I have often said that choosing and keeping the right trainer is like dating. When you first start riding, you probably pick the first one you find, not knowing what to look for. As you start to learn a little more about the sport, you begin to broaden your horizons. It may be that your first trainer is limited as to what he or she can offer you – Maybe their own knowledge is limited, or they aren’t going to the shows you’ve discovered you would like to attend. It is also possible that you no longer agree with their training methods. Maybe they are too harsh, or they have one method for every horse and every rider.
So you search for someone new. Someone who better fits your current needs. When you find them, it’s like the honeymoon period. They are the best! You’ve learned so many new techniques, your confidence is up, your horse is going better. They may even help you find a more suitable horse with whom you move up a level or even two and win even more ribbons. Everything is fabulous. Until it isn’t again. Maybe you plateau, maybe they don’t show up to school you at the show because they’re too busy with ‘more important clients’, or maybe you find out they have been ripping you off. We all know the plethora of reasons for trainer-client break-ups. At this point, you either decide to look for a new trainer, or a new trainer finds you.
Some repeat this process multiple times over and earn the label ‘Trainer Hopper,’ a stigma that most riders want to avoid. However, I have to ask, why should you be frowned upon for having high expectations for yourself and for your trainer? Why shouldn’t you desire the best match? Your trainers job is to teach you to be a better rider. If you don’t feel you are getting that result, then you need to change something. Otherwise, what are you paying for?
I hear trainers getting frustrated with their riders because they tell them the same thing over and over again and the client doesn’t change. Is that how you train a horse too? Do you dismiss everyone that doesn’t respond to your methods of communication, or is it only the ones who are paying your bills?
As a trainer, if you are exhausting every option and not getting anywhere, maybe you need to explore the idea that it might be that you aren’t a great fit for your client. And that’s ok, not everyone is compatible forever. Or, maybe you are just stumped on one particular problem and you need another set of eyes, with a different form of communication to come in and say pretty much what you’ve been trying to convey all along – just different – to get you over the hump. Maybe you just need to do a little research to find an exercise to give the rider a better feel. But don’t blame your 3 foot amateur who spends $4000 a month just to have fun for being incompetent. Embrace the challenge and find a better solution.
I’m not saying trainers should pamper their clients and make everything sunshine and rainbows. That irritates me just as much. They longe the horse before the client arrives, have it groomed and ready for the rider to just insert their foot in the stirrup and have a perfect lesson where they hardly break a sweat. If the horse puts a foot out of place, take the rider off, put the horse back on the longe, or give it a school, place rider back in saddle. When the horse finally refuses to work for the amateur after being yanked and poked and constantly asked impossible questions, he gets sold and a fresh ride takes his place. The cycle continues and the only thing that changes is the horse and the number in the trainers bank account after all the commissions. How about you teach the rider how to ride? If they want to just sit there, give them directions to the local fair and have them ride the merry-go-round. An equestrian who doesn’t want to learn their craft is the equivalent to a boxer who is afraid to get punched. This is a sport – “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment (Oxford Dictionary)”
I always tell my friends when they are dating: “Your low expectations are setting the standard for everyone in the world.” The same goes for riding: It is just as much the clients responsibility to raise their expectations as it is the trainers responsibility to meet them. It works both ways; you shouldn’t want to work for someone who isn’t working for you. And the more clients settle for less, the less trainers will give. The more trainers expect less of their clients, the less clients will feel they have to give. But hey, everyones making money off it, so what’s the big deal?
Disclaimer: I understand that there are older amateurs out there who we want to keep safe. The joy of our sport is that it is the only olympic sport with riders competing over 50. I know a man who rode into his 90’s and still jumped 3 foot. He looked like a sack of potatoes riding a 17 hand warmblood, but he was good! This is an exception. This man could have run over a small child with his Cadillac and not even know it, but he could probably beat me in any hunter class. However, I still would have like to seen him wrapped in bubble wrap when he was mounted.