Horse Life

The Long Road to the Dream Team

Since getting P in 2014, we’ve had our share of help. I’m not really a trainer hopper (on purpose), but sometimes the shoe just doesn’t fit, ya know? And being new to the area at that time didn’t help any. Needless to say, it’s been quite the process.

At first I wanted someone mostly on the ground to make sure that I didn’t enormously screw up my new OTTB. Enter Trainer P. She was the resident trainer at the barn I boarded at, and pretty much did everything. She had students who did dressage, jumpers, hunters, western, etc. Since we were doing super basic stuff, she was the obvious choice due to convenience.

She was very patient and advocated going slow with him- at first. The barn was about 20 minutes from my house so I did the “full-training” package, which meant we did 2 lessons or rides per week. I tried to do lessons for the most part, but if I couldn’t make it out there after work, I’d text her and she’d hop on him.

Together we accomplished things like establishing the basics, getting  P to canter on the correct leads, jump his first jumps, and get ready to hit the dressage shows.


Then I started taking P to dressage shows, and where we did quite well for ourselves.


But he was still just 4. Jumping was maybe once a week, and only over tiny little things for a few minutes. So when she started saying things like the jumps needed to get bigger and he needed to learn to “go in a frame” and the way to do that was essentially see-sawing his mouth (because doesn’t everyone know head down = collection?), alarm bells sounded.


Our training relationship ended when I moved P to a different barn in September 2015 and decided to discontinue working with her due to things like her putting random unapproved bits in his mouth (i.e. a twisted snaffle to “get his head down,” WTF). So that was that.


I bumbled along by myself for a bit at the H/J barn, then broke my ankle in January 2016 and didn’t ride besides the random ride here and there in my air boot.Capture
Finally got back in the saddle in March 2016, when I entered a local CT. It was there that I met Trainer J, who was judging dressage. Husband was inadvertently making her crack up during my test with his death threats towards our kids, who (shockingly) wouldn’t sit still. She called me over after my test to tell me she loved my horse and husband, and was sorry if she missed any part of my test because my husband made her and the scribe laugh too much.

Maybe why we won?

A friend had recommended Trainer J to me before, but then I had heard from someone else that she wasn’t a big TB fan (which is kinda true). But she had such nice things to say about P that I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did. Trainer J is one of those people that you can’t describe without using the word awesome. She’s hilarious, doesn’t take life too seriously, but man does she know what she’s talking about. Turn my wrist 1/4″ to the left? Oh, look, P’s on the bit now. She’s just one of those majikal trainers that everyone needs in their life.

On any given 20m circle, I’ll probably have 10+ instructions thrown my way. But rather than just tell me what to do and then leave me to despair when I’m on my own, she spends a lot of time talking about the why’s and when’s, which helps me recreate (somewhat) the exercises at home.

Lesson vs Solo…for real

P also adores Trainer J in a way I’ve never seen. He’ll do no wrong in front of her and she thinks he’s just the greatest that ever lived. And she means it, too. Which has at times had me scratching my head, but really, she’s one of the main reasons I still have him. And for that, I’m grateful.

P says, “I’ll do anything for yoooo-uuuuu, Auntie Trainer J”

She constantly tries to get us to switch to just straight dressage, or at least get our medals, and almost everytime I see her, and has invited us to lesson with her trainers when they come into town. So far I’ve managed to dodge all of the above. I’m not about to shell out for a USDF membership, and I’ll come audit, but ride in front of Linda Zang? Not right now, thanks, though.


But Trainer J doesn’t jump, so we had to do something on that front.

Enter Trainer D.  Trainer D rides at the Advanced/2** level, and I met her when we took an XC clinic with her in November of 2015. Of course I broke my ankle shortly after that, but  I called her and scheduled our first lesson right after starting with Trainer J.

And it was….terrifying. After telling her I struggled in SJ and had some confidence issues, my only instruction was to jump my spooky 5 year old OTTB over a 3′ fence on the buckle…even after we jumped OUT of the arena like 3x, making me more and more tense, not to mention P. It was especially frustrating, when Trainer D got on him, jumped him with FULL CONTACT, declared him fine, and then when I got back on said, “On the buckle!”


The next lesson was more terrifying than the first one (she added placing poles in front/behind the jacked up vertical and P jumped THOSE while, again, I was hanging onto the buckle of the reins), and I was struggling with whether or not to continue. I decided to give it one more try and asked for an XC lesson, since we had done well in her XC clinic. Yeah….no. Jumping P in an arena on the buckle was bad enough. But she continued that theme into the XC field and just…all the nopes. P took off with me more times than I can count and I was done. While she continues to do well riding her own horses, I don’t think she’s particularly interested in teaching (or at least teaching me) and we just weren’t compatible.

At least we got one cool picture…right before P landed and bolted and it took me forever to stop him since, ya know, on the buckle and all that

So we were back on our own for jumping. Then in May of 2016, I did an XC clinic with an UL event rider right before we were going to a HT. He spends winters in the area the clinic/HT was in and when I asked if he knew anyone who was in the area permanently, he recommended connecting with the owner of the farm hosting the HT for lessons. I did, and scheduled a lesson with Trainer L for the day after the HT.

The initial lesson went well, so I continued going back down on whatever weekends I could. And every weekend I was there, I would see progress from Friday-Sunday.

