Choosing a Horse Trainer

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When choosing a horse trainer the options can be endless. With this article, I aim to help you decide what’s important to you, what’s important to your horse, and highlight some things you will want to look for to find a good fit for you.

There are a lot of handy horsemen in this world that don’t have a list of accolades a mile long. In fact, a lot of the folks that don’t have the accolades, start colts for those that do. When it comes to the foundation your horse gets, you don’t want to skip steps, or grades or have holes in that foundation.


how to choose a horse trainer, art of the cowgirl, colt starting, horse training, horsemanship
Me, Jenn Zeller, starting a 3 year old filly at the 2020 Art of the Cowgirl.

Observation is a key to finding any good colt starter or horse trainer. I would want to watch them handle a multitude of horses: whether that is done via a YouTube channel, by watching them in person at an event, or by popping in to their facility unannounced. It’s also important to have asked others what their experience was. If you know folks that had a horse ridden or started by the horseman you’re considering, ask them. Or if you know someone just got a colt back from so-and-so, watch how the colt rides.


Below is a list of questions you’d want to ask yourself when choosing someone to start your colt or finish your horse:

— Are they (the rider) thoughtful?

— Does the horse look happy? Does he want to be around the person riding him, or is he hunting up another space?

— Is the horse confused?

— How confident does the colt or horse look? Is he willing? Is he certain?

— Can you determine what the trainer is asking for?

— Does what and how they’re asking the horse to do something make sense to you?

— How often will they ride? Does 30 days mean 30 rides, or 25?

— Are their hands quiet? Do they have a soft horse, or a braced-up horse?

— When asking for a maneuver do they do a lot, or a little? Are their spurs constantly mashing the side of the horse?

— What is the condition of the other horses in the facility?

— Do they consider the horse to be in the wrong if he doesn’t get it right? Or do they work to communicate to the horse what they’re after? Does their presentation of the cue they’re trying to teach change with the horse as needed?

— Can they explain to you the thought process behind everything they’re asking of the horse? The bit choice, the rein choice, the saddle pad choice, the saddle choice?


How to choose a horse trainer, what questions should you ask, outside the turn.
If someone can’t tell you exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing with their horse, you may want to reconsider taking their advice or having them ride for you.

I want to see a horse that is happy and confident under saddle. Not one that is swishing their tail, has a dull look in their eye, or is constantly cranky due to lack of understanding. I want to know that everything the rider is doing can be explained. I want the reason for the choices they make. And you should too.

When folks bring us a colt to start, or come to the ranch to ride with us to learn more about building a relationship with their horse, one of the things we can always explain to them is why we do the things we do.

This is absolutely critical: to know why a tool or technique applies and why or how it works. The answer “that’s how grandpa did it” doesn’t really give you any information. While there may have been nothing wrong with how grandpa did it, he may not have known why or how something worked.

I believe it’s imperative to keep the try in the horse. When things don’t go as we envisioned, should we view the horse as dumb, or blame him? If we do, we’re taking the try out of him. A horse can only do one of two things at any given time we interact with him: what he thinks he needs to do to survive, or what he thinks we want him to do.


There are a lot of handy horsemen in this world that don’t have a list of accolades a mile long. In fact, many of the folks that don’t have the accolades, start colts for those that do. When it comes to the foundation your horse gets, you don’t want to skip steps, that will put a hole in your foundation. #outsidetheturn



Since I start colts and train horses, I’ll use myself as an example. When I was in college riding reined cow horses, we did a lot of counter-bending. I know the thought process behind it — the left shoulder sets the right hip, and vice versa. Counter-bends were used to help the horse learn to separate the front-end from the back-end and more.

observation is key when choosing a horse trainer, outside the turn, horse training, colt starting
Observing how others handle their horses, is a great way to learn what you should and shouldn’t do with yours.

As I’ve grown in my knowledge about how a horse moves, my thoughts on counter-bending have changed. I know how I want my horse to travel, so I have quit counter-bending them. Now, I only utilize a leg yield to keep their shoulders square and hips under them. From a barrel racing point of view, I don’t want my horse’s nose ever tipped away from a turn. I can teach them to stay square and properly round from the start, I’m insuring proper positioning during a turn.


See how I can explain the why and how of that statement above?


As an aside:


I make the choice to never use a tie down on my horses — any of them. EVER.
At one time I did, and then I realized:


In the pasture when a horse does crazy athletic moves the horse has no need of a tie down for balance, so why should he need it when I get on him? He doesn’t — other than that it’s something consistent. So if we as his rider, can train ourselves to be consistent with the release, and release when the horse has his head where we want it, we shouldn’t ever need a tie-down.


Keep in mind the above is my opinion; it’s what works for me and not all of you reading this are going to agree with me. I’m cool with that.


In conclusion, when choosing someone to train your horse, ask the right questions. Think of things from the perspective of your four-legged partner. After all, we aren’t in this to have either of us be unhappy, are we?


What do you feel is important when choosing someone to start a colt or train a horse for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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