Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How I Turned Into a Self-Confessed Trainer Hopper

My friend and I were discussing this topic at the barn the other day. The issue of being a trainer hopper, versus someone who has been in a long term relationship with their trainer.
Like this... but with less hugging.
I have to say, looking at my checkered recent history, I pretty much fall into the trainer hopper category. Although, I would insist that it is not by choice. Believe me, I would love to find a trainer that I trust, whose program is in line with my goals, that can help develop Boca and I along the way.

So, why then am I a reluctantly self-defined trainer hopper? I think this would best be explained by a little stroll down memory lane.

Trainer #1
When I first moved back to Massachusetts, I went back to the only trainer I knew. I had last ridden with her circa 1992. She was an old school trainer, whose heyday had been on the open hunter courses of the 1960's. In the 1970's, she had galloped her own racehorses while 8 months pregnant. She was as tough as nails, and smoked like a chimney. Her horses learned to walk on the buckle while she took a cigarette break, and when it was time to go back to work, they had better say 'Yes, ma'am'. In her 60's, and crippled with arthritis, she no longer rode, but had probably forgotten more about horses than most people ever knew.

From the Trainer P years.
I loved her fiercely, but there was just one problem. I don't think she ever knew how to teach people who didn't have her depth of skill and feel. Her horses were all pro rides, and it didn't matter if you were capable or not, she was putting you on them. She didn't believe in lunging -- you just rode through whatever they threw at you. And she laughed when you came off. It was always your fault. I rode with her for 3 1/2 years, before I decided I wasn't having fun anymore. I made the choice to leave her stable for...

Trainer #2
In the winter of 2011-2012, I took a few lessons at a local barn that had an indoor and some schoolies. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn't regularly falling off. I could work on myself and not fear for my life. Trainer A had a solid foundation and an emphasis on safety.

Green coat with brass buttons... THE HORROR!

From Trainer A, I also learned I needed a hairnet, that the free show coat from my old trainer that fit me perfectly was the wrong color and about 30 years out of date. That schooling in jeans was frowned upon, and I needed to invest in some pastel colored polos. That riding outside the ring did not exist, other disciplines were frowned upon and breed-ism was alive and well. And it really didn't matter how good a horseman or woman you were, as long as you wore the right brands. And matched. Which lead me to...

Trainer #3
After I left the cattiness and gossip-girl atmosphere of Trainer A's barn, I was almost at the point of taking a break from riding. I was financially and emotionally burnt. By posting an 'ISO' on a local online forum, I found a small barn where I could ride 1 or 2 times a week in exchange for money or work. This was Trainer J's place. Trainer J specialized in dressage and horse rescue. I want to say good things about Trainer J. But, I came to the quick realization that everything on her property was either crippled or crazy. Trainer J was well intentioned, but I really have no interest in riding animals that rear or buck (or both), #thankyouverymuch.

From the Trainer J days
After one too many bad rides at Trainer J's, I decided to throw in the towel. I was going to do the smart thing - give up horses, invest all my money in my 401K and retire early. And take up knitting. (Yes, this actually happened. And FYI, knitting is really hard and very expensive.)
After about, oh, 6 weeks or so of this insanity, I found myself crying in the parking lot of the grocery store, because I was just so darn unhappy without horses in my life (hey, I never said I was emotionally stable).
That is what led to me buying Boca, which lead to:
Trainer #4
When I had owned Boca about 4 months or so, and decided that learning how to steer was a priority, I reached out to Trainer H. Trainer H boarded at my multi-discipline barn and had done a bit of everything, although was now centered riding/dressage focused. I really loved Trainer H - she was fun to learn from and had good basics. However, we had no indoor and a sh*t-ton of snow, which put lessons on hold for 3 months, and then I moved barns. Trainer H continued to coach me at my current barn for a while, but on the recommendation of Dr. C and a USEF judge and clinician, they noticed Boca was more comfortable with a H/J style ride, with me more on my thighs and a lighter seat (which makes sense, now that I know I was plopping my ample rear-end directly on his impinging dorsal spinal processes. Ooops. My bad, bruh.) In addition, Trainer H moved an hour north and was no longer able to come teach me onsite, although I was welcome to ship to her farm for lessons.
Learning to steer and go straight, the Trainer H days

