BY SARAH CARTER
I have always known the horse world is competitive. Personally, I’m competitive with myself but appreciate the successes of my colleagues. As a member of the middle class, I recognize that getting anywhere in the horse world is hard and requires a ton of work. I’m a new farm and business owner and am beginning to see how critical and unsupportive other trainers are of each other and its effects on our future riders.
Last weekend, I took several students to a horse show. The barn I previously taught at for many years was also attending. I left this barn—on what I thought were good terms—to start my own business and lesson/boarding program. A student chose to ride at both barns simultaneously and chose to ride with the other barn at this particular show. This didn’t bother me, as I personally have no problem teaching students who ride with other trainers, including myself. We all have our different strengths and the ability to offer different opportunities and experiences.
At the show, my barn members chatted in what appeared to be a friendly conversation with well wishes and support. At no point did I offer anything other than congratulations to the mutual student since she was not showing with my stable. My daughter and other students enthusiastically congratulated this young rider when she pinned.
But our camaraderie was met with nasty looks and jeers. As I watched the reactions, my only thought was: Why? Why can we not support each other and cheer each other on despite being on “rival” teams?
One day this week, the parents of the mutual student were addressed by the previous farm without a cordial greeting. They were promptly told, “You need to figure out who you are going to ride with!”
The parent was somewhat taken aback. According to this trainer, talking to people from other trailers, “Simply isn’t done!” This trainer continued to inform the parents they needed to figure out which barn to ride at, so the trainers could focus on the riders that they needed to work with.
So the question is: Are we saying that when the student shows up to take a lesson that they (the client) paid for, they will not receive the same level/ quality of instruction as the other students? How is this fair to the child/student? Why can’t they take advantage of the different expertise that each farm offers?
A similar scenario unfolded with another student who recently join my team from a different farm. This student was told that they needed to pick a barn. Again, the same question. And I guess I ask, why the ultimatums? Why is it so hard to support each other?
I am an experienced teacher and equestrian. I have been training horses and riders off and on since I was 16, and am now 37. I remember growing up and meeting friends from other barns and hanging out at each other’s trailers at rated shows. When I rode against these riders, we congratulated each other on our successes and commiserate on our failures.
What is so wrong with building relationships? What is so wrong with supporting each other as riders, trainers, and horse owners? Has competition taken us to a level where we can no longer be civil and work together? What happened to the camaraderie? The friendships? Instead, we are now often left with division and malice.
As a trainer, I am a role model for the riders, young and old, who enter my stable. I strive to be such and celebrate the victories of other trainers. I want to set the precedent for good sportsmanship. I want my riders to be supportive of others (from our barn or others). Why is it so wrong for riders to develop friendships and conversations with riders from other barns? In a world plagued with rivalries between countries, companies, and politics, why do we need to bring that tension to our sport? Where is sportsmanship? What kind of example are we setting for the young people that walk through our barns?
I am struggling with the stories related to me of the ultimatums and animosity that come from people in the industry. Horses are an escape from the harsh realities around us and offer happiness to everyone for different reasons. There is supposed to be a bond between riders that only we can understand.
That passion—the love of being on a horse, and the joy and friendships—can be lifelong. Without those things, the passion and love of a sport will be easily lost. If camaraderie among trailers simply isn’t done, maybe it should be.
Sarah Carter is the owner of a small up-and-coming hunter jumper barn in Maryland that strives to foster a family-like community. She has been in love with horses since she can remember and has developed a special place in her heart for OTTBs.
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