How do you pick a dressage coach?!
I am so, so guilty of the "get a coach/trainer" comment a lot on these forums. The truth is, most of this dressage stuff is plainly too complicated and depends so much on each horse and rider that without standing in the middle of the arena, it is impossible to peg what will work and what will not.
But how does one go about finding a coach or trainer for dressage?
How did you find your coach?
What are your red flags for not choosing someone to coach you?
My top 3 criteria are:
Does s/he receive regular coaching?
Does s/he produce happy horses and riders?
Show results of the coach and students.
What are your criteria??
I'm in no way shape or form a decent dressage rider imo especially since I just started two years ago. I chose my current coach however because she worked with me in training my horse. She might not be super accredited but I like her more than any of the other 'accredited' teachers I've gone to. She's down to earth, has no fear of getting on my horse and/or helping and knows when we've reached out limit for the day.
Maybe I'm odd but in the end I could care less about how many medals you've won but how happy you are to teach and how good you are to me and my horse. She can ride like no one's business and I'm seriously shocked that she hasn't gone to gran prix levels yet but she's more interested in training a horse and rider than she is in ever competing there and I respect that. It might sound crazy but if I had a horse I could show I would have no doubts that she could easily prepare me and the horse for intro tests/ low level tests and if/when she worked herself up into gran prix training she could take me there as well. (In case that doesn't make a whole lot of sense she rides with a coach who teaches her how to train the horses/herself, she competes at the levels on her training horses and then teaches students what she's learned. Sounds inefficient but I've learned more from her than the 'top notch' dressage coach I use off and on!) Basically my coach focuses on me getting a stride with the horse I'm riding and forming a partnership than how pretty I look and how many ribbons can I win.
I've been pondering about this a lot lately, since I'll be changing coaches eventually and I currently love, love, LOVE the one I have now.
I found my coach through word-of-mouth. I also watched her and saw that her riders are successful and happy, and her horses are exceptionally well cared for. She loves to teach, which makes a world of difference if you ask me. I know many riders who are excellent, however they can't teach worth a **** since they can't easily articulate the things they need to to their students.
The on-going quest for learning of all things related to horsemanship is also something I look for. A red flag for me is someone who tends to stagnate in their knowledge/skill level, or is excessively opinionated and lacking an open mind.
I also appreciate a high degree of punctuality and professionalism, honesty, efficiency, and a sense of humour.
Well, I have to be honest. There are only two dressage coaches within 30-45 minutes of me. One of them requires her students to already be showing at first level before she'll take them on. The other happens to be 5 minutes from my house. Her facilities are excellent, I love the horses she has that she's trained, and she has helped me tremendously with the Wild Thoroughbred, so it worked out. If she weren't good, I guess I would be with one of the H/J coaches or wait until I move somewhere less rural.
Well my first stop is the British dressage accredited trainer list which is available online. It lists the trainers by area, gives their BD record as a rider and gives the highest level their students gave attained and whether it was juniors, young riders or seniors. I then normally ask localy and online for people's recommendations/experiences.
If that is all fine I have a test lesson to see if I get on ok with their teaching style
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If someone is lucky enough to board in an area with a choice of trainers, then first for me would be RESULTS. Not just show results, but what I can see with my eyes - are the horses forward, sound, stretching to the bit, happy? Are the riders working constantly on bettering their seats - longe lessons, no-stirrup work? Are any questionable gadgets being used? Are the students happy with their progression?
It would be terrific for a Pony Club A or B rating, or a BHS certification. Certainly having the US rider medals are great achievements, also. But there are many very good trainers who for lack of funds haven't been able to show as much as they'd like, and these trainers should not be discounted if they are continuing their own education via lessons and clinics and producing good results with their students. This is especially true for riders just starting in dressage.
Example: A friend of mine recently switched over to dressage after 30+ yrs of H/J, and bought a nice 1 L horse who had scored very well in recognized shows. She began lessons with a well-regarded trainer who came to her barn once a week. After some months of lessons, she began riding with a new resident trainer, who lacked US show results but who was a Pony Club A grad.
The difference in my friend's learning curve is startlingly good! She has found a trainer who not only teaches dressage but teaches it from the seat up, with weekly longe lessons and stressing only correct technique on her own horse. My friend had hoped to debut at 1L this spring, but is now happily committed to concentrating on her seat and the connection, so 1L will wait until both horse and rider are ready.
She has found the trainer I'd hoped she would find; one I'd wish everyone would find when beginning dressage or committing to taking it seriously. We who have put in the miles know that it ain't about the tricks, its about the seat and the training scale. Finding a trainer who has these priorities is what is most important IMO.
I agree totally with Weezilla - as soon as the gadgets and the tricks come out you need to run!!
However, often I see folks so enamoured with the fact that they are doing whatever (be it half pass or changes, or the fact that the draw reins make the horse round and it requires no work!) that they think the coaching is excellent.
I also find that these are the coaches who discourage their riders from showing or clinicing or learning from other sources as they are afraid of being found out! They like to create a world at their barn where they are the greatest.
For me, I am actively working on my certification to attract students, and to get my international passport for coaching. It is tough as there are a lot of requirements and the programs are few and far between in this area - so that also is another issue with trying to find a certified coach, often there are simply no certification opportunities! I swear the coaching coordinator curses whenever I email her pestering her!
And I encourage my students to learn from other sources. Of course I need the income however, it is important to me that my students do not feel trapped and that they feel open to educate themselves how they see fit.
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My criteria are as follows:
Does my coach have the ability to walk the walk, or are they just talking a good game? [due to having had one coach who was a complete idiot but SOUNDED good, I have to be able to SEE good results when the coach rides if I'm going to respect them]
Does my coach understand how I learn? No point in paying someone I can't learn from.
Does my coach understand my HORSE? Ditto - no point in paying someone who's only giving me irrelevant information, or who insists on asking too much of my horse.
Does my coach consistently IMPROVE riders who come to her of all levels of experience? I don't want to have to switch just because I've reached the top of what my coach can teach.
It's VERY hard for me to find a coach whose teaching style meshes well with my learning style. I know I'm a difficult student and I'm working on it but meanwhile there's absolutely NO point in me paying someone who I'm just going to clash with.
Aye, there's the rub, Anebel - people don't know what they don't know:-( I know of a person who teaches dressage in a dressage-starved area, whose credentials are that she has "worked extensively with the USDF Instructors Program and is currently working toward completing the USDF L Program". Her riding is...not good. And her scores reflect that. Is she better than nothing? Probably, as long as she doesn't resort to gadgets and is continuing her own education.
Kudos to you for pursuing your certification! After having seen your I-1 video, I would be happy to recommend you :-)
Unfortunately my first criteria is in my wallet. In my area, instructors run from $50 up to $300 depending on their credentials. The vast majority are in the $100 range. I always watch a lesson before I try out the instructor. The teaching styles vary greatly in my neck of the woods.
For me, the most important parts I am looking for are:
1. Someone who will work on my position. (horse cannot perform well if I'm up there throwing him off balance)
2. They can explain to me why I am doing a particular movement. Say my horse pops his shoulder on a canter circle. I want to know what I am doing to correct that and why mechanically is it the right exercise to do. Since dressage is all about correct movement, if I don't know why I am doing what I am doing, what's the point? .
3. Am I being trained to be a rider or a trainer? I only take a few lessons a year. In between I need to have enough tools in my box to work through any problems that come up on my own. I can't afford to be with a trainer who will happily take my money while just stringing me along fishing out tiny bits of useful info each ride. I want info overload so I can go home and play with what I have learned.
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