What makes someone a "Trainer" or Dressage instructor?

What makes someone a “trainer or instructor?”
As I’m horse shopping (not my first horse), I’ve lightly been trainer shopping too. I do work with a Silver medalist/L judge that’s very down to earth, not biased (I ride off breeds) and has tons of great exercises up her sleeves. But I can only work with her occasionally. So I’ve lightly been checking out other trainers too. I think I have found a fit and she’s also worked with the L judge mentioned above. She’s trained green horses up to third at least and multiple students. She has her Bronze on her way to her Silver. I like her riding style.

But I’ve met and in the past, trained with, a few trainers that we’re celebrating getting to 1st or 2nd level. One’s claim to fame was a working student as a teen. Now, I know Dressage is hard. And I know competing isn’t everything. I’ve met trainers that didn’t compete but had some resemblance of training up the levels, or success in training others to improve. And some of these do not have ANY of that.

I guess, everyone has different goals and these trainers are okay for a beginner with small goals. But some of these people, I wonder, what was the catalyst for them to decide to be a professional? Were people asking them to ride their horses? Was it a goal of theirs and they thought, if not now, never? Because honestly watching some of them, they do not look differently than the average amateur. And their students don’t seem to go anywhere. And I know people say “well if they can help people have happy horses it’s okay.” And sure, absolutely. But some of these people are not skilled enough to teach amateurs well enough. Some of these horses seemed very confused and irritated.

I’m simply just wondering the psychology of it all. What gives someone the idea to go Pro?

*Just a discussion, I’m bored at home!


Gall, confidence, and the ability to put together a website and attract clients.

Sometimes people think the money you make is way more attractive than working an extra shift as a waitress.

Also there is certainly a big market for teaching beginners and returning riders, and that requires patience above all else.

It’s really client beware and it sounds like you have enough experience to figure things out.


I think because there’s always going to be a market for uneducated riders that don’t know any better and money to be made. How do you know you’re working with a bad or unqualified trainer if you’ve never worked with anyone else or have had limited exposure to “real” trainers? I also think awards and accolades like Gold medals are misleading. Being able to ride well and being able to teach well are two different things and often intertwined as one and the same.


Anybody can call themselves a trainer or a coach, and sadly there seems to be an unlimited number of people willing to hand over their money to people who have no track record of either training horses up the levels or teaching riders to progress up the levels.

I assume the motivation is money?


Absolutely we have to be an educated consumer, but it makes me feel bad the uneducated beginners. They can not know what to look for. I’m sure plenty of “fixing” from these trainers goes on later down the road.

I remember years ago when I was a working student, I had a client come up to me and approach me about a training job. This client (who was kind of crazy to be honest) was looking to buy a barn and take on rescues. She was of beginner of course. She wanted to know if I would leave the working student position to be a trainer at her barn. I was puzzled and told her I was not a trainer. She thought because I was riding the trainer’s personal horses(just exercising them) that meant I was surely qualified! Lol nope! Not even close. Not my goal either. I get that it can be a path to becoming a trainer, but that in itself doesn’t make a professional.

Obviously, it doesn’t effect me anymore. But the truth is it does affect naive people and their horses.

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I understand they want to get paid lol I’m just trying to understand the psychology that makes them go one day “You know what, I can make some money doing this!”

And by large, they are the nastiest, most condescending trainers around. A lot of belittling of others or the clients. Which I guess stems from insecurity. But some people eat up that type of treatment. It’s such an odd industry!


I’ve met some unpleasant accomplished riders too that were not great teachers. But I find more of the ones who have accomplished nothing (even if that just means properly training a horse.)

It seems this is a big thing in the U.S. over other countries and cultures. But I know that probably won’t change either.

If I had to guess, maybe they have watched other trainers (especially other not good ones) and think ‘I am just as good/better than they are, I can do that’. Inflated sense of ability and lack of knowledge; I can watch a good reining pattern or hunter round and think man that looks easy, I can do all those moves, and those people pay lots of money - more than a generic up/down riding lesson teacher. Because I don’t know or care to learn the actual skills or finesse (which I think I already have), I can hang out my new shingle as a reining trainer or a hunter trainer, believe it myself and if I’m a good enough used car salesman, make other people believe it enough to pay me. It’s all in the talk. Voila, I’m a trainer!

The reality is, literally anyone can call themselves a trainer :joy: in any discipline. And there are many levels of trainers needed. The other reality is, it’s still a business and in the end people work to make money. Some less scrupulously than others.

There is no criteria. In the horse industry anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a " horse master, whisperer, physic, trainer, dentist, farrier, nutritionist".

I have seen people giving lessons who cannot tell you how many beats a walk has.

I have seen others who are walking riding encyclopedias who would never give a lesson.

The horse business is a crazy place, we who have been around a bit, know the posers from the real deals. Even then we still are not immune to the occasional sip of Kool Aid.

To answer the psychology part:

Why did Charles Manson start the Mason family?

Why did Jim Jones start the People’s Temple?

