Things your trainer wants you to know about horse shopping

This year we’ve had the most lovely horse shoppers & their trainers who put the horses first and are clear about their expectations, needs & next steps. It makes life so fantastic when people are practical and thoughtful. Be like them.

We’ve also had shoppers who wildly oversold their abilities, treated the horses like machines and one that wasted both buyers’ and sellers’ time because they just wanted extra rides on fancy horses they had no intention of buying. Don’t be like them.

On that note, I present to you,

Things sellers & trainers want you to do when horse shopping:

Know your budget. 

Have to sell a kidney to buy that fancy big eq horse? Know that before you sit on it. You might decide you can live without that kidney to make it happen, but there’s nothing worse than falling in love with a horse you can’t afford. Nothing else you try will compare and you’ll be sucked into a cyclone or horse shopping sadness.

Be honest about your budget. 

This is NOT the same thing as knowing your budget. Once you know your budget, be honest with your trainer/agent/seller about what the budget is. Don’t let a seller waste their time or your trainer/agent tarnish their reputation by looking out of range. “30k with a little wiggle room” or “30k is pushing it” are different scenarios. Help us do our job by being clear about which it is.

Be honest about your abilities.

With both yourself and your agents. There is totally absolutely wholeheartedly no shame in being where you’re at. Where you’re at is super! You’re presumably getting this new horse so you can grow as a rider, and you’re not going to do that if you’re over-horsed.

Be clear about your goals and realistic about your availability.

This one is a little tricky, because not everyone knows what their life plan in the saddle looks like. It’s great to have some idea of what your goals are so you can evaluate if each horse is one that fits into that plan. 

I’m not saying to not buy the best quality horse you can afford, but if you’re currently riding training level dressage and eventually want to ride FEI but currently only have time to get to the barn three times a week – you do not need the I2 schoolmaster right now. In fact, you probably won’t even be able to get around on the I2 schoolmaster. Stepping stones my friends! I am a huge proponent of wanting to keep our horses for their lifetime, but sometimes the horse for where your abilities are now won’t be the horse for three years from now. Having a partner that can help you focus on your own progress will make your rides so much more fun.

If you’re a minor, let your trainer or parent reach out to sellers.

I know horse shopping is exciting. Woooo! And I know you have more time to scroll the internet than your busy trainer. But please send your trainer the options you’re interested in and ask them to reach out to the seller on your behalf. One of my biggest pet peeves is young riders asking a million questions about a sales horse that is in no way suited for them. The trainer would have known that the horse wasn’t for you from the first sentence of the ad. Please keep in mind that while it is fun for you to window shop online, this is our job.

Employ a trainer or agent to help you shop.

Please! Do it! I can’t tell you how many new clients we’ve had over the years who had purchased without the help of a trainer and ended up with a very unsuitable horse. I swear the commission is 100% worth dipping into your budget to have a trusted opinion. They are going to see and feel things that you just won’t. This is one of those times to employ a professional.

Try the horse thoughtfully.

When we try horses, we generally have the seller warm up the horse lightly (to prove it is sound and not insane), our trainer rides the horse lightly and tests more of the upper range of its stated abilities, and then the buyer takes a spin. As a seller, I am TICKLED PINK if someone wants to come back the next day and take the ride from the warmup to get the full feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask if the horse is a true contender. There are many factors to look for when trying horses and I’m going to do a separate post about that, but for now I’ll say it’s important to keep in mind that a brand new horse is never going to feel like home from the first moment in the saddle. Try to analyze the things that matter most to you (he has easy canter transitions, a comfortable trot, paid attention to you in the ring, etc) and then talk about those things with your trainer post-ride while it’s fresh in your mind.

PS: Don’t buy off video unless you are a professional – and even then, proceed with caution.

It’s ok to say no.

If you ask a question and the seller’s honest answer means the horse is a pass for you, go ahead and say so. We might be bummed but we will NOT be offended by someone who is clear and considerate about what they want.

Similarly, if you get to a barn and the seller is warming up the horse and you realize it’s way too hot for your anxiety level, or it’s dragging a toe significantly – tell them it’s not for you and don’t sit on it. Again, we will not be offended if you help us preserve our horses. *Disclaimer: If you’re just being picky because “oh his tail is not as pretty as I thought,” please get on the horse. Because that ugly tail might be the most magical comfortable creature you ever met under saddle.

Vet the horse.

And if a seller is encouraging you not to – run. But for the love of saddle pads, have reasonable expectations about what is acceptable, and know what your deal breakers are. 13yo horse who’s been doing the 1.20 job? Probably going to have some arthritis. 18.2h monster five year old? Probably going to have an ocd. Find a vet you trust who specializes in your discipline and believe them when they tell you something is or isn’t a big deal.

At the end of the day if you are realistic and enthusiastic then sellers and trainers will love working with you, no matter your budget or skill level. Happy shopping!

Have questions about specific scenarios? Shoot us a message!

Hungry for education

Can we talk about putting yourself out there?

