The most important thing a horse owner should know about training his or her horse is proper care for the animal. Being hands-on, practicing groundwork, and being mindful of your animal will go a long way to making it receptive to being ridden and properly trained for your chosen discipline. To develop a well-trained horse, it is important to find a trainer who is a good match for you and your horse.
The American Quarter Horse Association (806-376-4811, aqha.com) is a great resource for finding a reputable trainer in your area in any number of disciplines. The organization catalogs and refers trainers accredited by a panel of experts.
Bob Avila, the AQHA Horseman of the Year (1996), for example, is best known for training reining and cow horses in Temecula, Calif. Avila has earned more than 30 championships and reserve AQHA titles and was fortunate enough to grow up the son of Don Avila, a former rodeo cowboy and professional trainer in the West Coast show circuit of the '50s and '60s. Avila Jr. was practically raised by the likes of trainers Don Dodge, Tony Amaral Sr., Harry Rose Sr., Clyde Kennedy, and Jimmy Williams—his childhood heroes. After a brief detour to racecars, Avila devoted himself to fulltime horse training.
"To be a great horseman, you have to love your animals," he says. "Our animals eat before we eat and sleep before we sleep. I'm also a clean freak with my equipment and facilities."
Avila maintains that the worst mistake a horse owner can make with a new horse is to ride alone. There's a good chance the rider will inadvertently reinforce or create bad habits. "The greatest benefit to working with a trainer is another pair of eyes. They can show you what you look like, or could look like," Avila says. Plus "having horses is about having fun—and you're bound to have more fun with someone else there."
An advocate of simple common sense, Avila says that shopping for a horse trainer is like going to car dealerships: "You can tell the sleazy ones from the reputable ones," he says. The first question to ask yourself is: "Are they treating their animals the way you want to be treated?" Visit the trainers' facilities to get first-hand experience. Observe the physical and emotional condition of the horses in their care. Walk around the facility with attentiveness to cleanliness, equipment condition, etc. Check in about the compatibility of your individual personalities and objectives. Ask yourself: "Is this someone who will look out for my best interest?"
Find it: Purchase Avila's instructional books and DVDs, including his latest, How to Care for Your Horse, at bobavila.net or call 951-375-6682.
Australian horseman Clinton Anderson offers Downunder Horsemanship Clinics at his Texas ranch, a traveling Walkabout Tour, and instructional DVDs designed to train human and horse. 888-287-7432, downunderhorsemanship.com
Dooley Performance Horses
Jessica and Randy Dooley start colts, offer riding lessons, and train and sell horses. The couple is successful in the show ring, as well. Both made the finals at the 2008 NRHA Futurity. 970-948-4530, dooleyperformancehorses.com
Cross Plains, Tenn.
Offering symposiums, riding and performance clinics, individual instruction, and trainer courses, renowned horseman John Lyons is one of the top trainers and teachers in the country. 615-379-1056, joshlyons.com
Pagosa Springs, Colo.
Offering a Natural approach to horse training—through specialized tack, educational material, and clinics around the world, with centers in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA. 800-642-3335, parellinaturalhorsetraining.com