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How to Choose the Right Dressage Trainer for You 

choosing selecting dressage trainer lesson


Dressage is a skillful sport, and no matter how good you get, you will always want to get better. Even the top dressage riders in the world have regular sessions with their trainer(s) because there is always room for improvement. 

With that in mind, it’s vital that you carefully consider the dressage trainer that you will work with over the long term because they will significantly impact your progress and success. 

So, in this article, we will look at the role of a dressage trainer, what level of trainer you should have, how often you need to have lessons, and five steps you can follow to sourcing and selecting a dressage trainer. 

Why is choosing the right trainer important? 

Having the right trainer can significantly help or hinder your riding progress. 

A good trainer will help you get to where you want to be quicker, with fewer mistakes, detours, and frustration along the way. 

At best, a poor trainer will not aid your progression, and you will plateau, feeling like you are not improving. At worst, a poor trainer can send you backward and create faults in your riding and horse’s way of going that, sadly, cannot always be corrected. 

In short, who you choose as a trainer is probably one of the most impactful decisions you can make regarding your future dressage riding success. 

What is the role of a dressage trainer? 

The role of a dressage trainer is more than just making sure you and your horse get exercised. They have an essential job that focuses not necessarily on what you do but on how you do it, and helping you to do it better. 

Here are seven roles and responsibilities of a dressage trainer. 

1 – Eyes on the ground

Having a knowledgeable and experienced pair of eyes on the ground is invaluable. What you can feel in the saddle and what can be seen from the ground can be very different. 

For example, you may not necessarily feel yourself leaning forward slightly during your trot-canter transitions, but your trainer will be able to see it. 

These eyes on the ground are especially helpful when positioning your horse correctly for lateral movements. 

2 – Prevent bad habits from developing 

If you are always riding and training on your own, it can be very easy to adopt bad habits, and if you do them for long enough, these bad habits can be very difficult to break. 

A good trainer will point these out as soon as they appear so you can nip them in the bud before they become ingrained. 

3 – Help you train movements correctly and logically 

As you progress through the dressage levels, your trainer can help you teach your horse different movements, and they will know what to expect at each stage of the journey. 

For example, when you start teaching your horse to half-pass, you won’t be producing the same sweeping sideways movement you see in the Grand Prix; a beginner half-pass starts much shallower with less bend. A good trainer will know this, and they will know what a good half-pass looks like at each stage when developing the movement. 

Related Read: How to Introduce Lateral Work (and in What Order)

4 – Prevent you from plateauing

A good trainer will help to make sure that you are always progressing. They will strategically challenge you with new movements and exercises that take you slightly out of your comfort zone to help you to improve and increase your skill level. 

5 – Help to troubleshoot and correct problems

If you have a particular issue, your trainer will help you troubleshoot it and help create a plan to correct it.

If you have an experienced trainer, they likely have already encountered the problem you are having and know the best way to fix it. This alone can save you a lot of time and frustration, along with preventing small problems from spiraling into big problems, which can happen with horses if not dealt with correctly. 

Related Read: How to Troubleshoot Dressage Problems

6 – Answer your questions

Many people think riding lessons involve keeping your mouth shut and just doing what the instructor says. Although there is a time and a place for this, a good trainer will welcome your questions and be happy to clear up any confusions you may be having.  

7 – Someone to go on the journey with you 

Dressage is not a universally understood sport. Therefore, many riders find it difficult to share their highs and lows with their families and friends because they just don’t “get it.” 

Whereas a dressage trainer does get it and, over time, you should build a supportive relationship. Your trainer should be in your corner, helping you through the tough times and celebrating with you during the good times. 

How often should you have lessons? 

The frequency of lessons you have will vary based on your goals, budget, and the availability of you and your trainer. 

Some choose to see their trainer three times a week, some once a month, and others anywhere in between. 

As a minimum, we recommend a lesson with your trainer at least once every month as this is still regular enough for you to build an ongoing relationship with your trainer and for them to get to know you and your horse. 

Of course, if that is not possible, then do what you can; a lesson every three months is better than no lesson at all.  

Does your trainer need to be able to ride? 

