There Will Be No Future Horse Trainers If All You Want to Do is Ride Nice Horses

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY SARAH MECHLIN DUHON

I feel strongly that everyone should be treated fairly and with kindness. The article “There May Be No Future Trainers: A Look at a Young Professional’s Burnout” by an anonymous young trainer references “paying your dues,” but I don’t believe that should come from being cussed at, belittled, asked to work without pay or any such negative action listed. But based on my personal experience, these types of bosses are the few—not the many. 

I try to live by the golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. I understand that is not the way every professional conducts themselves. However, is there no personal responsibility for allowing yourself to be in the position of being belittled, put down, cussed at or asked to work without pay? I believe young professionals deserve better. But I also believe it’s their responsibility to leave those conditions. 

If you feel you deserve better, then why on earth do you accept it? I will tell you right now—there are better places, and better bosses. If you cannot find them, ask for advice from someone. If you are turned down, the harsh reality is you may not have what it takes to work there. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

While we can all agree that horrible treatment should never be tolerated, there is some disagreement about what “paying dues” really means for young, up and coming professionals. Working “… up to 80 hours a week riding the bad ones, teaching up down lessons, doing laundry and setting courses” is not considered an unfair work environment in my book. 

At what point in time did riding any horse, including the “bad ones,” become a punishment? I can tell you that clients are not paying for young pros straight out of the juniors or college to be immediately mounted on the best horses in the barn. And I have news for you—riding the “bad ones” is how you earn riding the good ones. 

You don’t think you should teach the up downs? Those up down lessons are the kids that you earn respect from and are then able to teach when they advance beyond the up down program. Teaching is the same as riding, a learned art and skill. Trainers in their early twenties do not have the knowledge and experience to teach the same lesson that they’ll be able to teach in 10, 15 and 20 years down the road. 

Any professional unwilling to teach the little ones needs to get over themselves, take a step back and try some humility. The up down lessons are the future of the sport. Yes, the same sport they’re claiming to want to so desperately be involved in. 

Doing the laundry and setting the courses? Is this really a punishment? Who do you feel should do those jobs? Don’t you want the horses to have clean towels so they don’t get dermatitis from using dirty towels after getting legs cleaned? Don’t you want your green horse to have a clean girth and saddle pad? Is this actually being considered unfair treatment? Laundry? Do you not think that setting the course at home is what helps you to learn how to walk the medal finals with a future student? What about walking your first Grand Prix or Hunter Derby? Would you prefer that the grooms set the course so that when you blindly go jump the track it’s unsafe for you, your horse or your student? 

No matter how old you are or where you are in your career, you have to give respect to earn it. You may not see the work that your boss puts in, but your 80 hours at the barn is nothing. Your boss is probably putting a minimum of 100 hours. Try balancing the checkbook, making sure payroll is covered, billing for the services, collecting bills from clients, making sure the hay, grain and bedding bills are paid, making sure there is enough support staff and balancing the personalities of everyone on the team. This list is just the beginning. Add on top of that finding the horses, making the appropriate matches for the riders in your program so they can be safe and successful. Add to that answering every single client phone call including when they complain about your assistant’s mistakes and you have to make the very difficult decision and tread the very difficult balance of supporting your young staff and not losing clients over their arrogance. 

When you are the boss everything is your fault. There is no-one else to blame. And I promise, we get cussed at too. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

To those of you who want to become professionals, I advise you to open up your eyes and humble yourselves. There are so many job titles in this business that have an unlimited value—riding the good ones is just a piece of the very large pie. 

Barn managers, head grooms and assistant trainers are invaluable… and usually very well compensated. Young pros who want to be show riders are a dime a dozen. I was one of them, but I earned my place in the spotlight by starting as a head groom. I know how to muck, braid, bandage, do the laundry, ride “the bad ones,” drive the trailer and anything else I could do to be helpful. Further in my career now, if I did all of those jobs myself what exactly would I be paying an assistant to do?

Be a team player. If you feel you are being belittled, put down or downright treated unfairly, move on! Take responsibility for your own success and your own happiness. Quit blaming everyone else. Get rid of the jealousy and help yourself to be better. Everyone deserves to be happy and successful, but please, take responsibility for your own happiness and success.

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