We all need a trainer, coach or instructor...whatever you choose to call them. So bear with my thoughts about this topic, then let's hear your take on it.
Of course in the very beginning you must have an instructor, that's obvious. You need someone who knows more than you to teach you what to do so you can at least do it safely and humanely, if not perfectly. Even as we gain skills and independence and perhaps don't need as many lessons as before, at some time or another, we all need another person to call us on our mistakes or bad habits. Even the most experienced riders have a ground man to catch these things and refine their skills.
Sometimes you can be an accomplished rider and very capable of doing things by yourself. You've ridden quite a few different kinds of horses through the years with good levels of success. Then you meet a situation where what you knew before doesn't solve the problem with this particular horse. One thing experience partnered with a modest ego will get you is knowing the right moment to seek the help of someone who has more experience in a particular field than you. Instead of forging ahead and tackling the problem yourself, the plan should include a competent trainer to help you see your mistakes and move you forward with a different path.
Now, to define a competent trainer may take a lot of time or be as easy as 1 phone call. I always suggest watching a trainer do 2 things before seeking their guidance, watch them ride and work with a horse and watch their students ride and work with a horse. Watching the trainer should inspire you and when watching their students at work the key is to study how they solve the problems presented by the exercise they are performing. If the trainer is competent, the students will have a confidence to work through issues that may arise with a good success rate. That is a clue that how the education is being presented is having the desired effect.
The next step is to agree with the ethics of the trainer - are they overly rough or too easy-going with either the horses or the students? Someone too accomodating probably won't have students who are polished (because they are rewarded for any effort instead of mainly being rewarded for a successful effort). I have seen trainers stand around and watch their students ride with the occasional command to "put your heels down" or "shorten the reins" but they are not really teaching anything. They will "babysit" the rider while in the saddle but not ask them to grow and challenge them. I've seen lots of little kids posting around in a "chair seat" and not being taught to keep their heels down and their knees bent. Yet the trainers tell them they are doing great and the kids think it's all great - until they go to a show and don't understand why they didn't win a prize when they were doing so "great".
There are instructors who push too hard and intimidate the student. Their students often are afraid to make a mistake for fear of more reprisals and it becomes an escalating series of dependancy (which guarantees the student will keep paying for the lessons because they are afraid to ride without someone watching their every move).
A good trainer is firm and will work you, challenge your skills and make you step occasionally outside your comfort zone. I also like to see or hear of a trainer who will be honest and tell you they can't take you any further and that you need to move on to someone with those skills. (When I taught years ago, I was given the rank beginners as the Master didn't have time to start riders from scratch. I made it clear to my students all I would teach were the basics. I'd work on a good seat, independant and soft hands, mastering the 4 gaits W/T/C/G and transitions and start jumping. If the rider wanted to move up or start going to shows I would then pass them on to the Master.)
I like trainers who are totally focused on you and your ride or on your horse and teaching it as they ride. If they are teaching you as you ride, often their commands come at you in furious bursts. It's as if they are right there in the saddle with you, catching the movement just before you make it and helping you to feel it as it happens. I would rather have a trainer who is focused on me and me alone (LOL, yes, it's all about ME) like this for the duration of our session. And I have found, for me, the best trainers are those who are like this.
In some ways it's like the quality of a stallion is shown in the quality of his offspring - the quality of a trainer is in the quality of the riders and horses they work with.
How did you find your trainer? Or are you looking for one you respect? What are your thoughts on trainer/instructors/coaches? Are you currently a trainer, yourself? I'm sure anyone who's been at this awhile has stories of a few stinkers they've met along the way but let's try to keep this mainly constructive!