The Bad and the Good

Warning – this post is very long, but I would love to get readers’ opinions to my questions at the end.

A lot of horse bloggers have talked about filtering lately. While I don’t filter just to present all sunshine and rainbows, I do try to not blog about things that involve others. This is hard though as I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the trainer we started with back at the end of January. So far I’ve been choosing to just not blog about it, but I don’t like pretending everything is perfect. I know I prefer reading honest blogs so I’m going to present the bad as well as the good.

In our first lesson with the new trainer, Nilla was acting like an ass. She kept trying to rip the reins out of my hands and was not listening. I initially corrected this with hard stops and backing. The trainer asked me to work on asking gently and then rewarding her when she slowed or stopped. And I did it for that lesson because I try to be open and listen to the trainers I am paying to help me. However, I did tell the trainer at the time that Nilla was not this green. She knows how to slow down. She also knows that rooting and trying to yank the reins out of my hands is not acceptable This is not a new concept; this was Nilla being naughty. However, the trainer had never seen us before so she probably just thought I was one of those people who think their horse is better than it is. I decided to move on and try again.

La la la – not listening

We carried on to future lessons and some went well and others did not go so well. Another one of our issues with the new trainer was with bending. Nilla is very stiff and not good at bending. She’s now 11 years old and spent all of her limited riding time riding across a cattle pasture on a ranch. She was basically a trail horse that didn’t even need to go around bends on the trail. She’s also green and bending is a new concept for her. It took me and the other trainer (who only comes around in fall and spring) weeks to get her to bend at all.

In the last few months, Nilla’s gotten a lot better. I can now get her to bend at both a walk and a trot. However, I cannot get her to bend using just outside rein and inside leg. I know the correct way to bend. I can do it on Shasta. I can do it on Dijon. I’ve done it on countless lesson/leased horses. However, Nilla does not understand this concept. She just thinks you’re trying to pull her head around to the outside. She needs some inside rein to get an inside bend. More than just a guiding rein, she needs a firm pull. I do not throw away my outside hand, I just use both. I have actually gotten to a stage where I can get her to bend using inside leg to outside rein at the walk – but she cannot yet do it at the trot. I do not blame Nilla for this. She’s green and I think she’s learning and trying.


I do however, blame the trainer. If I pull on my inside rein to get bend in a lesson, she corrects me. She has explained the concept to me multiple times like I don’t get it even though I had said that I do in fact get it, I just cannot produce the result she’s looking for with Nilla at this point in time. In a lesson two weeks ago, after being told again to stop using inside rein, I went down to the walk to work on bending without using inside rein and she asked me very rudely if I was planning on trotting or was I done? I didn’t even bother to respond because my response would have been more rude. So we went back to trotting a circle and Nilla was not bending with just the outside rein. She was also getting very frustrated and confused and reverted to her bad habit of trying to yank the reins out of my hands.

Now, I should have stood up for Nilla and told the trainer off about the inside rein thing. This was my fault and I admit that. However, I do not consider rooting/yanking on the reins to be an acceptable behavior regardless of frustration. So I corrected her by firmly pulling the reins back and then releasing the second she gave in to pressure. At this point the trainer literally threw her hands in the air and said that she couldn’t instruct me if I was going to refuse to listen to her.

So I was ready to be done with new trainer in entirety. However, my husband really likes her. And honestly, she has been good for him and Shasta. Because Shasta is very well trained, she rewards her rider for asking correctly much the way a schoolmaster does. She still has opinions and she doesn’t always want to do what you’re asking, but she will eventually. New trainer has really helped my husband get Shasta more collected and calm and helped him with his position a bit.

So my husband decided we should do another lesson with him on Nilla and me on Shasta. That was this last Tuesday. It went well, though I’m not sure it really proved any points. The trainer didn’t have my husband work on bending. Instead we both worked on a gymnastic. Nilla was actually really good and wanted to canter (this never happens) so he got a lot of good canter work and jumps out of her. Great. However, she wasn’t asked to do the things we were having issues with.

Cantering jumps!

I had a nice ride on Shasta. I haven’t jumped anything other than trotting tiny crossrails with Nilla in a while so it was good to get back to it. I have developed a terribly defensive seat because of my back injury and I discussed this with the trainer and we worked on me trying to be a little more willing to lean forward. It wasn’t a huge success, but I worked on it and didn’t give the trainer any attitude.