There’s an article that has been circulating around DressageWorld regarding social media influencers within the sport. Color me cranky after being short staffed for a week but I’m feeling inclined to share my thoughts after reading some of the comments while I scarfed down dinner. 

Among other things, the author ponders, “whatever happened to the days when good riding and good horsemanship beat out sparkling pads and well-produced TikToks?”  

To postulate in this direction appears, to me, that we’re wildly overlooking the fact that most ‘good riding’ trainers don’t make themselves approachable or accessible. Nor, perhaps, do they even want to be. And further, those well-produced videos which are being condemned happen to attract people to our sport and give guidance to riders who might not otherwise have it. 

While the author’s general musings are actually less focused on social media and more on her own interesting and collaborative training journey, some phraseology has been spun to cast shame on those riders that utilize social media cleverly and with success. I’m not saying we should listen religiously to every rider who produces catchy reels, but must we judge them so harshly? At least they’re out there doing something in the best way they know how. We should be able to discern who to take advice from and who to just enjoy the content created. 

I’ll be the first to tell you that I want to ride with the best. Am I making a team? Heck no. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am hungry for education. I want to soak up every drop of information I can from trainers who I admire. I don’t think I’m alone in that quest. Sadly the revered masters that many of today’s top trainers were so fortunate to work under are no longer available to this generation of riders. But as my trainer often tells me, she feels it’s her duty to pass down the wisdom she learned from wonderful teachers along the way. I implore all the classically trained coaches to be generous with your earned knowledge. Lend us your guidance so that our community of hungry riders can find you, learn and improve. Isn’t that the point, after all?As a non-trainer farm owner, my own moderately successful use of social media has enabled our barn to stay busy. Which, in turn, means that I can bring a bevy of  fantastic ‘good riding’ trainers to the farm for clinics who would otherwise never visit our area. Yes, I utilize social media to better my business, but it is also the catalyst that enables my small way of giving back to the sport that I love so much. 

It’s a bit of a shame that all this hullabaloo has given me even a moment’s pause to wonder if I’m being lumped into this group of eschewed social media users. But that moment passed quickly. I’ll keep sharing topics I’m passionate about, trainers I respect and all the ammy riders I admire.

Be kind. Try your best. Share your passions. (Please.)

With love,
Someone who is doing their best while trying to learn as much as they can while they can 

Carl Hester Masterclass Recap

If you were lucky enough to attend the Carl Hester Masterclass at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala this weekend, then you’re lucky enough.

What an absolutely fantastic day of training. Carl’s sensible and relaxed yet demanding approach to each horse and rider pair made for very educational rides.

In addition to the under saddle portion of the clinic, I was quick enough to snag tickets for the “private audience” that followed the riding.  We were treated to a private conversation with Carl led by the insightful Betsy Juliano. Carl’s candor struck me most, and it was so generous of him to share his life experiences with us. To that end, I’m excited to share my notes (mostly in the form of direct quotes) from the clinic but I’m not sharing anything that he spoke about during that fireside chat-esque gathering. It was too special and too kind. So thank you again, Carl & Betsy for that memorable evening. 

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the Masterclass:


From the very first ride to the last, we saw him dig into improving the rhythm within the gaits before working on anything else. He reminded us that in the training pyramid, rhythm is the foundation and that “bending and one-sidedness is something that you will work on all the way through their career.” So it’s not just my six year old gelding?! Phew. 

It might come as no surprise that he worked on a lot of transitions, particularly with the young horses. Do more transitions than you think you need to. He noted that, “trot to canter is a pushing stride and canter to trot is to get the horse to swing. Every horse has a swing speed, where is is naturally in his own balance.”  He said that we are always looking for flexibility without tension. 

“If you just remember one thing; stretch, collect, bend, straighten.”

There was one rider wanted some help developing expression, something so relatable to most of us, to which Carl instructed, “You need to teach her to canter more on the spot. You need her to wait more. You must ride forward in canter-walk, the horse should land and step forward. Always think inside hind leg between the front legs.”

“Good collection makes good extension. Have to have the horse pushing to your hand. Put the life in and then you take it forward. A top dressage horse has to push.”


I’ve heard/read several times before that hacking is a big element in their program and he reiterated that point several times. He told us that in his experience the horses go best with two days of work, one day hacking, two days of work, one day hacking and then an off day. 

I found it interesting that the hacking wasn’t just for loosening joints and muscles or letting the horses see something besides the sandbox. He said, “We hack so that they learn to use their necks. The head and the neck has to move. You have to use your arms and your upper body to push the head and neck away.” Even leisurely strolls can help develop a star.


You don’t want crazy and you don’t want a police horse.

Reactions are what helps train the horse to Grand Prix.

Generally you always have to do the opposite of what you’ve got. If you’ve got a horse with huge paces you have to make them small, if you have a horse with small paces you have to make them big.


We had a fair amount of discussion about rider position, particularly the hands. Now mind you, these were all gorgeous riders, but it was so helpful to have details that the every-man (hi!) can work on. We don’t all have that Charlotte Dujardin seat after all. 

