By Guest Bay Nina Arroyo-Lopez
What is the right way to be a trainer? That is not a question with just one correct answer. It all comes back to, what kind of client you are working with. Is my client confident and brave? What are their goals? Is my client struggling with self confidence? So many factors are playing a big role, and rarely are two clients needs exactly the same.
For me personally, as a trainer, the biggest success isn’t when I win a class, it’s when my client smiles during their ride and has fun in the show ring. If they win a class, that is just the cherry on top! My goal is not to push my clients to be cutthroat competitors who are only happy with a blue ribbon in their hand, it is to help them become the best version of themselves, and form a lasting partnership with their horse.
How do we achieve this as trainers? I am a strong believer in teaching my students to be better riders, to be able to put into practice daily what they learned in their weekly lessons. I focus on taking the time to explain the mechanics; why their hands are not doing the correct things, and how it affects their horse’s movement, for example. Most riders have been told over and over that their hands are unsteady or too far apart, so instead of just repeating “hands quiet” or “hands together,” how about explaining how to achieve that, and why it is so important?
When accepting a new horse into my training program, my first question to the owner is always the same. “What are your goals, and where you want to be in 6 months or a year?” You may be surprised to hear what most people answer. Even the competitive riders aren’t focused on show ring goals; they want to be able to ride their own horse safely and have fun doing it. Most people don’t have the high level goals we are trained to think they have, horses are their hobby. (And an expensive one at that!) I know as a trainer, we eat, breathe, sleep, and dream horses. It is all we think about, and the source of our livelihood, and we love a challenge. The hard truth is most amateurs don’t feel like that. They want to have fun!
So, how do I help my clients accomplish this goal? How do you prioritize a rider’s ability to enjoy riding their own horse, and how does that translate into a long term partnership? As a trainer, my focus is on riding a horse in a way that the owner can handle the horse in any situation. What does this look like on a daily basis? This means I won’t ride a amateurs horse in full bridle if I know they only want to show Training Level. I won’t ride a more forward thinking horse with spurs and crop, knowing the owner will never be able to handle all the energy I created in their horse.
Let me give you an example, I have a client who owns a talented Half Arabian mare with a bit of a strong opinion. For years she wasn’t able to successfully show her own horse, or just have fun riding her. When I started to work with them, I told her that my biggest goal wasn’t just to advance her mare’s Dressage training and show her myself at a higher level, it was for her show her mare and have fun doing it.
We worked hard all last year, and through lessons, clinics (yes I encourage my clients to go to clinics! I believe that we can all learn from each other, and continuing education is incredibly important to everyone’s riding career, even trainers.), schooling shows, and weekly training rides from myself as needed, by June we had the mare to a point that my client was able to show her in multiple Regional Championship classes up to 1st Level. I was thrilled to see her Top Five in many of her classes, but the smile on my clients face when she came out of the ring is what drives me every day to do this difficult job. This client just needed someone who took the extra time and effort to motivate her to believe in her horse again.
Every client is different, and we as trainers need to be a bit of a psychologist at times. We can only do this job well if we listen to our clients and actually take the time to hear what they are saying. That being said, you will not be the perfect trainer for every rider. I have had clients whose energy didn’t work with mine, and that’s ok! I put her in contact with a different trainer, and they are working well together. Some trainers are too proud to admit that we can’t help everyone, and that we don’t have the answer to everything. In the end, it should be about creating lifelong horsemanship skills and relationships between our clients and their horses.
Nina & Bella
Nina Arroyo-Lopez is a trainer specializing in Sport Horses. She is also the founder of Bays Unlimited, where her goal is to create lasting partnerships and knowledgeable equestrians who understand the “why” behind their riding.