Trainer #5:
Now trainer-less, I spent Summer/Fall 2015 riding with my friend H. In the interest of cutting this blog post short before we all die of old age, I rode with Friend/Trainer H2 for most of the year until she moved to Buffalo in December.
Trainer #6
My most recent stint was with Trainer K. I won't go into extreme detail, as I have covered this before, but in essence, Trainer K specialized in the adult eq. ring. Trainer K seemed to think Boca was best suited to be a short stirrup pony, and that the solution to all my problems would be to drop >$10K on an aging, semi-crippled veteran eq horse. Despite my repeated, stated goal that I wanted to make Boca and I the best we could be, as we were.
So there you have the story of how I turned into a self-confessed trainer hopper, and went through 6 trainers in 7+ years.
Which bring us to lucky #7.
Maybe I'm just a late bloomer, and the right trainer relationship will find me late in life, much like marriage did.


  1. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum -- I've worked with very few trainers. But I will say that fit of the program and the attitude of the barn is all really, really important. And if it's not working for you, I think it's smart to leave rather than hang on and be miserable.

  2. I say good for you! No point in staying with someone and paying them if they're not a good fit for you.

  3. I'm all about moving on when it's not working - life is too short and horses way too expensive! I found "the" trainer only recently. The surprising part is she's likely not someone I'd like in real life, but she's exactly the trainer I need. Also, I actually really love that green coat :)

  4. I trainer hopped a lot- my dad called me a sponge, that I soak up all the information I can out of a trainer and then move on. There are so many factors involved with finding a trainer because sure you want a good trainer who can help you improve, but you also need a personality that works with you (and your horse) as well. Like this person has a HUGE influence over how you interact with your horse. Definitely need to find the right person, and sometimes that person is right for a limited amount of time but not permanently. I really don't think any trainer is suitable to stay with permanently if you want to improve steadily.

  5. I've ridden with 6 different trainers in my life over a span of 20 years. Have taken something special away from all of them.

  6. I've been more or less all over the place with trainers. All the goods ones have something to teach you, but basically, you have to be at the right place in life to take it. Not every trainer is a fit for every horse and every rider and there is nothing wrong (and everything right) with saying "this isn't the right fit for us right now".

  7. ehh i learned to ride in a rigid one-trainer barn, then held onto that feeling of 'being loyal' to a single trainer once in college. and since then? really, i've figured it's most important that i derive value from my lesson than it is to have a 'long term relationship' with a trainer. tho naturally the trainers that provide the most value end up sticking in the picture for a while. that said, i currently ride with multiple trainers and pretty much love being able to flit around between them

  8. I can't even count the number of trainers I've been through. There are lots of reasons to leave and it doesn't mean that you're fickle. :)

  9. I've ridden with a bunch too. There's nothing wrong with making changes when it's not a good fit anymore. Fingers crossed #7 works for you!

  10. I have been hopping around myself. I LOVED my trainer when I lived in Nor Cal, but now I live in So Cal. I have had 2 trainers since moving, and am about to hop along to #3. The first one was good but moved to a too expensive boarding options, and the second is good, but maybe not the best match for me. The new one looks very promising, so hopefully it will stick. Or I'll just have to move back north and ride with my old trainer again.

  11. To be fair some of them left you!

  12. I think you're smart to move on. There are some people who stick with the trainer out of loyalty even when they are miserable and not making any progress. You've done what is best for you and Boca. That's the smart and right thing to do. I'm glad you found lucky number seven and figured out what was bothering Boca. Now hopefully the rest will be full of lots of fun for your both. You deserve it!