Defensive or just sucky eq? A mix of both, really
Actually leaning forward – shocking

On Wednesday the trainer who comes to the barn in the fall and spring returned for the first time since October. Now, seasonal trainer has ridden Nilla. I usually pay for a combination of one lesson for me and one training ride on Nilla each week when she’s around. So seasonal trainer knows Nilla’s way of going. She also helped me a lot with Nilla’s training in the past. I went through the whole story with her about the new trainer. Then she had me go out and do some trot circles and ask for bend. She quickly agreed with me that Nilla’s just not at the stage to handle bending with outside rein only. I did show her how we could do it at the walk. We then moved on to going around the ring working on bending and moving off my leg. She even had me switch out my saddle pad to a thinner one so I could get more leg connection.

Not the best picture – but look at the bend

I admit that I have a lot of riding flaws. In addition to riding defensively, I picked up a lot of bad habits from polo. This includes a chair seat and a habit of bracing for stops and transitions. All very correct in polo, but not so much in english riding. So seasonal trainer had me work on lowering my shoulders and pulling back to my elbows instead of up or down and also actually trying to sit my weight down in the saddle instead of bracing up.

We tried it a few times with seasonal trainer pointing out what I needed to fix. I commented on how hard this was for me since I had to really think about what should be a very easy thing to do. When I got it right, seasonal trainer complimented me on being so easy to teach. She teaches a lot of kids so I don’t think this praise is on par with George Morris or anything, but it was nice to reaffirm what all my previous instructors have thought – that I do, in fact, listen and am pretty easy to train.

Bendy – though who knows why my hand is pointing down like that

Now seasonal trainer has the advantage of having ridden Nilla. She had a training ride the day after my lesson – her first ride  on Nilla since October – and she was very impressed with how far Nilla has come. She said her canter was the most improved. She also said her bending is great and much improved, but she doesn’t understand inside leg to outside rein yet. Her comment was that next time the new trainer tells me Nilla should be able to do it, I should tell her to get on and show me.

The thing is, I’ve asked. And new trainer says she doesn’t do that during lessons. Which seems weird to me, but maybe that’s normal.

So now, here’s my question for my readers. Am I just liking seasonal trainer more because she agrees with me and I’m biased by that? Should I keep riding with new trainer and challenge myself or just call it quits before we have another argument?

10 thoughts on “The Bad and the Good

  1. hellomylivia

    Hmmm I find it a little odd that a trainer wouldn't want to get on and feel the horse for herself- every horse responds to cues differently and it can be very difficult to tell without actually getting on. I hope you're able to convince her to hop on briefly so she can better instruct you. But if she's not able to give you the instruction you need to improve…then I wouldn't bother paying for lessons. Good luck with whatever decision you make!

  2. sarahczspots

    I think any trainer who isn't willing to get on and try the horse herself is suspicious. She doesn't know how Nilla rides, so how can you instruct you to ride her better? I think I'd stick with the seasonal trainer when she's available for sure.

  3. Amanda Tindall

    It seems like she needs to ride the horse if the two of you are having troubles communicating about Nilla's training. Maybe ask for a training ride and see what she says? Its frustrating to have a trainer that gets emotional, regardless of the rider's emotional state. Throwing hands up in the air and being sarcastic is pretty out of line. With that being said, if you live in a limited horse area, sometimes its just best to set boundaries (ie no bending work at all) and stick to the things she is helpful with while seasonal trainer isn't around.

  4. Olivia

    Seasonal trainer is around now. So I could just stop taking lessons with new trainer, but I'll be back to having no trainer in the summer and winter then.

  5. TeresaA

    It seems to me that you and the new trainer did not gel and both got frustrated. I would have an honest conversation with her to outline the above and see if you guys can work together. If not then go to the seasonal trainer. Not all trainers and students match (same as horses and riders).

  6. Olivia

    Conversations with her don't work. I've had multiple where I explain why this whole bending thing isn't working and she tells me to go back out and try again. Having been an instructor in the past, I do get how annoying it is when you have your trainee talking instead of doing and giving you a list of excuses, which is why I will go out and try to do the thing, but there never seems to be any acknowledgement that it's still not working.

  7. SheMovedtoTexas

    I think every trainer is not a mix for everyone. If you don't like new trainer and you've given it a fair shot… move on to someone else. That's perfectly okay if you've decided that she doesn't work for you and your mount.

  8. Olivia

    I agree that not all trainers and students mix. I guess my concern really is that I'm not challenging myself or advancing. It's hard to tell if I'm just taking the easy way out by going with the trainer who agrees with me on everything. It's helpful to see people's thoughts though since I wasn't sure if I was thinking straight.

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