Thoughts on “It’s Time To Train The Trainers” – an article by Catherine Haddad Staller

I came across an interesting article today thanks to Katie’s blog “Reflections on Riding”. In her post “Failed Delivery Systems”  she discusses Catherine Haddad Staller’s latest article on Chronicle of The Horse.

Catherine says: […]”What finally irked me into writing this blog is this: Our trainers need more knowledge about how to train the basics—not just for themselves, but for their students as well. And they need to motivate themselves to GET RESULTS. Don’t pass off a basic problem to a visiting clinician—it does not speak well of your own teaching skills! […] So, my trainers, don’t wear me out teaching someone how to hold the reins. I did not fly half way across the country to do YOUR job for you. Find me riders who want to learn in order to become better teachers at home, and I will give them all I’ve got.[…] You can read Catherine’s article in full here:

The article caused some stir and disapproval in comments section among novice dressage riders and I must agree with the fact that the delivery chosen by Catherine is somewhat distracting from a very valid point she is making. It seemed she managed to hurt the group of riders she didn’t even address the article to. I recommend you read Katie’s post which explores the delivery issue in more detail. Here I would like to share my thoughts on probably the core message in Catherine’s article: the lack of training competency in the trainers.


Thought provoking

I personally found the message very thought provoking. I am a grassroot/amateur rider level coach and I both thoroughly enjoy it and I am proud of what I do. I put a lot of effort in educating myself not just about horse training but also about rider’s training because I feel it’s impossible to lay good foundations without the latter. I also think that solid basics are not easy, they might be fairly simple in comparison to advanced sport where timing, feel and knowledge require more superior skill, but they are often very difficult for many novice riders to grasp.

Training of grassroots trainers in such a way that we are trustworthy, knowledgeable and perceived as authority at our level of expertise, is to me one of the elements of successful training pyramid that assures continuity of the sport. It pains me so much to watch some shows where riders ride with such disregard for their horses. At that level though it is their instructors who should make it clear to them they are not ready to take part in a show. It’s not fun for their horse to be pulled around. Grassroots coaching needs a serious upgrade so average riders who take weekly lessons in riding schools come after 2-3 years with a quiet, non-invasive, educated seat and supple hands. It should not be the case of people riding for 7-8 years paying for lessons and not achieving the basic requirement of sound horsemanship – riding position that keeps the horse sound.

I acknowledge that there are riders with physical limitations, disabilities, age related problems but I can also tell you from experience that this is a lame excuse. I have taught riders well into their 60s, riders with hip replacements, knees replacements, vision impairment, MS, partial paralysis, arthritis to name some problems I experienced and none of those stopped the riders from developing a decent riding position over time.

Novice riders who insist on training with top trainers as if this was to magically bypass early work on foundations need not be told their dreams are impossible but be shown by their competent coaches at the suitable level how much there is still to learn before it is worth the money and effort to go for a lesson with a top pro.

If the basics coaches are well equipped in teaching knowledge (not just riding knowledge), thousands so called average riders will stand a chance to have fabulous amateur “riding careers”. The basics coaches will be able to “produce” riders ready to book meaningful lessons with more advanced coaches. Those coaches will not waste their time and energy on teaching basics of the seat but will be able to focus on progressing the horse and rider.

I strongly believe in this based on own experiences and on watching rider education in several different countries.

Little story

Around 2003/4 I started to be interested in dressage but I had only jumped, backed youngsters and schooled in jumping saddles at that point. I found a trainer I really wanted a lesson from (she now runs a great dressage coaching business – Altogether Equestrian). I then spent about a year re-educating my seat, riding without stirrups and generally getting my head around dressage seat. When I finally had my lesson I was still pretty rubbish at it but I would find it a complete waste of mine and trainer’s time if I went there with my knees up my chin as it was my custom and to be shown what a dressage saddle was…;)

The order of things

Why would it be so bad if we had a solid Foundation training establishing all generic skills before we have division onto dressage, jumping, eventing? Why is it so bad to have the patience to go through that primary school of riding before ‘specialising’? Why shouldn’t amateur riders be tactful, balanced and knowledgeable riders? When I was putting together the programmes for Aspire Equestrian Academy I was asked why didn’t I do it per discipline…The thing was, the Academy is about that basic generic education before any discipline truly comes in 🙂 Yes, the riders might compete and often do but everything still evolves around that all-round training.

