Our Responsibility to Dressage Trainers

dressage instructorDressage trainers, and indeed trainers and instructors of all disciplines, must balance the convergence of commerce and ethics. On one hand, most people who become dressage trainers do so because of their love of horses. A person doesn’t wake up one morning, stare into the rosy fingers of dawn and think, “By golly, I want to be rich! I think I’ll become a dressage trainer!” There is a huge amount of passion that is poured into this sport, dreams and ideals and aspirations that have nothing to do with a month to month paycheck. Dressage trainers, for the most part, have ridden a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows along their careers that most adult amateurs can not even imagine. But that aside, the practicalities of a mortgage, insurance and a car payment cannot be ignored and so we must put a price on our services, hang our shingle and run a business.

There are a few responsibilities that the student has to the instructor. First and foremost you must come to the lesson ready to learn. You must listen with both ears and leave your ego on the mounting block. You will be surprised to find it is sometimes difficult to do. Coming to a lesson with a mind that is ready to learn, without preconceived notions of what should and should not happen, is essential to learning. Think about it, you are paying money to learn from a person who has greater expertise in a sport in which you would like to excel. Why would you do yourself the disservice of hijacking the short amount of time you have with them? You would not go into a restaurant kitchen and tell the chef how to cook your meal, so why go into a lesson and try and install your own beliefs, or structure?

Secondly, recognize what you want from dressage and do not force your instructor to be something they are not. Dressage trainer’s responsibilities can be split into four basic subsets: instructor, trainer, competitor and businessperson. Different trainers have different strengths, some are amazing teachers and business people but have no urge to compete. Others train and ride with ease while teaching is a challenge for them. Some are wonderful with young horses. Some love children. Essentially, they are human, and need to be recognized as such. If you are looking to compete and choose a teacher who has not been to a show in the last twenty years, then you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. Similarly, there are amazing advanced instructors that are not in their element in a beginning lesson. There are those who prefer to move quickly through their instruction and those who have a slower pace. Some prefer little talking and others want to check in with you often. Think about how you best learn in other areas of your life and attempt to apply that to dressage. It is unfair to your instructor to push them to be something they are not.

Thirdly, on the heels of that, no dressage trainer can be all things to you. The relationship between student and teacher is a unique one in most circumstances, and none so more than in the dressage ring. Dressage trainers are privy to a huge amount of vulnerability both physical and psychological from their students and have the giant job of guiding someone in a state of ignorance to one of being more proficient (preferably without them being flung across the ring in the process). It is easy to allow that dynamic to become all encompassing. There is no such thing as the perfect dressage trainer and expecting an omnipotent god-like being with the answers to all questions will end with two very unhappy people. There will always be aspects of your instructor that you value and some pieces – ahem – you’d rather replace.

And finally, there will be times when your dressage trainer will have to make hard calls. Realize that these are not reflections of how much or little they care for you, or what they think of your potential or riding abilities. There are times when you might pay for a vet call that was unnecessary because your trainer requested it. Sometimes horses are not suitable for the rider and an unsafe environment is being created. There are times when the owner must be pulled from the horse for a period of time to ensure the success of the relationship. There are endless scenarios where the dressage trainer is faced with a tangled decision, and must make the call on how to deal with it. That is our job. It is easy to second guess with the hindsight on your side, but realize your trainer (if they are worth their salt), is doing all they can to build success in both you and your horse.

This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the dynamics between the adult amateur and the dressage professional. They combine the roles of friend, student, client and sometimes sponsor. Oftentimes the boundaries blur and elements of all four are involved. It is no simple thing to break down what one owes to the other. Even the most experienced of riders benefit from an eye on the ground, tweaking and finessing, or giving another opinion on an issue that may confound them. No matter how long you have been in the saddle, you never reach the point where you are beyond further improvement.

In the end, we are all students.

26 responses to “Our Responsibility to Dressage Trainers

  1. Pingback: Client’s Responsibility to a Dressage Trainer | Equestrian Insider·

  2. There are some very good points in this article. Thank you for the reminders as a student and as a trainer. As a trainer, I can sometimes be overwhelmed with the enormity of responsibilities. It is refreshing to see someone write with such clarity and knowledge about a very complex and dynamic world.

  3. I enjoyed your article and felt it had some excellent points. I quite agree with Tracy that the article should be available at any Dressage Facility but not only to students but trainers as well. As a mature student I no longer use the late trainer, the trainer with the cell phone secured to their ear, or the trainer without a current competitive record. I quite agree that we students should come ready to learn but so should the trainer come ready to educate. I have been fortunate to benefit from some wonderful trainers and hope to continue to share their education and experience. Thank you for your insightful article.

    • Yes it certainly is a 2 way street. It isn’t all about what the client can do for the trainer…If your trainer is gone… every weekend… and for months at a time and never allow any break in the price of training is unfair. The expectation to stay and pay no matter how ofter he leaves is absurd. Why in this business is this expected? We all work tremendously hard for our money, not just the trainers and the clients should get what they pay for and not be expected to get less just because “its just they way it is”

    • The only thing I disagree with on a small level is the current show record. Up with the current rules and guidelines of the discipline? Absolutely, but some people haven’t been able to show due to finances, yet can still be good instructors and point out ways to better your riding.

      Of course this depends on the level you’re riding at as well. I’m not comfortable teaching more than beginners as most of my own training and experiences have been starting horses, not showing them and I’m aware there are gaps in my knowledge due to lack of proper coaching refinement for myself. Thus when my students outgrow my knowledge I will be happy to help them find a new coach, though hopefully I can close the gaps before that happens.

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  6. “No matter how long you have been in the saddle, you never reach the point where you are beyond further improvement.” [your words]

    That’s the truth.

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  8. Dear Bonnie, I have just read your article and just wanted to say thank you. I have urged my clients to read it by linking to your site (hope that is OK). It was well written and really hit home with how difficult it is as a teacher or trainer. As a rider of 50 years and trainer and performer of too many of those, I too am not rich. I am however overloaded with a wealth “of emotion” from the lifetime spent with horses and people. Some tears but much laughter and certainly an abundance of passion. Thank you again Bonnie. Kind regards Peter Maddison-Greenwell and best of best with your future and “filing the bank”.

  9. Thank you for articulating exactly what I always tell my students to expect from a Dressage Trainer. I urge them to read it and learn what to look for in a coach…and what to run away from with all haste.

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