What makes someone a "Trainer" or Dressage instructor?

Given the states don’t do any kind of qualifications like the UK, I’m always looking at a show record to see consistency and confirmed level of riding ability. However, my goal is to show up the levels - so having someone specifically with that experience makes the most sense to me. Someone who has other people’s horses in training is a good identifier too.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lower level trainers who don’t pretend to be something they’re not. Like one of the previous posters, who mentioned the trainer brings in an upper level trainer and tries to learn and help her students. When was in college, I got paid to train an odd horse here and there. I suppose I could have popped out and called myself a trainer. My roommate was teaching a colt starting program at community college at the time and there were plenty of not very good riders coming out of that program (she said this to me recently, not my assessment) and calling themselves trainers.

I took lessons for awhile with someone who hadn’t ridden above 2nd, but she helped me a lot with my seat, and we did jumping lessons. And it was cheap. She wasn’t one of these cult of personality people, I could always ride with anyone else and she would not be offended. It is also less intimidating to ride with a more modest trainer at times, when just learning. I don’t know how I would have done with my current trainer back 10 years ago.

Now I mostly ride with someone who works closely with Lilo Fore and has developed her own horse to FEI, so I’m confident that she understands the path up the levels. Also, she is not offended if I clinic with someone else. What I think I wouldn’t do right now is ride with someone who doesn’t have students at a higher level than me.

At the end of the day, I think it’s worth riding with a few different people and just seeing how much they help you. Sometimes it’s worth paying $150 for an occasional lesson that really gets at what you need to do, rather than doing four mediocre lessons for $40 apiece.


Beginners benefit from regular cheaper lessons, an eye on the ground to reinforce basics.

Once you are competent to do your own schooling, I agree that better lessons less frequently can be really useful.


I guess I should also point out that these instructors that I know embellish on their actual experience and accomplishments. They promise the riders the world, with no proof (or idea) on how to teach them.

I definitely agree that beginners do not need super accomplished training. Consistent eyes are great. I just wish some of these people would be honest about what their program is or their own knowledge. And a beginner doesn’t deserve mental abuse! I’ve just seen it too much. This is a hobby!


There is a lot of this in my area. Honestly, some of the people actually think they are that truly great which is the scariest part (seriously deluded). It is unfortunate when people go to ride with them or send their horses for training to them that don’t know better, it’s no better than a scam imo.


There’s a symbiosis that happens too. Just blaming or condemn the trainers doesn’t get to the whole issue. The students are also part of this feeding the trainer. There a dance between them. The successful trainers do this well the less successful slowly collapse.

I agree that horses offer a career without education or certification which is tempting to a certain type.

Some of the best and happiest dressage horses and riders I’ve ridden with didn’t care about “going somewhere” other than around the arena. They knew that there is more to dressage than the competitive variety, blue ribbons, and scores on a sheet. They were happy with working on improving their own riding, and thereby, improving their horses’ way of going. Riders and horses seemed happy.

And anyway, if you’re in the US, there are no official certifications for trainers AFAIK, unlike in the UK and maybe some European countries. So yeah, anybody can hang out their shingle advertising themselves as a dressage (or other discipline) trainer.


i just started dressage this year. I scouted around for an instructor and after a few false starts, found the perfect person, for me. I didn’t ask about her credentials until about a week ago, (and i’ve been training weekly with her for months LOL) and only because someone asked me what her qualifications are. She is in the L program, “racking up hours and accumulating scores” to become a judge but she is not licensed yet. And…until THIS POST i thought it had something to do with disabled people (i’m on-the-spectrum so i just assumed she was a ‘special needs’ teacher lol). Also found out that she has schooled and ridden thru PSG.

I mistakenly used the term “riding instructor” for her, to her and she laughed and said NO. That is what you had as a child. So i said: “dressage instructor?” and she said: I am your coach. And you are a trainer. I was flabbergasted. I beamed all the way home~!

So, i do train, and i have sent horses away for training. But i have zero interest…well, zero capability actually, do go outside my own farm and barn to train. I’m total crap with people.

What she can do that amazes me is she knows what is going on with my leg on the rail side away from her! She puts together exercises on-the-fly based on what my horse of the day needs at that moment. Spirals, lateral, transitions… She always consults with me regarding my comfort zone when we (me and horse) are about to work on a faster gait. I trust her …i can even make eye-contact with her and that’s a biggie for me. Don’t know if i will ever go into a ring or not (but i’ve ordered tack to do it /or train in, should i so choose. She will tell me where and when shows are and where i can park so i can observe from a distance. She has also told me i can scribe for her and she will have me “right here” and put her arm out in motion to show that she would have it around my shoulder {{{shudderr!! lol}}} but i get her meaning. THAT i’m not so sure of, but i have been studying the scribe short-hand symbols with that goal in mind.


OH…and how i found her is that i asked for help finding someone to teach me dressage with a trainer, that i’ve used to greenmount four of my horses, who called her on my behalf. Found out just the other week that the trainer told my coach that i was one of her ‘students’…and i’m like…No, I have never had a lesson with her. And my coach said she wondered why i didn’t have some of the signature body positions that all the students from this trainer came-with that she had to pry away. I would never have thought for two seconds about taking lessons with that trainer. Kind of insulting she would even say i did. (ok so i’m arrogant, but i know what i can do)

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@Rackonteur yes, I don’t compete. So that’s me, except I really want to improve and still train up the levels. But as I said in my post, because some of these trainers really truly are not experienced, the horses are sometimes NOT happy. I’ve seen some terribly confused horses. Or lame ones in these programs. I feel bad for the horses in those cases. Some people can teach the basics really well and some people don’t know the basics enough to teach it.


