You Are a Student, Not a Customer

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Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

By Emily Elek 

I’m not into that customer stuff. 

You know what I mean. There are so many in this business who refer to their “customers.” And the customer is always right…right? Except the barn is not an outlet mall. Our customer support team is run by small ponies with an agenda. 

And I’m not the general manager. I’m the trainer. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Elek

In my program, you stop being a customer the minute you sign your boarding agreement. That monetary exchange pays for your horse’s room and board, so to speak, and serves as a promise that your animal will have a safe, comfortable, and healthy living arrangement. 

But with everything else, you are a student and an athlete. I am your teacher and your coach.

I believe this is an important distinction to make, because it sets the tone for the relationship moving forward. I see the people who board and ride with me as students first and foremost. All good equestrians, including professionals and trainers like myself, need to be lifelong learners. Every barn should have the mantra, “Be a learner not a knower” blasted above the entry. Because it’s here where you open your mind and accept your vulnerabilities in the pursuit of learning alongside the ultimate teachers—horses. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Elek

Lessons have no set timeline because while each starts with a goal and an exercise to achieve that goal, your horse is not a bicycle. They will feel hot, cold, interested, uninterested, bored, excited, and tired. On some days, repetition will be the answer. On other days, taking a small win and coming back tomorrow will be the answer. Making the call about what kind of day it is requires my students to rely on my expertise. 

When you come to the barn, you are paying for a lesson. You are learning. You aren’t paying for my time to use as you see fit. You’re paying for my expertise on how your animal and you, in that order, are best served and how to progress in this sport. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Elek

If you want to be a customer, there are options to be a customer. As long as you are an empathetic horse owner, I support you finding a customer-based program that meets your needs. That is not my program. However, the choice to be a student or a customer is one to be made by adults. I do not believe that junior riders should be customer in any program. Truly learning this sport, in order to make educated decisions about your role in it beyond your junior years, is essential to proper, lifelong empathy and horsemanship.