Being An Equestrian Means Putting The Sport First
By: Hanna Powers
As I headed down south to the milder climates, I was thrilled to return to showing after a short hiatus. While soaking up my re-entry to the horse show world, plotting plans for bigger jumps and dreaming of ribbons to be won, I was rocked back to horse show reality with several tales of “trainer changing drama.”
You hear about it from the little local barns all the way to the top junior riders in our sport. There are enough stories to script an entire reality show season: the awkward in-gate, the “he said, she said,” the airing of dirty laundry, transferring horses in the cloak of darkness, clandestine meetings with potential new trainers, and the constant murmurs about the “need for change” in order to create a ground swell. In total, a tremendous amount of effort is needlessly spent just so you can continue to progress. The irony is that many times as intense and ugly as these situations are, people seem to get over it quickly or even laugh about it in retrospect. Why must this be? Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
I think most equestrians would agree that no one will stay with the same trainer for their entire riding life. Not shocking, but it seems like the transitions are the where things head south, and I don’t mean attending the winter circuits.
I get it, for horse professionals, this is a business. It is their livelihood and good clients matter to the bottom line, as well as to their reputations. And for many trainers, they invest a great deal more than just their time and effort.
Moving barns can be a complicated and stressful process, but why does it have to be painful as well? As a dedicated rider, you probably see your trainer almost every day. Your trainer knows your weaknesses and flaws, yet also your strengths. She knows that you like uphill horses that carry themselves, careful jumpers, and that you always turn back quicker to the left no matter what horse you are on. Your trainer knows your details. You have probably been with the same trainer for years, they have watched you grow and mature as a horseman and person. They have been with you on your worst days when you keep making every mistake, but also when you shine. A trainer becomes a part of your extended family, and that is why leaving is never easy. One of the hardest things is going from seeing someone you genuinely care about every day to going months without seeing them at all. You miss lots of things, like your best friends who are still at that barn. You no longer have someone to cool your horse down with or who will sing along to the radio with you while tacking up.
So when do you make a change and what reasons are the most compelling? Every rider remembers their first trainer. The one who unlocked the magic of horses, first uttered the words “heels done,” and taught you the difference between a Pelham and a Loose-Ring Snaffle. The trainers that work with the newest riders are indeed special—riding is a complicated sport, the learning curve is steep and progress is painfully slow. These trainers have more than patience; it’s a tolerance that is baked into their personalities that allows them to connect with beginners. As you advance, patience becomes a bit less important as you find that you are ready to master the more technical nature of the training. This might require you to seek the expertise of someone new. One way to know is when you intuitively understand what a trainer is asking of you, but your ability to deliver what they want gets suspended. It is as if your capacity to progress gets held up in some invisible “chasm” until the day the skill finally computes and downloads into your abilities.
I recently had to make a big move. As my riding shifted to the jumpers, I needed a program that was more jumper focused. My trainer knew it too and made it happen. In the new program, I saw my riding progress quickly with a tremendous amount of new information that I needed to absorb and integrate into my skill set—sometimes when your desire to improve is greater than your actual ability, it’s usually a signal for change. I still get bittersweet at times for the way things used to be, but I am also thrilled to be where I am, right now. As with most things in life, there are always going to be new highs to chase. But the sport must come first; after all, we do all this for the riding.
I have been fortunate to stay in contact with every trainer that I have ever worked with, and, while many times it was very difficult to go in a different direction, each new partnership resulted in an upward transition in my development as a rider. I improved at every step, with every one of my trainers because they believed in me and did their part to improve my skills.
So why do so many suffer through this dreadful phase when it is time to make a change? I guess it seems as if it comes down to history and exposure. There is vulnerability present in every trainer/rider relationship that is never really verbalized. Therefore, truly understanding this requires us all to handle transitions with great care. You have to pay great attention, manage the process thoughtfully, and always seek to conduct yourself with the highest standards. But it takes more work to stay the course on the high road, and it can be tempting to allow negativity to artificially bolster your decisions and actions. If it does, you’ll find that feeling is fleeting and creates an element that diminishes all the good and positive experiences of your past. Never forget or trivialize the role that each professional has played in making you the rider that you are.
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Photo courtesy of Hanna Powers. © Clip Clop Click Photography