I have ridden with some very qualified instructors that were terrible, and some less qualified instructors who were wonderful. I’ve also ridden with the less qualified less wonderful sort (those tend to be the cult of personality folks). It seems like the trait in the less qualified instructors that were wonderful was the desire to help people (and their horses) and the willingness/openness to continue learning in pursuit of that aim. Ideally, you’d have high competence and high openness, but that’s probably pretty hard to find.

So - to answer your question, people get into it for all sorts of reasons, from the “hey I’m pretty good at this” to the “I want to help others” to the “I can’t make a living doing dishes”. What’s important is the approach after that, not necessarily the start into it, IMO. Unless someone doesn’t know the horse’s head from their tail…and I’ve seen some of those too…


I think a student who is honest with themselves is less likely to end up long term with a delusional coach than those who aren’t.

There can be a real symbiosis between a mediocre or incompetent coach with a good supply of hot air, and a student who maybe isn’t ready to work as hard or as honestly as is needed.

On the other hand, it’s also true that beginners can’t always evaluate the quality of instruction, and that the student -teacher relationship can make the student susceptible to believing hot air or accepting abuse.

Many adult riders revert to their 11 year old inner child in riding lessons!

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I feel bad for such horses too. I am trying to find a lesson barn in the area I’ve just moved too and I’m hoping I don’t run into any unhappy horses or any trainers just in it for the money.

I know plenty of very content dressage riders - and some trainers too for that matter - who never show. And that’s fine, although checking a show record is the easiest way to confirm a trainer and their clients have a consistent track record of moving up the levels year after year.

Even if they are just riding at home and not competing or worrying about scores, the key factor is whether they are improving as riders and whether their horses are progressing in their training. If not, that’s just riding. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just riding, but it’s not dressage if there is no progress in the training.


I think it’s probably not accurate to say that the low end mediocre or craycray incompetent instructors are in it for the money. They don’t make that much. They are in it for a sense of selfworth, they are generally very emotionally invested in it. Often too invested. That’s why they do behave badly or non professionally, blow up if questioned, hold grudges, run down other trainers, etc.


I disagree. It is dressage if the rider and horse are working together. “Dressage” is just a French word for training, after all, and there is no requirement that you must move up the levels to anyone’s arbitrary schedule.
“The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider.” – Alois Podhajsky


I didn’t say anything about a schedule, or moving up the levels, just “progressing in their training.” They could work on First Level movements forever, but if the rider is continually improving their position, the independence of their seat and hands, their timing of the aids, that is progress. If the horse becomes more supple, more balanced, more responsive to the aids, that is still progress, no? That is training / dressage.

Personally I want to move up the levels, and the ability to help me achieve that is the main criteria I’d look for in a trainer, but I get that not everybody does. What I’m talking about is an overall lack of progress / improvement.

In so many programs run by unskilled instructors, the horses and riders don’t progress. In fact the horses often go worse year over year due to poor training and bad riding. The lessons are the same week in week out, or else they vary wildly one week to the next. There is no system, no following the training scale, no creating foundational skills and then building on them. The quote you posted talks about improving the natural gaits. If there is no improvement, is that dressage?


Yeah well having hired some of those ‘credential’ riders from Europe I can flat say it does not seem to matter as to whether they can actually train a rider or a horse. The clueless just flock to them because of the accent. The credentials haven’t seemed to prove much as to whether they can teach or ride.


My recent experience… I am taking lessons with a German certified Trainer who is a finished Pferdewirtschaftsmeister and Judge up to FEI. She did her apprenticeship with the German National coach of the Dressage Pony riders and then had a scholarship with Joh Hinneman… She studied and learned at least 10 years… As a result she is very firm in every detail of the theory and is able to train a horse and rider up to GP. I have been riding with her for 6 months now and it is amazing how much progress my horse and me had…She paid a lot of attention to my position and changed some things which made a huge difference. also she is riding my horse once a week … yes my horse was able to do all the upper level movements, but it looks a lot different now…
It does take a lot of experience and knowledge to train a horse and rider and it’s kind of a waste if the trainer is not able to get horse and rider to perform well…
So I would never waste any money on a trainer with no record…


I should be clear, I’m not talking credentials/scores over trainers that don’t wish to compete. In fact, most that I’ve trained with have left that world behind (or are much less involved) for various reasons. I’m talking about the “Dressage trainers” that can’t get a correct leg yield. Or are teaching their riders to see saw the heck out of the mouth in terms of lightness. Or the ones with a bouncing seat.

Some of these can be good teachers. But sometimes to be able to teach correctly you have know what’s correct.

I know one that actually could be good. He has a good seat. His hands are all over the place though and all his horses go continually btv with dropped backs, legs out behind. He doesn’t train with anyone, doesn’t show. He knows it all already! His claim to fame is he went to Portugal once. No names,no proof of any actual education. Belittles his clients and yells. Talks bad about anyone who leaves. He really thinks he’s the best around. Maybe he could have been, but he never invested in progressing or educating himself further. I have not trained with him, just seen it all over the years. It’s sad.

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