If you would like your trainer to ride or school your horse at some point, then yes, the trainer you choose will need to be able to ride. But if that is not a requirement for you, then it’s not necessary. 

Training and riding are two separate skills. There are plenty of great riders who make poor trainers, and many great trainers that no longer ride themselves. The important thing is that they must have experience teaching at the level you want to get to. 

Of course, it would be ideal if your trainer both rode and taught at your desired level. However, this is very difficult to find long-term because many competitive riders are focused on their own riding career and therefore have limited time to teach. And as mentioned, just because a rider can perform a high-scoring Grand Prix dressage test, it doesn’t mean they also possess the skills to teach you how to do it. 

What level of trainer should you have?

If you are a beginner, don’t think you need a trainer that teaches only at the lower levels; a Grand Prix trainer can still help you with your Preliminary test. 

It is true that some top-level trainers will only teach riders that have already accomplished a certain amount, but there are many good trainers that will teach all levels, from the beginner right through to the professionals. 

Even if you are just starting your dressage journey, don’t be afraid to contact a Grand Prix trainer for lessons. The worst case scenario is that they say no, but if they say yes, they have the skills, experience, and knowledge to help you move through the dressage levels much quicker and with more success. 

How many trainers should you have?

In truth, you can have as many or as few trainers as you like. 

It is a good idea to have one main trainer with whom you can build an ongoing relationship with over the long term. This allows them the time to get to know you and your horse and tailor the lessons to suit. 

That said, don’t be afraid to book the odd lesson with other trainers. Often, a different pair of eyes can be a massive help. They may pick up on small details that were previously missed and be able to give you new tips and exercises to help you in your schooling.

Should you have group lessons or individual lessons? 

Both lesson types have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go through them.  

Individual lessons 

Advantages

  • You are able to work on specific areas of weakness. 
  • The lesson can be tailored to you and your horse. 
  • If you run into a problem, time can be spent dedicated to solving it.
  • You have more of your trainer’s time to ask questions. 

Disadvantages

  • Often more expensive than group lessons.
  • Even though you will get walking and stretching breaks, your horse needs to have a fair level of fitness to be able to work for the full 40min or 1 hour. 

Group lessons 

Advantages

  • Often cheaper than individual lessons
  • Allows you to watch others in your group and learn from their experiences. 
  • You will have more frequent breaks, which allow you and your horse to have a breather and digest what you are learning. 
  • Your horse gets comfortable working around other horses, which is ideal for youngsters in preparation for the collecting ring. 
  • Your horse gets used to starting and stopping and having to wait patiently. 

Disadvantages

  • Lesson plans have to take into consideration the whole group.
  • If you experience a problem, the trainer is unable to dedicate too much time to it because their time needs to be split amongst everyone in the group. 
  • If a horse spooks and bolts, this can set off a chain reaction among all the horses in the lesson. 

Some trainers may offer both individual and group lessons, and others may just offer one type. 

You don’t have to pick just one; you can do a mix of both. To keep things cost-effective, many riders choose to have a few group lessons for general training, then an individual lesson so that they can focus on a progression plan specific to them, then they will have a few group lessons, and so on. 

The choice is yours as to what you feel will best suit you and your horse. 

How to choose the right dressage trainer for you

Here are five steps that you can follow to help you source and select the right dressage trainer for you. 

Step 1: Ask yourself the following questions.

Q1 – Are you competitive?

Do you want to learn how to ride and train dressage only as an enjoyable hobby at home, or do you want to compete? 

Competitive test riding has its own set of skills. Therefore, if you want to compete, it’s best to choose a trainer with competition experience, whether that be riding, judging, or training other competitive riders. 

Q2 – Do you want an all-round education, or do you want to focus specifically on dressage?

If you want to focus solely on dressage, then a trainer who specializes in dressage is the way to go. 

If you want to do a bit of everything, then a more all-round trainer may be a better choice. 

That being said, you might also want to consider getting a trainer for each discipline. For example, if you event, you may want to get a dressage trainer for your flatwork, a showjumping trainer for your jumping, and an eventing trainer for your cross-country. 

Q3 – How much are you able to budget for lessons?

When it comes to paying someone for their expertise, the cheapest is never the best way to go. 

