Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your coach. Sometimes clarity on both sides is all that is needed to make a partnership happy and successful. Photo © Carey Nowacek

Five Tips from Clients on Finding the Right Trainer

When searching for a new or first horse trainer, there is always some level of trepidation. Finding the right person to guide a rider and their horse to success is often an interesting journey.

Often times, what an equestrian needs when he or she is starting out can be very different from what a rider needs later on. Some people find a coach who can teach them from their beginning stages to the very end while other riders will move from coach to coach as their needs change.

Both instances are wonderful experiences. But how do you go about finding that coach who will help you meet your goals and be the best match for you and your horse?

GoHorseShow spoke to several amateurs and horse show parents to see how they approach the process of finding a coach.

1) Communication is key

Whether you have been with your coach for years or are just joining their program, communication about what you want is one of the most important steps in the process.

Heather Lange, an amateur exhibitor from Norwalk, Connecticut, believes, “You need to have an honest discussion with your trainer (whether you are a new or existing client) about goals and objectives.”

Libby Rinder, an amateur who trains with Whitney Lagace, agrees with Lange and stresses, “Circumstances and goals can always change, and both parties need to be upfront and honest about the situation.”

Shari and Greg Tordoff (pictured left), the parents of Olivia and Alexia Tordoff, spoke about communication as well. In their case, however, the couple mainly discussed having honest and open discussions with their daughters. “We do include the girls in conversations about finding a trainer,” the Tordoff’s said, whose daughters currently haul with Brent Tincher. “We know that we ask the girls to go above and beyond when it comes to preparing, practicing and competing, so it is important that they have a trainer they can trust and respect and for whom they want to give 110%.”

2) Find a coach who shares your beliefs

Whether these are beliefs of how horses should be cared for or how work should be done, it is important to be able to see eye-to-eye and to understand each other. Rinder feels, “The well-being of the horse is imperative, so if you don’t believe that a trainer will take care of your horse to the level that you want, then that’s not the right fit for you.”

Horses are the partners that allow people to show; it is up to the owners and trainers to give the best care they feel they can to these animals. Joe Whitt, a Select Amateur exhibitor who hauls with Ryan Cottingim, agrees with Rinder. “It is critical we are on the same page with the care of my horse.”

Whitt (pictured right), who resides in Louisville, Kentucky, adds, “I want to be in a program where the trainer has my horse and my best interest at heart.”

Not only should a client and coach agree on how the horse should be cared for, but there should also be a shared belief on work ethic.

“When looking for a trainer for our daughters, we try to find someone who will support our belief that only through hard work, accountability, and integrity will you find lifelong success,” say the Tordoff’s.

AQHA World Champion halter competitors, Thomas and Mimsi Coon of Pilot Point, Texas, who haul with Ted Turner, stated, “We quickly learned the reasons for Ted’s success: dedication, attention to details, and an intensely competitive nature. Since Thomas and I both have these traits, the ‘fit’ has been great for us.”

3) A coach should be able to coach you

Just as horses have different training styles, people don’t all need to be coached the same. Finding a coach who already teaches in the manner you learn, or a coach who is willing to teach the way you learn, is going to save you a lot of headaches.

“I ask a lot of questions and need to process instructions mentally,” says Lange, who looked for a trainer who was willing to answer all her questions and be patient to her needs.

Halter competitor, Mimsi Coon (pictured left with her husband, Thomas), believes it is important for Turner to be an effective guide. “When you step into the pen, your trainer should make sure you and your horse are a team presenting an attractive, positive picture to the judge that says I want to win.”

4) Set goals with your coach

Whether these goals are explicitly for the horse, such as learning how to do a flying lead change, or for you, maybe to learn to cue said lead change, having clear goals gives everybody something to work toward. Lange believes in being very open about her goals with her trainers, Tami and Gary McAllister.

Lange (pictured right) also strives to make sure her goals are compatible with other aspects of her personal life, such as work schedule and budget. In turn, Lange wants her trainers “to be clear on what it will take to reach my goals. While at the same time, I need to be honest with them if I can’t commit to that level.”

Rinder adds, “It’s crucial that your trainer helps you accomplish whatever you’re hoping to get out of horse showing.”

Whitt reveals, “Also, I need to be realistic about where my abilities are at a particular point in time. Maybe getting a sixth place is perfect for me at the point I am in a particular class,” he says, recognizing that he is always learning and improving on his skills.

5) Find The Right Trainer Regardless of Distance

“It is very important to me to work with a trainer I can ride behind. The horse needs to be trained so I can show it, not just the trainer,” says Whitt (pictured far left with trainers, Mandi Gately and Ryan Cottingim). “I am realistic when we go to a horse show. If my trainers have 12 horses, they have to help with all 12, so I want to make sure that both my horse and I are prepared when we get to the show. I respect their time and the other clients’ time.”

Rinder appreciates being in close proximity to her trainer, Whitney Lagace, and this opportunity gives her the chance to practice often. “I lucked out, and Whitney is only ten minutes from my house, so I can go to the barn every day if I want.”

Coon appreciates being close to her horses as well. “Thomas and I visit our horses regularly. We want them to know the sound of our voices and the feel of our touch.”

The ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that is done before the horse show can often be the most important. While it is convenient and often fun to be close to your horses, sometimes the right fit is a trainer multiple states away.

Rinder recognizes this, “I know there are lots of people whose trainers are in other states or halfway across the country, but when you find the right trainer, it can be worth that distance because you work so well together.” (Libby pictured right on the ground with her trainer, Whitney Lagace)

Sacrificing proximity for the best experience may be what allows you to have the most fun and have the most success.

Whether your trainer is across the country or across the street, you should find someone who you can communicate with, set goals with, share beliefs with, and someone who will not only coach you, but help you do the work.


Rinder advises, “In the end, I think the most important factors are, that you are with a trainer who is helping you accomplish your goals and takes good care of you and your horse.”

Whitt agreed, “My advice would be to find a program that meets your goals and skill set, you’re happy to be part of, and that you appreciate and respect the trainers you are with.”

Whitt also made a point to acknowledge that even though this is his hobby, this is his trainers’ business. “I just think it is critical that customers also respect their trainers and appreciate their hard work and dedication.”

Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your coach. Sometimes clarity on both sides is all that is needed to make a partnership happy and successful.


About the Author: Parris Rice started showing Quarter Horses before she can remember. Her mother, Carolyn Rice, is a horse trainer, which allowed Parris to get to grow up surrounded by horses and learn from a world class horsewoman. She and her horse, Javah Mon, earned multiple world championships.  Most recently she finished reserve at the AQHA World Show in Amateur Horsemanship with Hez Pretty Extreme.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email