Everything Else More... Training

Honest evaluations

Do you have someone around you who will give you a truly honest evaluation of your & your horse’s ability: how you’re doing, what you need to work on, whether you are truly prepared for the level at which you are planning to compete? Ideally it should be a trainer experienced in your discipline, but it can be a friend, or even a parent, as long as they don’t have their rose-tinteds firmly in place!

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Me on Daisy with my dressage & eventing guru Herr Weiss, probably the wisest horseman I have ever known. If I could I would have him here as a permanent fixture!

Every once in a while (and, thankfully, it is very seldom) I hear about someone who didn’t like Trainer X’s straight-talking, so switched to Trainer Y, and then on again, until eventually they managed to find someone whose flattery and lack of criticism suited them. This can, of course, be a recipe for disaster, and the horse almost invariably comes off worst in this sort of situation.

I heard of someone who needed to be signed off to event. The first few trainers turned them down, but then they found someone who signed them off on the understanding that they paid for a full course of lessons in advance.

That is, of course, very dodgy reasoning… along the lines of “you’re not good enough yet but I can definitely make you good enough in 10 lessons”. It did not end happily. πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™Β 

So, if your trainer is honest and brave enough to do some straight talking (and run the risk of you, the client, flouncing off in high dudgeon), you’ve probably got a good one… you just have to be brave enough to take it on board! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ Β  And there is absolutely NO insult at all in “you’re not ready for x level yet…”

As we all know, you can be rubbish at dressage and just get an embarrassing mark. You can be rubbish at SJ and just get a cricket score. If you are rubbish at XC the consequences can be dire.

Of course, confidence is enormously important, but it has to be confidence based on really solid things: good natural instincts, great reactions, fitness, good balance, learnt techniques which work with that horse, previous experience of the level, for example. Also an honest and maybe experienced horse, or one with great natural style, rideability and lots of talent.

Confidence based on blithe ambition and delusion, or on ‘it’s been fine so far’, is not the same thing at all! Of course a generous horse will often go along with it for a while, but as the fences get bigger and the questions get more complicated, the margins of error shrink and this is when the holes in training and understanding (of rider, horse, or both) will show up… so an honest evaluator somewhere in the equation is a vital link, and really worth listening to.

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  • Great post. I recently changed trainers. I’ve chosen one which people warned me away from as she is brutally honest. That’s what I wanted!
    First lesson she told me to withdraw from an event I had entered because me & my horse weren’t ready. As you say in your article it’s at this point many would go & find a trainer who would tell them they were ready.
    However I’m a great believer in the 6 P’s (perfect preperation prevents piss poor performance) so was glad to hear the honesty. To be fair she did also give me lots of advice on how to improve & get myself ready as well.

    I pay for training to become the best I can & iron out faults. This can’t happen if you only go to trainers who tell you ‘nice’ things

  • great post. The very reason I train with Amanda Brewer is because she is straight talking and honest. I just think you need the mind set that you are there to learn not to be flattered. Trying to get better at something is never going to be a stream of compliments and pats on the back, but when you actually achieve it….that is the best reward of all.

    Had years of instructors who just span me a yarn in order to keep me paying, now with A I get told what to do and the emphasis is on me as a pupil to put in the home work and research in order to improve.

  • Exactly. I have to really work to get a word of praise from Herr Weiss but when I do I know I have REALLY got something.
    I tried one trainer who said “Lovely… lovely… lovely…” constantly even though the horse was headshaking and going appallingly! When I said “No it isn’t, it’s rubbish, help me make it better” he was totally taken aback and didn’t know what to say… never had him again!