But I couldn’t replicate it at home. This trainer was a yeller, and not always a nice one. Her big policy was safety, which I appreciated, but I always felt very, I don’t know, frantic, when I rode with her. Still, I assumed that it if this wasn’t working, then it was me and not them, and continued riding with her for much longer than I should’ve.


But then some things happened when I put P up for sale with her earlier this year. I went and picked him up on a gut feeling that things weren’t right (and gut was correct), so I won’t go back.

Because how could you NOT treat this face right?

The first person I called after picking P up was, of course, Trainer J. The conversation went something like : HEEEELLLLPPPP MEEEEE, HE’S BROOOOOKEN!” And we went back to square 1 for the time being.

April 2017, after 6 weeks of being for sale he was unable to keep the canter longer than one small circle:


After 2 months of straight dressage with Trainer J:



Didn’t I say she was a miracle worker?

But then it was time to bring back the jumps. I asked Trainer J if she had any recommendations because I only knew of local hunter trainers and I REALLY didn’t want to go that road. So she thinks and says, “What about (Trainer B/Trainer B’s barn)?”

Me: Isn’t that a western barn?

Trainer J: He’s competing at Rolex.

Me: Ok, maybe not a western barn.


I briefly corresponded with Trainer B about scheduling something after Rolex. When I was there (at Rolex, just SO NOT in the same capacity), I made sure to keep an eye out for him on the XC course. My mom, sister and I stationed ourselves at the first triple combination on course that was also across from the final water complex, and when he went by, my first thought was that he looks like he’s having way too much fun out there to be sane. Like, big grin and all that. My face galloping at those things would be much more…like so:

Really though…those jumps are MASSIVE

And that stuck with me on my way to meet him for our first lesson. I mean, we’re so not on the same wavelength. He thinks that stuff is fun. I have trouble committing to 2’6″. This was probably a bad idea.


But. It wasn’t. He helped me walk/trot my nervous-as-hell horse over a cross-rail and a tiny plank. For an hour. It just doesn’t get more tedious than that. I almost didn’t want to ask if we could come back for fear of being laughed at. But I did.

And we did.

tenor5After the first few weeks, I wasn’t so sure. Trainer B tends to remain quiet through an exercise rather than babble a constant stream of instructions, which is what I’m used to. Then when I (usually) failed, he’d explain why it failed, what to do better and why. And then go silent again while I gave it a go.952.gif

But I’ve found that it’s actually helped me enormously. I’m able to focus on P & I through exercises and then get feedback, which has been instrumental in improving my riding on my own. Getting a million instructions in the moment doesn’t allow me to recreate that at home.

And even though every week he’s had to adjust pretty much every jump in the arena from 6′ (I doubt I’m even exaggerating) down to a more reasonable level for us mere mortals, he tolerates us well.

And while certainly not without plenty of mistakes along the way, we’ve gone from our first lesson in May:


To June:


To July:


To August:

Into September:


Though I have to include the time P had to be CHASED OVER THE ROLLTOP WITH A TREE BRANCH:


Which brings us to now:




And between Trainer J and Trainer B, both helped me get the never-before-achieved result of finishing on our dressage score earlier this month:



I’d say we’re pretty content.

22 thoughts on “The Long Road to the Dream Team”

  1. This was really fun seeing how much you guys have changed over time!!! I’m glad you have such a good group of trainers that seem to be the right fit 🙂 Bow it’s just forward and onward!!!!!!! Weeeeeee!!!!!


  2. You guys are looking great! It’s always wonderful to have those good trainers – that support group that is always encouraging you on. Always so good to finally find those people that you click with ❤ I love love love those trainers like Trainer J that just somehow KNOW and you're like "how can I be majikal like you?!" lol Sketchy trainers are actually my biggest fears going into lessons. I've had people I've ridden with give me absolutely no coaching to where I'm left to figure it out (and even my questions don't get answered) and I've been yelled at and given constant instruction and made to feel really stupid which was a no. Now that I have Amber, I'm worried that since she's a QH and not your typical sporty horse that they're either going to try to make her do more than she can or just write us off. Thankfully, it seems like these trainers I've met so far (one I've known longer) love her, so I'm crossing my fingers!


    1. The feeling stupid is definitely something I can relate to. I would leave lessons feeling totally incompetent, which totally sucks. And then second guess myself during all my rides at home, which didn’t help any. I’m so glad you’ve found a trainer that’s working for you & Amber! She’s such a cool all-around horse. And QHs aren’t exactly non-sporty- they’re pretty athletic in their own right!


  3. love all the background. Makes me understand how wacky you truly are (Said from one other wacky person HA). I think you can def tell how much he has improved. AHH to finish on a dressage score (yeah we have done that) but to have it actually 40 or below would be a freaking miracle for me no matter the trainer 🙂 HA (I realize you usually get much better scores than that LOL)


  4. there’s nothing quite like finding that perfect trainer match. feeling like you’ve got the resources and expertise helping push you forward can make such a big difference! trainers B and J seem like such perfect fits for you and Pilgrim, it’s so exciting to watch!


  5. I don’t think there is anything wrong with leaving a trainer if they don’t fit. I DEFINITELY agree you need to leave a trainer if there are red flags. (wtf with that bit stuff?!) I’ve not been following for the whole saga but it’s been awesome to see you guys improve in the last few months. XD

    Pretty soon, you’ll be that person who looks like they are having too much fun to be sane. 😉


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