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We Ask The Industry – What is The Most Important Aspect of Being a Great Horse Trainer?

Exceptional horse trainers dedicate their lives to their clients and the equine athletes in their barn. While riding horses all day may seem like a dream job to most horse enthusiasts, there are countless things that trainers do that often go unnoticed. Besides riding, many trainers spend their days doing whatever it takes in order to better our horses and make their clients happy. We asked several exhibitors what qualities they believe make a great trainer.

Let us know what you think by voting in our poll at the end of the article and posting your comments.

June Liston – Professionalism. A great horse trainer is made of a combination of traits; fantastic talent in their discipline, honesty, integrity, a good work ethic, and psychology. This delicate balance, I believe, makes them the best of the best and a true professional and is what makes them a pleasure to train with.

Juliana Arora – Honesty is essential. Also, the will to never stop learning and adapting. Finally, knowing the skills each rider and horse possess. To me, those skills are part of what makes a great horse trainer.


Mary Kate Mahassel
– While there are a million things that go into being a great horse trainer, to me, the most crucial aspect is the trainer’s commitment to their client’s goals. This starts with having open and honest communication and the trainer’s willingness to understand what you, as the customer, are trying to accomplish. Then, the trainer’s ability to create a program suitable for both the horse and rider. Not every person or equine will be a great match in every program. Having the flexibility to work with one team a certain way and a different team based on that group’s needs and goals is key to success. I train with Torey Roderick and feel so fortunate to have her as my leader. Torey has tailored her program for my horse “Uptown Never Sleeps” and I to achieve the goals we have set together. Torey is a very focused trainer, extremely accommodating, and her work ethic is untouchable. She is gifted in the physical training portion, and her care for the horses is top-notch. These aspects contribute to her being a great horse trainer, but her actions demonstrating her dedication to my success and working towards the same end product stand out in my eyes.

Carrie Warren – As amateurs, and for me as a select amateur, we rely so much on the trainers, and it is vital to our success – both the rider/owner and the horse. To me, the most important thing is trust and respect.  You have to feel comfortable and confident in the person and team that they will take excellent care of your horse and know what is best for them and understand how to prepare the horses for the individuals who own them.  Communication is also essential – having an open and honest dialogue on what is happening, expectations, opportunities, etc. I’d prefer them tell me I’m not ready for something than to let me move forward unprepared or too soon.  You can learn so much about trainers by how they run their operation from their setup at home at shows. Their professionalism under pressure shows a lot about how they do business.  I’m grateful for excellent trainers, and I always hope they appreciate us as, hopefully, good customers.

Heather Lange – Obviously, many qualities make a good trainer “great,” but for me, one of the most important is that she can meet the horse and rider where they are. I appreciate that a program has made the trainer successful, but for the client to be successful, the program has to fit the client and the horse. Not every rider needs a ribbon to be successful. Some of us are not natural riders. Some of us overthink things. Some of us ask way too many questions.  And some of us have really high expectations. A great trainer will provide a client with instruction in a way that makes sense to the client. She’ll channel the goals and expectations and keep the client engaged in a meaningful way to each client.

Emma Edwards – I have ridden with Nancy Renfro for around seven years now, and two aspects make her a great horse trainer. The first aspect is loyalty. I must trust my horse trainer’s plan for both my horse and me. This is important as Nancy is in California and I am in Texas. Without loyalty, we would not have been able to make the progress we have today. The second aspect I believe is vital in a great horse trainer is the concept of continually being pushed to be a better rider. There is no better feeling than looking back and recognizing that goals have been met, there has been tremendous improvement, and all the hard work has paid off.

Tali Terlizzi – I think what makes a great horse trainer stand out is being good at understanding what they have in a horse. The horse might not be great in one direction, and they can figure out ways to match it to the other direction. Or they have a mediocre moving horse, but they’re going to make sure that horse is consistent and always prepared for their customer. And being able to be honest with the customer as far as saying, “Hey, this one’s going to be great. We should show it here, here, and here” or vice versa “hey, I think this one is not going to work out, but if we sell it now we could get out quick and go find something else.” With all that being said I think a great horse trainer realizes they do this for their customers. The great horse trainers would rather see their customers have a great ride and feel fully prepared or even go out and have a big win, than themselves.

Katherine  Stone – 1. Have a lengthy discussion about goals and expenses to meet those goals?  For instance, my daughter goes to weekend shows that are not far away because of school.  Also, she can’t attend many circuits far away because of school and custody schedule with my ex-husband.  So if a trainer is more interested in going off too long circuits and big shows like Congress or World shows and futurities, there will be a lot of shows missed because your trainer is off doing other stuff. Can you afford to go on the road with your trainer? Because it’s expensive.  The other example is I bought a 3-year-old WP horse specifically under the agreement that he would not be a weekend show or circuit show horse for this year.  He was a futurity horse only, which meant I couldn’t show at many of the shows my daughter goes to, but I knew this going into it and when I bought him and signed up with this trainer.  I cannot stress enough about making sure you know where and what the trainer wants to go to within your budget and schedule.  I have a very flexible schedule, and I can work remotely, so I can plan around being gone out of the office, but many people can’t do that.

2.  Have them assess you and your horse before signing up with them if you have a horse. Some trainers immediately wanted me to buy my daughter a newer horse.  However, I knew there was nothing wrong with Bob, other than he’s old, and we don’t like to haul him very far, but that was okay because she’s still young and learning, and we have time constraints on where and how much we can go to shows because of her schedule.  I had to find a trainer that would fit in with the horse we had and the child.

3.  A trainer for a child can be different than a trainer for the parent.  I learned that not every trainer can do both.  You may have to divide and conquer, depending on your situation.  Don’t get married to one trainer for the entire family.