He wants our hands in front of the saddle, closed on the reins (no flappy opening hands everybody!), elastic elbows, with thumbs upward and carried. There was a bit of work regarding giving the hand, and it was in many situations for many different reasons. Spooky baby horse that you don’t want to let go of? Needs to learn to not rely on the hand. Grand Prix horse that looks a little heavy but actually is in self carriage? Let go with the hand.  I loved that he told us several times, “the horse has to always feel like the door is being opened. Don’t push and pull at the same time.”

It was a little relegating to me when he said, “remember when I said I needed to see your hand move? When he’s loose in your hand then you can influence his hind legs.” LIGHTBULB. Everything comes from the hind, if the horse is in self carriage and through his body, we can affect the hind end. And alternatively, “if he gets too light it is your job to move the bit into the corners of the mouth until you feel the contact.”

He didn’t forget our lower body either. “Good riders have a good pelvis and can absorb the movement. Good riders follow the movement. You’re not supposed to just sit still.” He never wanted anyone to push with their seat, but to follow the motion quietly through a flexible pelvis. He differentiated between a working seat and a relaxed seat by saying, “a working seat is engaged, the relaxed seat is the horse is already taking me.”

No aid is meant to be applied and left on. “Your leg has to breathe.” As I’ve heard other great trainers explain as well, busy aids will make the horse tune them out. Carl took it a step further and told us, ‘if your leg is just on the horse doesn’t have a chance to come back the other way.”


I’ve been working hard on my halt halt and leg timing as I approach half steps with my young horse so I found it very timely that he discussed half halts in some way with most of the riders. He encouraged separating the aids. Some direct quotes because it’s best explained through his words; 

When you do a half halt bring your hips through your hand 

Wait until the horse rests in the hand and finds balance 

When you give a half halt, I need to see the rein go loose immediately after

 When you make a half halt, he still needs to think forward 

Think forward in the half halt. The minute the horse comes back , you go forward. The minute he goes forward, you come back. So the horse gets more energetic.


We had a couple of really interesting and helpful examples of horse positioning through certain movements. 

One pair wanted clarification of the angle in shoulder in. He told us that his outside toe and eyes will face the letter on the short side he’s traveling toward (a or c). 

In travers into their bend the horse should look straight into the corner. And in general, you have to see the letter that you’re traveling toward through the horse’s ears.

When you ride walk pirouette it has to come from shoulder in. You have to be able to half pass in walk. Half pass out of it so you keep teaching the horse to keep their hip in.

He talked a bit about self carriage throughout the day. Saying, “Lots of people think about over the back but I also think about the underneath of the neck so it has to come up and carry the head.” Reflecting on that image, can’t you just picture beautiful Nip Tuck and En Vogue’s perfectly arching without strain necks? “If there’s wrinkles in front of the saddle then there’s a retraction in the neck. Those wrinkles need to be ironed out.” What an image!

As with most professionals, he liked the canter for evaluation of the horse’s quality but told us that he gets a lot of information from the walk. “For other people, watching the walking is usually the most boring, but for me it’s the most interesting because I can see his natural movement; Where is the horse going to take my hand?”


He highlighted the importance of straightness in changes. If teaching Iofnteaching tempis) or working on straightness in general it was best to use the wall. In terms of rider positioning, he told us, “The horse does the flying not the rider. Flying changes come from your leg and your seat down. Keep your body straight and it’s just from your lower leg…The most important thing of the changes is the horse must follow you.”

With a horse that was rushing the ones he told us, “It’s a very good problem to have a horse that’s in front of you thinking forward.” Forward and energetic is something to work with as opposed to behind the leg. 

And one of my favorite lines was about committing to the request. “Be positive. Don’t do those little tickly little lady aids.”  We all know what he means and this sound bite will live rent free in my head for all time. 


We all (audience and rider alike) had a slow time grasping the concept that we should know how many strides our horse takes in twenty meters. NOT a twenty meter circle, but twenty actual meters. The horse in the ring did it in eight (so we learned) and so it was four strides across to the centerline, meaning that’s where the flying change should occur. This is a sport of precision after all!

The horse has to react forward but you have to open the door to be fair to the horse.

When you train them you have to stick to the same thing. 

It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it perfectly it matters that you keep attempting. 


And my most favorite thing he said all day;

‘They’re dreams aren’t they? All the young horses are dreams. 
Always have the hope that your horse can make Grand Prix. You’ve got to have that belief that they’re going to do it. Not all of them will have the super star edge but you have to believe in them.”

Why we love WHIS headsets

Communication is key between horse and rider… and rider and trainer! Training headset systems are the perfect addition to your training toolkit to enhance your rides with your coach. However as this rider (and overall fan of training headsets) can tell you, it can be a struggle to find one that doesn’t have issues. I’ve tried them all and the struggle is real folks. My quest for the perfect system brought me to the Netherlands where WHIS stole my heart. Gang, they are SO GOOD. I take my product testing very seriously and these little systems have blown me away.