December 2016 - Candid With Karen: Tomorrow’s Trainers
Written by Karen Healey
Friday, 02 December 2016 00:23

Evolving Trainer Certification Program aims to help professionals, their clients and the sport.

by Karen Healey

We’ll be talking a lot about the evolution of the Trainer Certification Program at this month’s USHJA Annual Meeting in Palm Springs. I can’t go into much detail before that, but I can talk about the reasons why the TCP came into being in the first place and why we’re proposing changes to it.


The TCP came about from long-standing worries among veterans like myself that the basics of real, George Morris-style horsemanship are being lost. We sought a way to preserve and promote this long after those of us who’ve been directly influenced by George are gone.


The decline of horsemanship threatens our sport because it’s the foundation for training programs that create rewarding experiences for clients and thus help to sustain and grow the sport. Understanding basic horsemanship is paramount for the horse’s welfare and longevity

I was talking recently to Kelly Farmer (one of the country’s best Hunter riders). One day she was Best Child Rider at the Devon Horse Show and the next day she was working for Don Stewart, standing at the in-gate with a grooming box and a rub rag in hand.

Many of today’s top trainers started as grooms and working students – Andre Dignelli, John Madden and Frank Madden, just to name a few. In my day, “working student” didn’t mean sitting on a trunk, waiting for the groom to tack up someone’s expensive horse that you have the privilege of riding. I went to work for George as a groom, hoping to be discovered. What I did discover was that I loved teaching and had an aptitude for it. However, in the process I mucked stalls, groomed, braided, drove the truck and waited for the vet at midnight to treat a colicky horse. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the top vets in the country and picked their brains endlessly.  Riding was just one part of my education.

There are no shortcuts.  It is only through years of hands-on involvement that the top trainers of today have achieved their goals.

Having that kind of experience and mileage impacts the horses. It has so much to do with having a feel for their well-being. I can get on a horse that’s not limping, but sense if something’s not right. Maybe the canter going to the left just doesn’t feel right. It enables us to be proactive, recognizing and dealing with issues before they happen.

Weighty Responsibilities

Many young trainers don’t really know or appreciate the responsibility that is attached to the purchase of a horse for a client. Whether it is from Europe or out of the show ring at Devon, you need to be very sure that you can replicate the program that made the horse a winner. It’s very easy for a client to become suspicious after even one expensive mistake.

The TCP encourages and acknowledges trainer education. It already provides a way for prospective clients to see that a pro has completed the education component and to see a resume posted by the trainer. But most new clients won’t recognize in those resumes the difference between winning as a rider and the ability to identify, produce and maintain a winning horse or rider.

Our new proposals create levels of certification, enabling a client to really research a trainer’s credentials. They will make it clear whether a pro has produced riders and horses who have won at various levels. It has always baffled me that people spend more time researching what kind of TV to buy than they do choosing a trainer for their children or themselves. The new TCP proposals are meant to encourage and facilitate more meaningful research.

From the professionals’ perspective, we’re aiming the TCP at the younger professionals who actually want information and want to find ways to get educated. Grandfathering in trainers of a certain vintage and experience is part of the plan. The proposed levels reflect the reality that nobody becomes a premiere trainer all at once. You build on it, from local to regional to national.

All of us on the TCP committee have been working like crazy to present these changes at the USHJA meeting, but I want to emphasize that there is still room to expand and we really want feedback, especially at the local level. We expect people to point out things we may not have thought about.

TCP changes will be part of the Update on Sport Integrity session, Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 2:45 and during that same day’s TCP committee meeting at 4. Hope to see you, and more importantly, hear your feedback then!


Author Karen Healey is one of our sport’s most accomplished teachers and coaches. She worked for George Morris in the early 70s and has carried on his teachings ever since, along the way coaching 100-plus-and-counting medal finals winners. NAJYRC medalists and international stars including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum are among her protégés. Karen shuttered her California training barn at the end of 2015, after 34 years, and continues to work with riders in lessons, clinic and coaching at shows through Karen Healey Training. For more information, visit or e-mail Karen at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .