Coaches, trainers and instructors: sometimes these words are interchangeable, sometimes that person fulfills a specific role with you and your horse. Either way, finding the right person to fill that role is very important to you, your horse (if you have one) and your goals.

Start with where you are now. Have you always dreamed of riding or perhaps are getting back into riding now that you have the time and income? Do you have a horse that you need help with? Are you concerned that your current horse may not be safe and/or a good match for you? Have you been a mostly recreational rider, but now a sport has sparked your interest that you want to learn more about? Have you always wanted to learn how to work cattle with a horse? Do you just want to feel safer and more confident trail riding? Perhaps you would like to add a skill to your knowledge like groundwork or liberty?

Recipe for success: coach, rider and horse team

As you can see, getting help for you and/or your horse can look different in many ways. Maybe you are an adult or have a kiddo who is just looking to take a weekly lesson from a riding instructor. Perhaps you have a horse that is young that you need guidance and help training once a week, while the rest of the time, you work independently on homework with them. Maybe you have a young horse or even a mustang you adopted that you want someone to start for you and then eventually help you learn to work with and ride them. In the latter two examples, you would need someone who is an excellent horse trainer with the people skills to teach you as well. You cannot assume an amazing horse trainer is also good at teaching people.

You could also be an experienced rider who is looking for more of a coach to advance beyond your current level in a discipline like ranch sorting, Dressage, competitive trail, jumping, roping, etc. Some of you have narrowed in on a sport and are looking for someone to help you find a finished, competitive horse to start competing with. Whatever that may be, start by determining:

  1. What are my long- and short-term goals?
  2. What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  3. What are my expectations of a trainer? What are their expectations of me?
  4. What is my monthly budget for training and instruction?
  5. How far do I want to travel? How often?
  6. What is my learning/communication style? In other words, how do I need to be taught in order to learn?
  7. How involved do I want to be in the training process with my horse?
  8. Do I want to compete?
  9. Is my priority to advance as a rider or mainly to just have fun?
  10. What discipline am I interested in or am I just looking for a safe and fun place to learn good horsemanship?


Once you have determined what your needs are, ask questions to people you know in the horse industry, search on the internet, ask local horse veterinarians and farriers. Stop into barns that come up in your investigations. The horse community, regionally and even nationally, is a small world, so don’t be afraid to ask your out of state friend if they or their trainer knows anyone local to you.

Once you have narrowed down trainer or instructor prospects, ask to observe them giving a couple lessons or training a horse or two. This should not be a problem for any reputable trainer/instructor. If you are entrusting your child to this person for periods of time, consider all of the same steps you would take to hire a nanny.

When considering entrusting your horse to a trainer, observe the other horses at the barn. Do they seem bright and happy? Are they naturally curious in their surroundings or do they seem withdrawn or even afraid? Do the other horses appear to be in good condition? Is the barn neat and clean? The barn does not need to be fancy to be a good barn. Horse trainers typically do what they do because they love horses, not for the money. If the facilities are palatial, it is likely through the funds of a committed client. If something at a barn or during training does not feel right to you, go with your gut. Do not accept conditions or practices that make you uncomfortable just because everyone else does it and you have to if you want to be in this discipline or to win.

Determine if the trainer shares your viewpoint toward the horses. Is their perspective more about what the horse can do for them or what they can do to help the horse? Once you determine this, many of your interview questions will be answered.

Once you have found one or two trainers to try, take a lesson or bring your horse for a lesson. Do they have an eye for how to help you? Do they like your horse? This is a big one! Make sure they like your horse and see its good qualities and potential.

If you decide to try a trainer for a while, reevaluate your choice in a month, three months, and a year. Are you and your horse progressing? Is your horse happy? Are you having fun? After all, this is a hobby and you should be having fun! A trainer should encourage you, but not just make you feel good about yourself. Like in all sports, a good coach should also challenge you and know how to inspire you to break through barriers. They will help you progress in your horsemanship and get to the next level of training.

There are certainly more questions here than answers because coaches, trainers and instructors fill many roles in our lives and in our horses’ lives. Take the time and effort to put intentional thought into what your goals are for you and your horse. After all, horses are incredible creatures who willingly want to partner with us and we owe it to them to pursue excellence in our relationships with them. As always, let me know if I can help you brainstorm about your horse goals. Email [email protected]

Heather McWilliams © 2020