It saddens me when some riders tell me they initially thought Aspire Academy is too advanced for them. They often think so because they are accustomed to unstructured, unplanned, random riding lessons at a riding school they gone to. [I know this because I ask]. To me these kind of places should be re-branded and called “How to survive on a horse camps” and never be called riding schools.

Top riders

There might of course be top riders and coaches out there who have the time, willingness and passion for teaching beginner riders as well as advanced riders. That’s wonderful. However, on the whole, I would think it is a responsibility of a an instructor at the lower levels to teach the fundamentals of horsemanship. And to do it well. Teaching quality basic riding is not boring, running around a riding arena for 8 hours shouting up-down, up-down is…

If the way riding is taught at lower levels undergoes changes perhaps the grassroots instructors’ knowledge, skill, attitude, aptitude and pride of the job changes too…

What do you guys think?

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on “It’s Time To Train The Trainers” – an article by Catherine Haddad Staller”

    1. Thank you and yes, wouldn’t that be great, I wish so myself! On the other hand, perhaps because I didn’t and see the benefits of it being done well, I am so pro the solid basics 🙂

  1. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation- fundamentals need to be taught correctly from the beginning, but it can be very difficult as a trainer/teacher when the general public is both ignorant and , yes I’ll say it, lazy. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop the muscles to ride well, never mind the understanding. Riders hop from clinic to clinic and horse to horse as it is much easier to hang out with the crowd that blames the horse than work themselves. If Catherine offers clinics for trainer/teachers that their students are required to audit, that might provoke some change. The standard of teaching would jump, as trainers would have to be able to actually do what they claim to teach, and students would get an idea of how much work it is to truly ride well.

    1. That’s true, and yes, I agree that such auditing could be the way forward.

      I think lower level riders in US are actually lucky that there even is a chance to ride at clinics with top GP riders, in the UK this is not so common. There are some great international dressage riders who will teach all levels of course but some actual top riders (like Carl Hester) don’t even take any more students on regardless the level…

  2. I loved learning in the United States Pony Club because we had a weekly, affordable lesson with a rotating set of trainers, with a deliberate mix between eventing and dressage. And the upper-level pony club members then began teaching the younger students under supervision. My H-A examination required me to teach students in front of examiners!
    I think that part of the problem is that there are too many young adults that “just love horses,” and the only career in horses they feel available to them is teaching, and there aren’t enough parameters on who can teach and at what level they need to be (I guess the UK has a teaching certification program?). Some trainers are excellent even without certification, but many trainers are stuck in a rut and just desperate to keep the paying students that they have, so they pander to the students rather than high standards. If a student has 3 horses in the barn and pays $5-10,000 per month, the trainer is not going to tell them they aren’t ready to move up- they will help the student buy a new horse that is proven at the higher level.
    I totally agree with “Don’t pass off a basic problem to a visiting clinician—it does not speak well of your own teaching skills!” However, the clinician needs to keep in mind she WAS “just flown half way across the world” to be PAID a lot of money to teach lessons. If she is that great of a clinician she should only teach grand prix/ olympic riders and charge them according to her immense talent!

    1. Hi Corinna,
      Thank you for your comment and thoughts – yes, there are a few certification systems in the UK and more serious trainers who teach for a living or those who freelance usually are qualified within at least one of them.

      The situation you described regarding standards and buying upper level horses happens here too though regardless the certification.

      I read some comments on the COTH forum and it is sad how the choice of words/tone of the article have hurt and offended many ambitious, passionate amateur riders.

      Apparently, the controversial tone has brought some results in form of series of clinics planned for trainers so at least it was all worth it in that respect…

  3. Exactly why Catherine is frustrated. She is offering something invaluable to people who not otherwise have access to such a high level of input and it is utterly unappreciated. Flying halfway across the world to teach is really not a privilege. Having done it myself (on subjects other than horses), I can tell you it is exhausting and 5,000 US$ for the weekend barely covers the costs of making sure your home front is covered when you are gone, and leaves you in the hole big time if something goes wrong because you aren’t there. Add thankless students to the mix and there is really no reason to do it.

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