sometimes the revelations take time to discover or come to the surface.

One caveat that I would like to mention is that one of the best instructors I had was ‘unqualified’ if I were to use the criteria and examples listed here. She was/is unqualified due to her limited means. Her knowledge and abilities, however, helped me achieve my goals to earn my bronze and my silver as well as train horses from the ground to FEI. By the time I had met up with her, I had ridden with a few of the qualified trainers and was begging for lunge lessons which none would provide. I even had my own horse who was an excellent dope on a rope (very, very safe and sound). She was the ONLY one willing to give me endless lunge lessons. During and after I spent miles on the lunge, my measuring stick wasn’t just my success in the competition arena but it was comparing my horses’ muscle development and rise up the levels. My horses were also HAPPY. My point is that not all of those with merit and experience have the show record or public accomplishments to prove their mettle. I am not one to drink the kool-aid and I avoid coffee-cup clutching groups (not very social) like the plague. I also am very independent and capable of taking care of my horses, hauling them to where ever I choose to take them, etc - as a result ‘the unqualified trainers’ usually avoid me as much as I avoid them. I will also point out that the background that this particular person provided did not boast baseless claims. As time went on and I met friends and family of hers it became apparent that she was not only modest but honest in her presentation.

I suppose those without some sort of background, aka, the non horsey people, are far more likely to fall victim to such trainers; but, if anyone has ever had the experience of dealing with a true classic narcissist there are red flags that you choose to ignore or not.

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Unless the student is a minor, then the parents need to be the ones to protect their kids from people like this.

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The problem with this is that people do not know what they do not know.

When you start out everyone is better than you, you can not tell who is good or bad as they all look good.

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unless people have their own built-in bullshit filters, they are going to end up being conned. Some will learn from their mistakes, some just repeat time and time-again. Guessing that most people assess their trainers the same way they assess everyone else in their life. Trainers are no different than who you peep in your circle of friends.

I’m a lot more familiar with dog trainers. I see new folks come onto our USAR team and often gravitate to the big tough men. Rarely does a new person ever seek me out. I’m not friendly, not flamboyant, not macho. Sometimes i will have someone new kinda follow me around and observe, but they don’t seek info from me. Not offended by that at all. I am really good at what i do, but i kinda think my way is not transferable. I’m not a teacher of people. Just animals.

When i was looking for a coach, i asked a green breaker who knows me pretty well to hook me up, and she did. And it is a great match. Coach is a PSG rider, but not a coach that will take her students to shows. U wanna show, she will prep you, but not take you there. We are working on Training level One test and it’s been a year. I’m slow with things, and she lets me take my time. In our sessions, she does a great job of communicating to me what she wants to see in the horse and i get us to it. If i flounder, she assists, (use more left leg/put your weight on your right hip etc)but mostly, she just tells me what she is looking for and generally i can do it.

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Yup, count me in as another person who has been there, seen that many times, in different disciplines.

I agree with everything that’s posted above, and can think of a few other (related) factors.

  1. Speaking as an very untalented, middle-aged woman myself…unlike the jumping disciplines, dressage at the very lowest levels (Intro/Training) is accessible to people with lower levels of horse knowledge, bravery, and fitness. If a horse is refusing, or people are getting left behind or nearly toppling over at jumps, usually the rider or parent will at least understand something is wrong, but it’s much easier with dressage to find something tiny to praise to make riders feel like they are making progress. And, I mean, usually not every ride is a total disaster, but often those little tiny bits aren’t built upon for real growth.

  2. When other nice, kind people who clearly love their horses and seem like good riders praise the trainer (for whatever their reasons), it’s hard not to wonder, “am I crazy, and am I being too demanding for thinking this is not okay”? And even if other riders aren’t progressing, horses being horses, it’s easy to blame injury/lack of riding time rather than the trainer.

  3. I’m totally calling myself out in this one–change is scary. It’s scary to go to the unknown. People worry about being the worst rider at a better barn, so they stay at a crappy barn where they’re definitely not the worst rider. Or they worry about affording a better barn. Or, if they own a horse, that the horse won’t flourish there. It’s especially tempting to tread water if the trainer is nice, not abusive, and not bad to be around…just not very good at teaching or knowledgeable.

  4. It’s easy for trainers of lower-level riders to blame lack of money, green horses, people who want pushbutton/schoolmaster types (gasp), trainers using gadgets and such, because there may be an inkling of truth in that…I mean, horses are hard and complicated, but it still doesn’t excuse giving the same lesson over and over again.

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There are all levels of poor quality trainers.

There is the isolated backyard nutcase narcissist. But there are also lower end trainers who fully participate in the show culture but don’t get results for students or very good scores themselves.

I agree that dressage is easier to scam adults than jumping. But there are some pretty scary kids jumping programs out there.

