When we think about the best horse trainers in the world, a few names come to mind. Whether they train horses for Western riding, dressage, or racing, each rider discussed here has brought something of value to their field. Whatever style of training they practice, they do it because they love horses, and they love seeing them succeed and perform at their best. Read on for some of the riders that we believe are the top horse trainers in the world.
John Lyons is one of the most well-known American trainers in natural horsemanship, and has written multiple books on the subject. He’s also won many awards in the field of horsemanship, including the University of Louisville’s John W. Galbreath Award for outstanding contributions to the horse industry, and Equitana USA’s Modern Masters Award for Outstanding Horsemanship.
His approach to horse training is to create a partnership between horse and rider based around the principles of Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning is a way of learning using reinforcements to increase a behavior and punishments to decrease a behavior. Lyons pushes riders to pay attention to the subtleties of the horse, and use constant prompts and reinforcement to inspire positive behavior and discourage negative. He believes strongly in keeping horse and rider safe, using gentle techniques, and setting specific goals rather than just getting dramatic results.
Bob Baffert is one of the most successful American racehorse trainers in the industry, with horses of his that have won many races including three Kentucky Derbies, five Preakness Stakes, one Belmont Stakes, and two Kentucky Oaks. He started as a Jockey, but had a hard time keeping weight so he switched to training and conditioning horses for flat racing. He is the first (an only) trainer to ever win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes two years in a row.
Bob Baffert was inducted into the Thoroughbred racing’s national Hall of Fame in 2009. He has a unique talent for choosing horses with unseen gifts and was referred to as “a horse whisper” by GQ magazine.
Klaus Balkenhol is a German Olympic champion turned trainer who has written several books on the subject of dressage. He started his career in horses as a mounted police officer before devoting himself fully to dressage and going on to win gold in the 1992 team dressage Olympic games. He eventually went on to coach of the U.S. Olympic team, and is currently the personal trainer of top-equestrian, Laura Bechtolsheimer.
Klaus Balkenhol encourages dressage riders to develop the animal’s talent naturally, and not to force a horse to do anything. He trusts in the language between horse and rider, believes that horses have a natural desire to move forward, and that any horse can learn to be a great dressage horse. Disciplining horses with harsh words and spurs won’t yield the right results. Horses should be receptive and he states that riders “should whisper to [the horse] in your speech and in your aids.”
There are many different horse trainers in the world who follow similar and different philosophies for teaching equines and their riders, so these are just a few. The mark of a good trainer is one that loves what they do, loves getting to the saddle (no matter if it’s English or Western), and wants to improve the lives of the animal and its handler.