This may seem like a serious no-brainer, but I know a lot of riders – including myself – who have put up with terrible behavior from a trainer. I’ve even gotten some anonymous questions about it in my ask. However, this post is inspired by a very close friend of mine who is currently struggling with figuring out what she needs to do to further her riding career and how to deal with a trainer that does not give her the time or respect she deserves.
Everyone learns differently, and you may even feeling differently about this, but I believe that a trainer-rider relationship should be one of mutual respect, dedication, passion, and compatibility. Riding is not only a deeply physical sport but a deeply mental sport. If you are riding with someone who puts you in a terrible mental state, your riding can suffer and your progress stifled.
One of the most common things I hear when talking to riders that are dealing with a bad trainer is that they feel “stuck” and don’t know what their options are. You have options, even if it does not seem like it. They may seem extremely difficult, and indeed, they might be, but if you are serious about your riding and about making it in this sport, you will need to make those difficult decisions. Ending a professional relationship is one of them. If you haven’t yet had to do that in your riding career – congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones.
So, what should you do if your trainer doesn’t respect you? Maybe I should first start with what I mean by “not respecting” you.
- Not making time for you and your horse;
- Taking your money without following up on what was promised in a training or leasing arrangement;
- Lying to you about what they can do for you or your horse;
- Constantly canceling lessons or other riding engagements;
- Not communicating with you;
- Not listening to your goals and helping you achieve them;
- Speaking to you in a derogatory, insulting way;
- Insulting your riding to your face or behind your back;
- Pushing you to do things you’re not ready for;
- Doing things at a pace that works for them, not one that works for you;
- Taking advantage of you in ways such as overcharging you for services, constantly moving around your lessons to accommodate less flexible clients, selling or leasing you horses or ponies that are not suitable for your riding level, etc.;
- Putting you in dangerous situations;
- Not giving you attention because you don’t have the money other clients do
There are several ways to deal with disrespectful behavior from a trainer, depending on the severity. It can be anything from sitting down and talking to the trainer about what is bothering you or completely ending your professional (and possibly personal) relationship with that trainer all together (which may entail moving barns). I personally have done all of these things, and for the most part, have experienced most of – if not all of – the behavior described above. In the end, you have to do what is right for you – I am just here to give you some ideas.
Arrange a meeting with your trainer to address the problem. This is probably the first thing you should do when you feel as though your trainer isn’t respecting you as a client. Of course, if the behavior is severe, such as consistent lying or placing you in dangerous situations, you may want to skip this step all together and go to the last one which is leave. However, sometimes a trainer genuinely believes he or she is doing what you want or what is best for you. Maybe your trainer doesn’t realize how nervous you are about jumping a bigger height or is confused about what you are looking for in a horse. Maybe there is a reason your trainer has been inconsistent about keeping your lesson time or hasn’t been communicating with you as much. There are valid reasons for this type of behavior sometimes. We are all human. Your trainer may have a family and be experiencing family issues. Talking to your trainer about your concerns may clue them in to a mistake they are making or clue you in to something that may be going on in your trainer’s personal life that has nothing to do with you. If you do arrange a meeting, you should keep the following in mind:
- Don’t attack your trainer. This will only backfire and put them on the defensive. Explain how you are feeling and see how he or she responds.
- Be clear about what you want to say. Try writing it down before you go and have the actual talk. Speak to someone who is an unbiased third party and ask them if what you have to say is appropriate and put in such a way that will invite conflict resolution not total chaos.
- If the situation is particularly volatile, have a third party attend the meeting. That way, there is a witness to what is said (trust me – sometimes this is necessary) and someone who can potentially defuse a situation that is quickly going downhill.
- If the meeting gets hostile at any point, end it immediately. Getting into a screaming match with your trainer will only make things worse, and if other people are around, you’ll come out looking like the looney one for engaging in a fight rather than walking away. If at any point your trainer gets derogatory, dramatic, or “yelly” with you, ending it will make you look like the mature party.