People become trainers because in their eyes, trainers are respected and acknowledged. A trainer gets to ride all the nice horses, a trainer’s word is not to be questioned. The are the leader of their own little crew. A trainer gets paid to do things their way. They never see the flip side of being a trainer, which has numerous downsides.

Now, I am in no way saying that the local with limited education and experience is going to murder innocent people like the previous examples. The basic premise is the same. Histrionic personality, narcissism or borderline personality disorder can be a part of this. To some people they just cannot stay in the middle, someone offers them a few bucks to ride a horse and they are a trainer…

This is not suggesting that the lifelong equestrian, who has worked, studied, bled, cried and overcome has these traits, they do not. They were willing to become a fully qualified clinicians through work study, degree, certificate, accomplishment and more. My previous statements were targeted at those that chose to become trainers instead of those evolving into trainers.


There’s the whole issue of, you don’t know what you don’t know.

In Europe there’s a credentialing system for trainers just like we have here in other professions

Believe me if we didn’t have credentials and licensed for dentists, school teachers, massage therapists, electricians, even hairdressers, you’d see some pretty crazy stuff happen.

Horses require no training and no licensing so anyone can give it a go. They might or might not get clients, or keep them.


I do want to say that I think riders, even beginners, have an advantage over people starting out just 10-15 yrs ago. The internet is a plethora of information. Of course, some good and some bad, but it’s not hard to do a little research and find good lectures, training, videos or articles of well respected trainers and methods for any discipline. It just depends on whether or not they choose to use it.

And I think when looking at a trainer, it’s important to note whether or not they are continuing to educate themselves (if they are still riding). Do THEY have a trainer? Do they attend clinics to get better? Do they have a mentor?

I know of a trainer that is a really nice rider, has only competed at 3rd level, but none of her students ride above 1st. But she regularly brings in upper level clinicians to work with her students. She watches their lessons and takes notes and after the clinic, she sits down with the clinicians to get their input, advice and tips on how she can better work with and improve each one. To me, if you are a beginner and starting out, this is the type of trainer that doesn’t have all the accolades, but can still help you to become a better rider.


Speaking of an “educated consumer”, there is no such thing as an “L judge”.

“L” refers to a LEARNING program which is a pre-requisite to getting a judges license. “L gradutes”, and particularly “L graduates with distinction” often serve as judges at unrecognized show, but they have no official “judge” status.


Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. And dressage with all it’s nuances and subtleties…there’s a lot to not know :joy: and so many believable reasons for clients not making any real progress other than the wrong choice of trainer.


I have spent too much of my time (and money) with a couple of “trainers” like this and I go back and forth. Part of me thinks they are actually delusional and that they genuinely believe they posses skills that they clearly don’t. And part of me thinks they just have no shame and are willing to lie about their own qualifications, about a horse’s age, temperament or level of training just to gain a client or make a sale. In reality it’s probably a bit of both.


@Heinz_57 @four2farm these are probably the root points. I’ve definitely noticed some narcissistic traits and some of these people. And in the case of one they do see themselves as a leader almost like a cult!

And then there is the flip side of why does anyone train with them? I have landed with one once and I saw the writing on the wall but brushed it off. I told myself that’s the kind of trainer I deserved because I wasn’t going great anyways. Psychology lesson for sure! I’m more aware now.

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@Janet ah yes. I just know she judges schooling shows, does ride a tests and works with some youth Dressage clubs. I honestly do not compete right now I don’t really have the time to focus on that. But I do want a trainer that focuses on educating themselves too, so I see someone going through the L Program as at least very driven and interested. years ago when I was a working student the trainer was also going through the L program and which she graduated with distinction. I know it was not easy and it was a lot of work, time and money. I was jealous of her super thick notebook from the program :joy:

@BigMama1 yep! I’ve only been with two like that but gosh the damage they did. I will say one of them was good at the basics she just didn’t want any riders to grow past a certain level away from her.

Another was truly wacky, manipulative and condescending. And she’s now struggling to get her horse to 1st level. Previously I was told she had ridden to Third level… No record though.

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@Lunabear1988 I feel like we rode with the same people lol. In one barn none of the trainer’s personal horses have made any training progress beyond Second-ish in literally 5 -10 years and none of the students ever progressed past First. Definitely there was a feeling of resentment and trying to prevent students from progressing beyond the trainer. And any students / boarder who did leave to work with someone else were treated like they had committed a cardinal sin.

That’s another difference I’ve noticed between real trainers and fake ones. In a professional training barn clients come and go all the time, and it’s never considered a personal affront. It’s just part of the business. They come, they go, they often come back. In Crazytown, trying to leave is like trying to escape a cult; you’re blackballed once you’ve left and it takes months of therapy to undo the emotional damage lol


Cheaper cost, proximity to their location, good sales pitch that gives believable reasons for having no/bad show record and promises great success? And the old idea that a good sports coach has to be a hard charging ball buster to really whip you into shape? Just guessing :rofl:


@BigMama1 gosh sure sounds similar!! Especially the part about any students that leave! How dare you?! Lol