Sad to say in America, at least in all the states I've visited, one does not need to have any formal training or certification before declaring themselves a "trainer". The very title…"Trainer" automatically suggests a degree of expertise that is sometimes wrongfully assumed by the unsuspecting public.

Today anyone can become a clinician, a guru, a self appointed authority and/or a trainer simply by hanging up a shingle and advertising "open for business".

Over the last decade or two, I have had a number of very unfortunate experiences with a few of these self appointed experts, some of whom are in the public eye as show people, clinicians, professional "experts". A number of times I've sent horses out feeling that anyone in such a place of notoriety surely must be good at what he does as well as being trustworthy! That naïve assumption has not only cost me a good deal of heartache and financial loss, it has cost my horses needless pain and agony! I can live with the financial loss but I simply cannot abide my horses being abused.

It is also vital to understand there is a wide gulf between being a clinician and a trainer. Knowing something does not necessarily mean that person applies it properly in a training situation. Nor does it guarantee that clinician is a knowledgeable over all horseman. And unfortunately it also does not guarantee that person will treat and care for a horse in his/her charge with respect and caring.

So how does one select and secure a trustworthy trainer who is also talented enough to produce a finished product somewhat close to what is expected?

There are some things we have learned from our bad experiences that may help someone else avoid the same sorts of upset we have gone through.

First of all, PLEASE do not fall for the glitz and the guile. Just because someone has managed to get a reputation as a clinician does not guarantee that person will care kindly and safely for your horse or produce the sort of results you are looking for. After all, anyone can put on a clinic.

Do not send your horse away from home any farther than is absolutely necessary. Once that horse is out of sight you have no control over him and are not able to oversee his progress, treatment and care.

Before selecting a trainer, speak with a number of people who have used him and ask specific questions…don't just ask " how did you like him".

Ask the prospective trainer for an interview and take along a list of questions so you don't forget to ask pertinent things. There will be a list of questions attached to this article that can be a guide for you. Be sure to also ask what is reasonable to expect in the time allotted for training. Should a horse after two months training be going reasonably well, responding to leg and bit? Should your horse be safe to take out on short rides? Really pin down what is reasonable to expect so everyone is on the same page. Keep in mind all things are relevant and will depend upon your horse's ability and willingness to learn. There are no hard and fast rules to this part because the horse dictates how quickly he will learn and accomplish the goals.

Ask for credentials… where did he/she train? What experience does he/she have? What qualifies him/her as a trainer? How long has he/she been training?

Visit the training facility to assure yourself whether it is clean, well repaired and how the horses there are kept. Are they well fed? Are they happy? Are they aloof? Are they dejected and morose? All these things can tell you how they feel about the care and treatment they are getting. If they are stand offish, sullen or dejected I'd stay clear of that facility. Something is not as it should be or the horses would not be like that.

Once you have decided on a trainer, it's time to ask your questions. Here are a few to get you started"

1. How and where will my horse be kept when he/she isn't in training? If he is to be stalled what provision is made for turn out so he can roll, stretch and relax? IF there is no turn out in an appropriate place then that horse will not get to roll or stretch. It is important that they can, otherwise those muscles they are using differently will stiffen up and cramp. Muscle spasms will develop which can lead to a sore back, shoulders, haunch or neck.

2. What will my horse be fed and in what quantities and frequency? Horses in training typically lose weight and tighten up. They burn a lot of extra calories and need to be fed accordingly if they are not to lose condition. There is no need for a horse to come home from training thin and ribby! If he was being cared for properly that won't happen.

3. If my horse is on a particular diet may I bring his feed and have it fed to him if it is portioned out? If they say no then ask why? If the horse has to be fed and no one has to make special arrangements just to measure your feed, then they should not object to simply distributing what you have already measured out.

4. Will my horse be turned out with other horses? If they say yes…move on to another trainer. Training barns are notorious for spreading disease. It is the nature of the beast with so many horses coming through. It is not safe for your horse to share digs with strange horses particularly if the area allotted is small. But it is also not a wise thing for them to share water tanks. Contact viruses thrive on water tanks and can spread disease.

Beyond that your horse is already going to be stressed. He is in a new place with new people, doing new things and having to cope. To also have to drop into a new "herd" where there will be a vying for herd position is asking a lot and puts him at risk for injury as well!

5. May I visit my horse's training sessions. If they say no…don't leave your horse! Any trainer who is upright will not mind you watching as your horse is worked so long as you are not intrusive and remain quiet. Some trainers use very inhumane training tools and techniques when the owner is not present. Take it from someone who found that out the hard way!

6. Here is a very very important question to ask. DO YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF SADDLES? If not how do you plan to fit my particular horse? If they only use one or two saddles have them saddle your horse and then see for yourself how it fits. If it does not fit well DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HORSE> Ill fitting saddles can cause soreness to develop. Generally it will be in the shoulders or across the loin…sometimes both. When a horse gets real sore in the shoulders it will shift it's weight to the hind quarters which can lead to sore back, haunch and hocks. Some horses will tie up and some will get so many muscle spasms they cannot function. Some horses will get angry and rank and become resistant to saddling if the saddle hurts. A good trainer has a number of saddles to choose from and will act according to what is best for the HORSE.

7. What bits do they use? Will it fit your horse's mouth? Is it ever sanitized between horses? If the horse does not like the bit is another tried or is the horse FORCED to use the bit of the trainers choice? If the trainer is not willing to meet the horse half way then he is not a trainer, he is a dictator. It is not necessary for all horses to work on the same bit any more than it is necessary for every horse to wear the same size shoe or the same saddle fit. Each mouth is different. Some horses have sharp bars and some have flat bars. Some horses have shallow pallets while others have deep pallets. Some horses have narrow jaws while others have wide jaws. Some horses have sensitive mouths while others do not. The mouth has to be happy or the horse simply will not be!

8. In case of injury or illness what is the protocol ? If they do not notify you first then you need to know before hand who will be called. It is not legal for a vet to treat a horse without owner consent but some barns make an owner sign a release. BE CAREFUL and read the fine print!

If all these questions have been answered satisfactorily, and you feel confident in leaving your horse, plan to visit often…without prior notice and without invitation. The only way you will truly know what is going on and how your horse is being handled is if you arrive unexpectedly. Not just once but often as possible.

If you are fortunate enough to have found a good trainer, be sure to compliment that trainer for a job well done. Good trainers are few and far between. If we can complain when things are not done well, we surely need to also give praise when they ARE.

Good luck to you.. Be wise, be careful and check everything out before consigning your horse to a trainer…

Here is one vital point. GET IT ALL IN WRITING!!!! When you are interviewing the trainer, write down what his/her answers to your questions are. type up a contract including all these points and have the trainer sign them. BELIEVE me this may become a vital, legal protection for you and your horse. If the trainer is not willing to sign such a statement, then do not leave your horse with him/her. If the trainer is not willing to put in writing what he has said verbally, then I would not trust his /her word.





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