Modify your arrangement. If you are in a situation where your trainer is taking your money ahead of time and not performing an obligation, such as doing schooling rides on your horse, perhaps you can modify the arrangement so that you pay after the ride has been completed. This happened to me earlier this year. Due to the bad winter we had, my former trainer was unable to do the 12x per month training rides on my horse. Instead of telling me this, she continued to have me pay her for full training for 4 months, and then told me that she had been behind almost the full 4 months! Because I was in law school and often unable to come out when she was supposedly doing the training rides, I had been trusting that she was fulfilling her end of the deal. To be honest, I didn’t have a reason not to trust her until I found all of this out. I decided that it would be best if I paid week by week instead of up front on the 1st of the month. That way, she would have to report back to me how many times she rode my horse that week, and I would pay her for what she actually did – not what I expected her to do. When I switched my horse to my current trainer, we continued that arrangement, and that was her idea. She didn’t want to feel pressured if she fell behind for some reason, which I totally respect. If you are in a similar situation, maybe you can talk to your trainer about modifying your agreement so that you can ensure both ends of the deal are being upheld. This may not be successful, but it is worth a try.
Get a parent involved. If you are under 18, doing some of the aforementioned may be a bit difficult and/or intimidating. I have encountered trainers that didn’t take juniors seriously because they weren’t technically adults. If you are having an issue with your trainer, and you don’t think he or she will take you seriously if you address it, talk to your parents about intervening. Oftentimes adults are more respected than children (though this is not always the case, as I’ve found out), and your parents may be able to fix the issue, especially if they are the ones paying! Also, if you are a junior, it is a good idea to keep your parents in the loop and make them as “horsey” as possible. This doesn’t mean they have to know how to nurse a wound or jump a 3′ course, but educating them on how some aspects of the horse world work can help you when you need to deal with a trainer or barn manager. I know some juniors that got taken advantage of because their parents weren’t horse-savvy and just paid the bill without questioning it.
Talk to a trusted older rider. If your parents aren’t horsey and don’t want to get involved, or if you are an adult and want to deal with the issue on your own, talking to someone that has more experience than you do in the horse world might help you. Of course, you should make sure you can trust that person. You never want to confide in someone that is going to turn around and tattle on you and your feelings. This could start further problems. If you know someone that has previously be burned by your trainer, and you’re looking for advice on how to deal, you can always talk to them if they are willing. I have found myself being a sound board for a lot of people that were and still are having problems with my former trainer and barn manager. Sometimes getting advice from a trusted individual who has previously dealt with a similar problem can help you figure out how to resolve your own issues.
Switch trainers. If there is more than one trainer at your facility, you might want to look into riding with a different individual, especially if your relationship with your current trainer has become toxic or if you have tried one of the above methods of resolving the issue and nothing has changed. This may result in some hurt feelings, but you need to do what is best for you, your horse, and your riding career. Your current trainer may be offended if you move to someone new, but that’s their problem – not yours. If they really cared about the issue you were having, they would have tried to address it. You cannot be, and should not be, expected to stick around if you are being disrespected, taken advantage of, or being put down constantly. You are paying money to your trainer, and it’s most likely a lot of money. If you’re not getting what you want or expected from the professional relationship – within reason – then you might as well just throw your money into a fire and watch it burn, because that’s what’s happening if you continue to pay someone who doesn’t respect you.
Move facilities. Not every barn has multiple trainers, and if this is the case, you may want to look into moving to a new facility. This is a hugely difficult decision that I have made quite a few times in my career, but sometimes it is necessary. Before you move facilities, make sure you have tried to work things out with your trainer. You don’t want to upend your whole riding life over something that could have been fixed with a simple talk. I am assuming, of course, that you or your horse are not being put in danger. If the situation is urgent, and there is danger involved, I would look into moving immediately. Again, your trainer may be offended by the move, but you have to do what is right for you and your horse, if you own one. When looking at new facilities, make sure to visit and talk to the on-site trainer that you may be riding with so that you get a feel for his or her personality and style. Also ask if it would be possible to come watch a lesson before you decide to move – most trainers will agree to this.
Trainers, like barn managers, are individuals in whom we put a lot of trust. They shape our riding, and we look to them for guidance and help in a lot of different situations. If you are being disrespected by your trainer and find yourself leaving lessons feeling deflated, worthless, and like you want to quit riding, it may be time to consider one of the above options. If you feel like you’re in danger or like your trainer isn’t getting you to where you want to be in your riding, you should – at the very least – speak to them about it to see if something can be changed. Riding is supposed to be fun and a way for us to “get away from it all” – not a constant source of stress and lowering of self-esteem. I know it is a hard thing to do. Trust me, I’ve been there, but once you make the right decision for yourself, you will feel a million times better about everything. Trust me again – I’ve been there.