BY ANNA JONES
You’ve probably heard of the Paul Simon song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, but any equestrian will tell you there are just as many ways to leave your trainer. And while we’ve all heard stories where someone “slipped out the back Jack” and hauled their horses away in the middle of the night with no notice, that’s not the path I would recommend.
Yes, sometimes an abrupt change is needed to ensure the safety of your horse, but that is not the norm when it comes to changing barns. In fact, most reasons you might switch trainers have little to do with trainers themselves.
- Moving to a new location
- A career change or promotion that allows more budget for different shows and/or nicer amenities
- Getting a young horse that needs more professional rides than what your current trainer can offer
- Trying a new discipline or specialty
- Having kids and wanting a barn that has more kid-friendly lessons and ponies
- Simply wanting a change!
What all of those reasons have in common is that they are about you and your needs—not your trainer. So, how do you make the switch without any hard feelings?
Follow All Notice Periods and Contract Obligations
Most barns require a 30 day notice. The number one, easiest way to start the process on good terms is to honor that notice. If there is an extenuating circumstance that requires your horse move before the 30 days, plan to pay your entire month’s board and expenses. The entire month. 30 days means 30 days. Don’t ask to pay 2 or 3 weeks worth if your horse is moving early.
Before you talk to your trainer and/or barn manager, check any boarding contracts you may have signed. Did you leave a security deposit? Take note of any damage your horse has done to his stall before you bring up leaving. If he’s kicked down half his walls or cribbed the door to death, expect to eat that cost. Whatever the fine print reads, remind yourself before the conversation happens. That way there should be no surprises as the logistics work out.
Be Brave Enough to Have Hard Conversations In Person
Many barns or programs require written notice, often in the form of email or a letter (more formal than text). Though that is something you’ll need to do, consider having a verbal conversation first. For many of us, our trainer becomes an important part of our barn family. We spend long horse show days with them, and often have many celebratory barn celebrations or other social outings. With those kind of relationships, a face-to-face conversation is important. It might be hard to tell your trainer you need to leave, but being able to share the news with a kind tone and pleasant facial expressions makes a huge difference than what can be perceived as a cold, unfriendly text or email.
Acknowledge Everything Your Trainer Has Done for You
Even if you know it’s time for a change, take a minute to acknowledge the positive aspects of your trainer/barn. I’d venture that everyone has at least one positive thing to say about how a trainer has changed their riding. After all, you started riding there for a reason! Appreciating what your trainer has done for you, even if it’s time to move on, will likely disarm any hard feelings. It communicates how you acknowledge them and their expertise, but ultimately are making a decision that’s about you—not them. Consider implementing phrases like this into your conversation:
- I really appreciate everything you’ve done for my horse.
- I’ll always remember that one class/show/event
- Without your help, I would have never been able to do XYZ
- I think you’re a great trainer, but right now in my life I need _____.
Do Not Bad Mouth the Program
Even though many moves are completely non-confrontational, some aren’t. We’ve probably all experienced a barn or trainer move that is directly related to horse care issues. Now, I would never suggest someone stay quiet about major, immediate threats to horse welfare such as missing meals, no clean water, etc. If it’s an animal welfare issue, the most appropriate thing to do is to communicate this in a respectful matter to authorities or someone who can enforce change.
However, if you simply don’t like the arena footing, a certain barn employee, or have significant to you but not emergency level complaints, don’t run around telling everyone and their brother. Stomping your feet and saying things like, “I can’t wait to leave this dump!” reflects most poorly on you—not the barn. Don’t let a trail of negativity follow you on your way out the door. The horse world is full of gossip, but I believe it’s always in our best interest to not engage. If someone asks you why you left your barn, simply say you wanted a change.
It can be tempting to leave a barn or trainer with a devil may care attitude. You’re leaving, who cares what they think? But the horse world is small. No matter what the situation, being respectful and professional is usually the best option.
Anna Jones lives in North Carolina, and has owned horses for over thirty years. She enjoys everything from trail riding to schooling shows with her Quarter Horse, Bucky, and is currently learning more about the hunters. When not at the barn, Anna can be found writing her first fiction book about horses or working in her garden.