BY DAPHNE THORNTON OF TWO BIT TRAINING
I had the loveliest coffee date with a young woman who left my program. She’d been with me for a long time. She gave her notice to the current barn owners in a timely fashion, and the trainer at the new barn reached out to me to make sure everything was on the up and up. And then she and I sat down, like two grown-up people, reminisced about our long association and fun times, and made a plan to ensure the transition went smoothly for the horse and all the humans involved.
People… this is how it’s supposed to be done.
Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it goes when a client decides to leave a trainer. Most people dither about leaving or staying past their expiration date, leave in a huff over a real or imagined issue… or in general cause a heap of unnecessary drama. Here’s a handy-dandy guide to help you figure out what to do and what not to do if you are planning a move.
Lesson 1: You are a riding student, not a hostage.
As such, you certainly have the right to spend your dollars on a program or barn that is a good fit for you. Maybe you like to be challenged and pushed hard. If so, there is a drill instructor somewhere out there for you. Maybe you like hugs and soft words. If that’s you, there is an instructor who fits that bill. Maybe your current barn doesn’t offer the care plan or amenities you need. My point is, don’t start, or stay, with a program that isn’t “you.” Believe me when I tell you that you are not making the trainer, or any of the other clients, happy by not being happy yourself.
Lesson 2: Leaving a program is a personal choice…not an act of participatory democracy.
You do not need to contact every single other client and get their vote. Let me tell you right now, that makes the other clients very uncomfortable and puts them in a difficult position. Do they tell the trainer about your call, or not? Do they share the texts, or not? And when you branch out and start contacting people in OTHER programs, things get really weird.
Lesson 3: Be upfront and tell your trainer that you are leaving.
If they are a nice person, they will thank you for your previous business, wish you all the best, and offer to help in any way to make your move a smooth one. Oddly enough, I have had clients who are offended by this. They seem to feel like you should be begging them to stay. If you only want to change programs to get a reaction out of your trainer, you need to rethink that. I assume when a client says they are leaving that the decision has been made. At that point, it’s my job to help make it happen with as little drama as possible.
Lesson 4: Don’t badmouth your ex-program…
… Either to their current clients or to the clients in your new program. The new instructor likely knows the old one and knows they often have to see each other and work together. They won’t appreciate being put in the middle. And, they will certainly remember that you have no problem being unkind about a previous trainer…a position that they may also find themselves in one day. Hopefully, you still have friends in your old program. You can lose them pretty quickly if you are publically lambasting a program and trainer that they still like and are loyal to.
Lesson 5: Don’t try to take other clients with you.
This is really the “kiss of death” for any instructor who is worth their salt to want you as a client. Again, it’s your dollars and your choice when it comes to your own move. But trying to orchestrate a mass exodus to make you feel better about your decision is not a good look. Negatively affecting a trainer’s business because you personally did not mesh with that program is, plainly, rude. ALL trainers take note of that and most don’t want that kind of person in their barn.
Lesson 6: Don’t say you are leaving…then plan to stay several months before you go.
Once you announce that you don’t like that program, it is VERY awkward for everyone to have you around. If you have a timeline that requires you to stay for a few months, a better choice would be to keep quiet about leaving until you can do it in a timely manner.
Lesson 7: Don’t try to negotiate with your trainer to keep your business.
If you ask for a discount on services, and the trainer caves and gives it to you, you are both wrong. One of the hallmarks of good business is fairness to all clients. It is unfair to charge you one price, and a higher price to other clients. Trainers who have been in business for a long time know that. They have certain practices that have worked for them over many years. They are probably not going to change a successful business model because you don’t like some part of it. Don’t use pulling your business to attempt to hold your trainer hostage.
Lesson 8: Take all of your gear with you when you leave…and none of your trainer’s gear.
You don’t have to donate anything to your former program. But, that girth you “borrow” for every lesson does not belong to you, so be sure to leave that. Ditto if you are using bits, blankets, buckets…anything that doesn’t belong to you stays with the program. Make sure your bill is paid. Remember, at one point you CHOSE that program. It worked for you for a time. So, don’t steal from it. Conversely, you should expect to leave with everything that belongs to you and all board, lesson, and training services performed. The glitch in this can be if you have purchased a “package” of some kind and decide to leave before you’ve used all of your services. Trainers don’t have to refund that, although many do.
Lesson 9: Tell your trainer why you are leaving.
But, don’t expect them to agree with you, or to change anything. Some people leave because the program is too expensive. That doesn’t mean they are going to lower their prices for you. Some people leave because the program is too big, or too small. That doesn’t mean the trainer is going to add, or subtract, students. Some people leave because they don’t like the trainer’s style or personality, or think they are too mean, or too soft. Those are all trains that have already left the station, and they’re not turning around at this point.
Lesson 10: Don’t feel guilty and try to justify your decision.
It was always your decision and you don’t need to paint your former program with a black brush to make yourself feel better. And it goes without saying that they owe you the same courtesy. It doesn’t need to feel like a nasty divorce. It can (and should) be as simple as wanting a hot dog instead of a hamburger. Both are good lunch choices. It’s nice that you get to pick.