Canada has EC qualification. It doesn’t mean that much. NP couldn’t pass it, but on the other hand many of the higher level coaches don’t bother with it. And there are adult coaches that qualified 20 or 30 years ago who have settled into a rut or taken bad lessons from local BNT and become crude and expedient and can’t get a horse past first level because too many shortcuts with beginners over the years.

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Agree. I don’t care about show records if their own horses consistently and correctly make progress at home. I don’t care if they ever set foot in a show ring as long as their clients and their clients’ horses consistently and correctly make progress up the levels and up the training scale year after year at home.

Dressage is about training. If there’s no progression, then it’s not dressage; it’s just riding.

Unless you are in their barn, however, it can be difficult to assess whether the trainer and clients progress. The benefit of a show record is that, at a glance, you can track the progress of a particular horse and rider to see if they are moving up and / or improving scores year over year

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The idea of a schoolmaster being pushbutton makes me laugh, now that I’ ve had two of them, and have lessoned on a third. The problem is riders like me don’t know how to push the buttons or how to ride the movements that result when we actually do!

And though my schoolmasters have been saintly in terms of safety, and are extremely straightforward and uncomplicated, that doesn’t make them easy. My lower level gelding would just ignore me if I rode badly, or try his best to guess what I wanted. The schoolmasters both expected to be ridden well, with clear precise aids, a steady hand, consistent contact and a following seat. And if you don’t do all these things well, all at the same time, your ride will not go as well as you might like.

None of the Delusional Trainers I’ve had in the past would have been able to ride a good quality Third Level test on either of my beloved schoolmasters.

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Times past, and not actually that long ago, most people would have had a slight acquaintance with horses because uncle, grandpa, cousins, neighbours might have had a farm or a business using horses or even just because they were still occasionally seen around the streets, even if a person lived in a city and worked in an office. Now horse knowledge - indeed any animal knowledge - too often comes via the Discovery Channel or Netflix so is somewhat theatrical rather than practical. If one has nothing solid against which to judge competence then any Tom, Dick or Donald who talks big and seems to know a lot will be a figure with authority.

The horse world is very closed off, self referential, hard to break into and it is only with greater experience that beginners come to see that they need to move on or up.

The lack of any broad, consistent structure for education and training within the US ‘system’ is a definite weakness, IMO. USEF doesn’t seem to have any interest in building a base, in bringing in new riders, growing the sport. There is extraordinary competition for the attention and time of both kids and parents: soccer or music lessons are far easier to arrange.

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Couldn’t agree with this more! I know from the grapevine that my own Delusional Trainer is very much not happy that I managed to get my bronze after leaving her barn and is telling her loyal followers that it was just because I managed to pay $$$ for a fancy schoolmaster. It does sort of get to me that she’s still trying to dismiss my accomplishments from “beyond the grave” even though I have nothing to do with her barn or her students anymore… that being said, my schoolmaster is a free-lease because I worked hard, took lessons on my self-trained lower level horse, attended clinics, and ultimately met my schoolmaster’s owner at a clinic who was actively looking for a good free-lease situation for her older guy. It was very organic and honestly could have happened to Delusional Trainer as well if she had the courage to take lessons, attend clinics, or otherwise seek improvement. I know for a fact that I have put more time in the saddle in the last 12 months than Delusional Trainer has put in the last 5 years. Then again, these types of trainers are delusional for a reason… I could probably pluck a wild mustang out of Montana, train it, and take it to the Olympics and she would still be sure to let me know in a weird roundabout way that I didn’t earn it.

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There are 2 types of people. This kind and the opposite. I am the opposite. I was the best rider at work. I was offered more money to stay. I left to go to where I was the worst rider. I learned heaps. I have a job interview on Wednesday. Hopefully that will happen again. It is 2 decades since I worked with horses.

The same with pilates. Some people try it, can’t do it, don’t try again.

I tried it, couldn’t do it. The worst by a long shot. I came back and I changed so much.

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I was watching some videos of a ‘trainer’ loosest possible term, riding earlier, not pretty.

Then another video popped up under their name and for an instant I looked and went “oh look, X has learned to ride, that looks so much better. Looked again, nope, this is one of their victims, I mean students riding. If money changed hands here it should maybe have flowed the other way.

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oh gosh…i know of a case JUST LIKE THAT!!

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Won’t last for too long! If I learned anything from training with my old trainer it’s just how fast you can regress when you don’t have quality instruction. Maybe not everyone, but my riding videos from that period are painful to watch now.

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It is harder for first time owners/riders who don’t necessarily have the “experience” in selecting a trainer. I was lucky in that my first instructors were knowledgeable and didn’t just teach me to ride but taught me the other important areas such as care and understanding of horses.

As I moved around I had the confidence to tell the bad from the good and a basic initial “checklist” before I would make the decision to work with a particular barn. In general that basic checklist never failed me. If the barn met my ideas then usually the trainer, or trainers, followed suit. There is definitely a correlation between barn/animal care and the quality of the instructors.

While some instructors fit me better then others I’ve never had a trainer I felt didn’t have the knowledge or abilities they said they had.

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