Hilary Moore Hebert: The Politics of it All

As show-season scheduling looms on the horizon, I must take a moment to pause and reflect on one of the most trying aspects of being a professional in this sport – the politics of it all. Someone once told me that the hardest part of being a dressage trainer was the never-ending demands of the horses and students. Rain or shine, flu or fatigue, you had to feed, clean and exercise the horses … and then get up and do it the next day. I disagree. Let me go straight to the barn, do my chores, ride my horses, teach my students and that is one great day – I don’t care if it was 15 hours (time flies when you are having fun!), freezing cold (exercise warms you up) or hard (the best part of dressage is working through the problems). What I do find to be the hardest part of this sport is nonsense that is brought into this sport too often. In an interview I did with Olympian Lars Petersen for the magazine, he said pointed out that people frequently buy Grand Prix horses and “they think that makes them a ‘Grand Prix trainer’.” How many people agree with him? A lot! But the frustration that professionals feel when someone hangs their shingle out and takes on a bunch of students that they are under-qualified to teach is not from jealousy (at least in most cases). It is an annoyance at recognizing that these students are wasting valuable time and money being taught the wrong thing (and possibly backtracking themselves and/or their horses in the process) AND that if other trainers say anything to this student, it is assumed that they are trying to steal their business. Every time a student goes to a trainer because they are riding some flashy horse that season or wearing really professional-looking brown boots with an expensive pair of Pikeur breeches, it negates the work and training more-qualified trainers have done. Nothing annoys me more than seeing a very talented, skilled FEI trainer without a barn full of students while the brand-new barn up the street has a wait-list for someone who is my age that is charging just as much as the seasoned FEI trainer, but has only shown pre-trained horses at their respective level. Granted, we live in a country where marketing and word-of-mouth advertising are the key to the success of a business. But maybe we need to recognize that the Angie’s-List model isn’t going to cut it in the dressage world. If our answer to finding a trainer is to only ask our peers and check out who has the most horses, we risk the reality that people want to justify their own choices and if you ask people if their trainer knows what they are doing, of course they are going to say yes! We know how hard it is to admit, even to ourselves, that maybe we are making the wrong choice. Additionally, we have all experienced the time that someone is willing to talk negatively about a professional simply to prevent them from getting more business, in the hope that maybe that student would go to the gossipers trainer of choice. Since we don’t have a standardized system for training professionals like they do in Europe, so it is even more our responsibility to do our homework when it comes to selecting who is going to teach you and/or your horse – and that means looking into a rider’s history of training students and horses (what level were they at BEFORE they got them and what did they accomplish from that point?). I am not saying that you can’t work with someone that is inexperienced, but if someone who has never shown to you or your horse’s level is charging you to “train,” maybe you should confirm that he/she is still has trained student/horses to the level. If they have not, consider it a gift to give your trained horse to an up-and-coming professional, but recognize that resume-building opportunity might be worthy of discounted riding and some lessons for the pair with someone who is qualified. If we keep this in mind, I believe the sport will be the better for it.







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