Important Questions To Ask A Horse TrainerBy Jeffrey Rolo
If you haven't already read the article How Do I Know A Horse Trainer Isn't Milking Me then I would suggest doing so first since it lays down some of the critical groundwork for assessing a horse trainer before you reach the questions and answers stage of your meeting.
Before I list some of the most common questions, I can't stress how important it is to come to your meeting prepared. Know which horse training questions you would like to ask before you meet with a trainer, because otherwise there is a strong chance that you will neglect to ask some important questions during your meeting. Spontaneity is great for a date, but it's not terribly useful when judging a horse trainer.
Here are some of the questions to ask a horse trainer, accompanied with some of my personal thoughts about each:
How long will it take to train my horse?
A qualified trainer can certainly give you a basic time estimate based on their prior experiences, but he would be unlikely to attempt to guarantee a specific length of time. Why? Because like us, each horse is an individual. Some are quick to pick up new skills, while others take a bit more time and patience.
Additionally, that is actually a bit of a loaded question in that the answer will vary depending on the expectations. For example, I may easily get a horse trained for saddle within a week, but that doesn't necessarily mean the horse would be "bomb-proof" and ready for road and/or trail riding when paired with amateur riders. So when asking this question, it's important to understand that there is a difference between being taught the fundamentals, and being polished to the point where anyone can confidently work with the horse.
If the horse trainer you are interviewing is too quick to offer a guaranteed timeline, I would personally take it as a red flag. There is no harm in giving approximate timelines, but responsible horsemen will hesitate to make promises they may not be able to keep.
Do ask this question, and make sure both you and the trainer define success the same way.
Why did my horse pick up this bad habit?
The bad habit can be anything from resisting the lead to rearing while under saddle. Horse owners are often so flustered by the behavior that they want answers as quickly as possible. This is a perfectly understandable and natural desire, but it's important to realize that a responsible horseman can only speculate until he can actually get his hands dirty and work with your horse.
Take rearing, for example: there could be dozens of reasons why a horse might be rearing in any given situation. A horse trainer can ask you questions and attempt to draw a hypothesis, but only hands-on experience can determine a root cause with any degree of certainty. So it's a good sign if your potential horse trainer asks questions and attempts to draw potential causes, but it's a red flag if the horse trainer is too quick to instantly determine the cause and resolution without first working with your horse.
If you are bringing your horse to a trainer to work out a bad habit, this is a good question to ask. You're not looking for the definitive end-all, be-all answer – you're getting a feel for a horse trainer's knowledge by seeing which questions he asks as he works through some of the possibilities with you.
What type of care will my horse receive?
If your horse is going to be boarded off-premises, it's important to know what type of board and care he will receive while at the trainer's place. Will your horse have access to a paddock or field during the day? What type of exercise will he receive? How many hours will he be turned out? Is your horse going to be turned out with other horses? What type(s) of feed will he receive? How often is he fed? What type of emergency care will he receive should an injury or illness occur while the horse is at the trainer's establishment? Will a blacksmith attend to his hooves? Will he be groomed daily? Does someone frequent the barn regularly so that an injured horse would be detected promptly? Is the price of food and board included in the training rate, or is there an additional charge?
You want to ensure that your horse will receive good care and quality of life when he's not actively working with the trainer.
What types of breeds and/or riding disciplines has the horse trainer worked with previously?
Natural horsemanship is a philosophy that encompasses all breeds and riding disciplines, but that doesn't mean there aren't distinct differences in how a particular horse is trained. If you owned a gaited horse, you want a trainer familiar with your horse's special gait, otherwise he may not know how to engage the gait properly or ensure that it's following the proper rhythm.
Has the horse trainer worked with your breed before? What riding disciplines does he normally teach (i.e., Western pleasure, English, Hunter Jumper, gaited, etc.)?
You want to ensure that the trainer exhibits appropriate familiarity with your desired riding school as well as your horse's breed.
We're making good progress, but we're not quite done with the questions you should ask a horse trainer when performing your research. Continue on to More Common Questions You Should Ask A Horse Trainer to arm yourself with more important questions that will hopefully provide you the insight you need.
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