If you hire a low-cost trainer based solely on price, you may be able to afford a larger quantity of lessons, but you may also receive low-quality or incorrect tuition. 

An experienced and professional trainer will not be cheap, and you may only be able to afford one or two lessons. Still, they will probably deliver higher quality tuition, representing better value for money over the long term. 

If you are on a tight budget, opt for quality over quantity; a few high-quality lessons will yield better results than many low-quality lessons. 

Q4 – Are you prepared to travel, or do you need the trainer to come to you?

If you can travel, this will give you a greater pool of trainers to choose from, as not all trainers will come to your yard. 

Q5 – What type of teaching style suits you best?

Do you require a strict and firm trainer that will push you into doing what you need to? Or do you require a more sympathetic trainer with a softer approach? 

This should be carefully considered because a miss-match will not result in a healthy and productive working relationship. 

Step 2 – Start sourcing suitable trainers

Now that you know the type of trainer you are looking for, your next step is to start reaching out to prospective instructors.  

Often a good way to source a trainer is by watching other riders, and when you notice one who rides in the manner you wish to ride in yourself, take the plunge and ask them directly who their trainer is.

Alternatively, if you spot a trainer riding at a competition, watch how they ride and relate to their horses, and if you like what you see, approach them and find out if they are taking new clients.

One of the best recommendations for a trainer is that they are really busy. The best trainers do not need to advertise and often have full books with little room for new clients. However, horses being what they are, clients will drop out due to lameness or other issues, so those sought-after spaces will come available from time to time.

If you are new to an area, or perhaps to the sport, and have no knowledge of local trainers, places you might also look would be:

  • For all-round trainers, the BHS (British Horse Society) instructor’s database.
  • For dressage-specific trainers, the BD (British Dressage) trainer’s database
  • Also, for dressage trainers, the classified ads in the BD magazine and on the website.

Step 3 – Contact suitable trainers and do your checks

Reach out to a trainer (or trainers) who you think will be a good match and check that they have the following: 

  • Public liability insurance. (Covers injury and damage claims as a result of business practice.)
  • Professional indemnity insurance. (Covers loss or damage as a result of negligent advice.)
  • First aid qualification.   
  • Check any other qualifications that they state to hold. 
  • DBS check, previously CRB check. (Criminal record.) 

Don’t feel shy about asking for copies of these documents. A professional trainer will be more than happy to provide them for you. 

Step 4 – Watch a lesson and book a trial lesson

Before taking the plunge, ask your prospective trainer if you can watch them teach. Good trainers will be happy to allow this, but you will also need their pupil’s agreement – not everybody likes to be watched while having a lesson. 

If you like what you see, go ahead and book a trial lesson. 

TIP: Always check out details beforehand, such as the length and cost of the lesson, so there are no nasty surprises at the end.

Step 5 – Decide if the trainer is right for you

After your trial lesson, ask yourself:

  • Did you enjoy your lesson? For most people, dressage is a hobby, and your lessons should be enjoyable for both you and your horse. 
  • Did the trainer’s style suit your personal approach to riding and your relationship with your horse?
  • If you asked questions (and we recommend you do), did the trainer take the time to answer them, and were the answers clear enough for you to understand?
  • Did you learn at least one new thing?
  • Did they explain exercises clearly enough for you to follow without being confused?
  • Did you feel they showed enough interest in you/your horse to warrant booking another lesson?
  • Were they professional, or did they spend some of your lesson time chatting on the phone or to others – unless there is a very good reason, such as an emergency, this is unacceptable.
  • Will you learn from this person, or just get exercised?

If you answered those questions positively, congratulations, you have found yourself the right dressage trainer for you. 

If you did not answer those questions positively, go back a few steps and select another trainer to try. Eventually, you’ll find the right one.

In conclusion

The dressage trainer you choose will play a critical role in your progression and your success, so it’s important that you pick the right one. 

Not all trainers are created equal, and where a good trainer can catapult you and your horse forward, a poor trainer can set you back. 

Take the time to go through the steps above, make sure you know what you want from a trainer, have a trial lesson, and then analyze whether they delivered.

Don’t be afraid to try more than one trainer before you settle, unless your first lesson is so good you can’t imagine it being better!

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