The client/trainer relationship can be similar to that of a husband/wife or parent/child partnership...at least on the psychological level. For, a trainer is more than someone who critiques your riding. He or she is often a counselor, too, since issues that manifest themselves in your riding are not always just about what is happening on the horse at any given moment.
Outside influences, such as finances, your job, or a disagreement you had with your someone can impact your performance in a lesson or at a horse show.
Because leaving a trainer can be so uncomfortable, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you ask the right questions before solidifying your relationship. Here are some suggestions.
We will assume that you have chosen your discipline and that you plan on boarding your horse at the trainer's location. Find out whether there is a local organization, state or city, to which trainers belong, and obtain a directory. You will have contact numbers at your fingertips to start your calls.
The Yellow Pages is another resource to find trainers, as is your local tack store's bulletin board. Once you have narrowed the field to those that are close in proximity, you will need to formulate a budget.
Start with some initial inquiries about the facility itself. How much does board cost? Is feed included, and hay? Is there turnout, and how much additional does it cost? What about blanketing and unblanketing and giving medications and supplements? How many stalls are there? How crowded are the riding arenas? What is the policy on trailer-ins (those people who do not board, but come to ride)? What are the hours and days of operation? Are there other events on the property, such as horse shows, which might utilize your arenas? How much notice must you give when you leave? How often are stalls cleaned, and what happens on holidays?
Survey each barn and make your mental checklist about the property and its amenities. It will speak volumes about the trainer, and the owner and maintainer of the property. Finally, how does the barn look to you? Is it clean and tidy? Tack rooms in order with clean tack? Floors swept? Stalls dry, free of waste? Fences for turnout in excellent repair, and no obstacles or trash in paddocks? Dry, even ground for turnouts?
If you have friends in the area who ride, call them for an informal trainer evaluation. What do they know about the trainer's reputation? About his or her success in the show ring? Of course, this can be precarious, since not everyone in life likes everyone else, and the horse business, like many others, is notorious for gossip. Weigh carefully what you hear compared to what you learn upon interviewing your trainer.
Ask: How much do lessons cost, and is there a package, such as "full training" or "half training" that includes instruction and training rides on your horse? Does the trainer expect you to buy a new horse in the future? Often, if you haven't bought your horse from a trainer, the trainer may not be enamored with the horse.
How often is the trainer gone, and when this happens, who will teach you? Some trainers go to major horse shows with regularity. Is this a barn where you are expected to be "on the road" constantly with your trainer? If so, and you cannot afford this, or choose not to, you may be left alone a great deal.
Speaking of showing, what are show fees? In addition to customary hauling, schooling, day care and splitting of expenses such as tack rooms, shavings and feed, what other "extra" charges may show up on your horse show bill? If someone clips your horse before the show, is that additional? How are the trainer's expenses divided during shows, i.e., for food, lodging and gas?
Observe a lesson or two. Are lessons group or private? How long are they?
Will the trainer extend the time if you need extra help? Does he or she yell or demean students? Does the trainer ask horse and rider to perform above their abilities, frightening the pair, and ultimately resulting in lack of confidence? Or does the trainer know just how to instill bravery, within safe limits, to "push" a rider to do what that person needs to believe he or she can do? Are the riders enjoying the lesson, or does it appear tougher than military basic training? Is the trainer focused, not talking on the cell phone or to other staff members?
Remember, too, that no one expects you to stay with the same trainer forever. It is natural to move on, and best for both.