4. Trainers need to remember that with kids, they need to keep it fun and keep the kids interested. My western pleasure trainer realized early that Bella wasn’t having fun doing western pleasure and suggested we move to a more all-around trainer. It made a world of difference in keeping her interested in the sport.

Vanessa Froman – Besides being an honest and open communicator with humans and talent to get the best out of whatever horses you have, a great horse trainer needs to have a strong village. They need to have a support system in and out of their barn and be constantly seeking knowledge. I have yet to meet a trainer who can do it all for every horse. I have noticed from observing at the shows and even hearing from “Show Pony Radio” podcasts that the great trainers seek lessons/learning and give other trainers lessons.

Lauren Stanley – A great horse trainer is worth their weight in gold. They make this horse journey so much fun! They are good communicators, taking their clients’ goals and concerns and putting action to them. They are organized, making your time with your horse enjoyable and not stressful. And above all, they are great horsemen, putting the horses’ needs first and training them as individuals.

Madison Nirenstein – Two things come to mind when I think of a great horse trainer. The first is the ability to meld to different horses. One of the critical components of a great trainer is getting on any horse and yield similar success, knowing that using the same style may not work on every horse. Along with this, I’ve seen over the years that being able to train a horse for a trainer versus training a horse for anyone to ride can be two very different skills. A great trainer can make a horse successful, not only with themselves, but also with the youth, amateur, or select owner.

Emma Garcia -Something that is crucial is trust, and it goes both ways. When they trust me as a client and I trust them as a trainer, it makes the whole process so much easier and more fun. With the coaching aspect of training, trusting my horse trainer means I don’t have to question what they ask of me. However, we can also discuss techniques and learn from mutual respect factors into trusting one another.

Kaleena Katz Weakly
– Bottom line…communication.





Heidi Padelsky – I ride with Lora Knelly-Thomas, and I have to say that she fits all of these, and I am so thankful for her! My Top 5 important aspects of a great horse trainer:

1. Communication – It is simple. There needs to be communication about everything. It can be a simple text or a lengthy phone call. I’m appreciative of either.

2.  Time Management – With a trainer who has multiple clients showing all-around events, excellent time management is a necessary 

3. Teaching us (the client) how to ride our horse – I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if my trainer can ride and show my horse, if I can’t. I’m so thankful that Lora has put the time in with me at home that I know what to do when I get to a show. My horse can be having his best day or an off day, and I know how to prep him and how to get him shown. Nothing beats hard work at home, and that’s what gives us confidence going into a show…knowing that no matter what happens, we have a plan.

4. Confidence – I love that she’s not afraid to ask for an outside opinion. If we can’t figure something out, she will make phone calls and ask other trainers/vets/etc. for ideas and tips. 

5. Compassion – Sometimes I need to be told the same thing 100 times. Sometimes I make major mistakes in the show pen, and I am confident that she will be there to talk me through what went wrong in a positive way.

Meghan Tierney – Patience with their horses and communication with their clients. That being said, it’s a two-way street on the road to success. A customer must also have patience and communication, and without those qualities, it’s most likely a recipe for disappointment or misunderstanding. No relationship, horse or human, thrives in dichotomy. Above all is also work ethic. I believe the saying goes, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Taylor Deppen – I think a great trainer is dedicated to their clients and horses. This seems so essential, but not everyone takes the time to know their riders and horses individually. One size doesn’t fit all, and I think the great trainers are dedicated to making good teams, not just cookie-cutter horse training. They help train a horse to suit their rider, not just their specific program. And if a horse is a bad fit, they take the time to help find the right horse. They know when to push horses and riders harder and when they need a break. They see each strength and weakness and help you and your horse minimize them. And the very best trainers know their strengths and weaknesses and are constantly learning and evolving their program to better themselves and their clients.

Beckie Peskin – Well, I think for me, as a person who wants to show my horse, not just own a horse that they get to offer, being a great coach is super important. I need someone who can convey what I need to do to make what I want to happen. Someone who knows my horse and me can predict the likely trouble spots and make sure that they give me those 1-2 specific notes as I walk down the chute.

Emma Brown – In my opinion, so many aspects go into the idea of being a great trainer. I feel like a good balance between being challenging and rewarding, Judd and Jennifer (Paul) always push me and make me work very hard to accomplish what I want, and I think that makes them so incredible because they also praise you when you see results. It is so rewarding when you see your hard work paying off. I think it is also essential to connect with your trainer. I have been with Judd and Jennifer for almost ten years now, and it’s so nice that they understand my riding style when searching for horses and learning new things! I’m so grateful for trainers like family, I would not be the rider I am without them and the wisdom they have provided me.

Angela Stanhope – A great horse trainer is possibly God’s most complete human. They have to be so many things to so many different people and horses. I think the root of it all is personal integrity. We trust these people to be the stewards of huge investments, financial and otherwise. They are the keepers of our wildest dreams and our passions. As owners, if you don’t trust that they are driven by what’s in our best interest and that of our horses, then you have no foundation to build a relationship.

Jenna Tolson – Boy, there’s a whole pile of traits you could look for in a good horse trainer. But ultimately, I think it comes down to the ability to get the results you want without sacrificing the health and longevity of the horse in the process of doing so. If those two things can’t be mutually accomplished, then a great horse trainer should have the confidence and communication skills necessary to effectively convey that to an owner. I always say, at the end of the day, disappointment is the difference between expectations and reality. People who can manage expectations can manage disappointment.

What qualities do you think a great trainer should have? Vote in our poll and let us know in the comments.

What do you think is the most important trait in a horse trainer?

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