Trainer Confessions: Disenchanted
This is an anonymous post from a guest writer. We asked Trainers what they would write if they could share whatever they wanted without worrying about social media backlash or stereotyping. This article does not (necessarily) represent the beliefs of Austin Eventing. Here are their thoughts. Thank you for the outpouring of support for this blog idea.
My trainer confession is this: lately, more often than not, I don’t want to be a trainer. I don’t know how to word this in a polite or politically correct way, so I will just put it out there- over the past several years, it seems more and more apparent that you must have a great deal of money to get ahead in this sport, even for the kids at the lower levels. I am not saying that kids with ample financial resources aren’t working their tails off, and I don’t want to make an excuse for mediocrity or lack of progress by whining and/or blaming a lack of financial support; it just seems that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to believe that hard work really does pay off. Having a hard time improving scores in dressage? Dropping too many rails in stadium? Stopping at ditches on cross country? Anxious to hurry up and move up through the levels? Buy an easier ride with fancy movement, preferably one imported with experience at the upper levels. Whatever happened to dedication to the training process, rider responsibility, and more importantly, dedication to the horse? Beyond this, in the past year or so it has additionally become apparent that my students who attend public schools are placed at a disadvantage due to not being able to miss school as easily; i.e., they haven’t been able to attend clinics starting on Friday morning because they can’t miss school, or they can’t do early summer pony club camps because they are making up snow days into mid June while the private schools are out by the end of May. To offer a specific example, a private school in my own town provides resources for “cyber school” on snow days while the public schools do not have such resources and as a result the private schools are able to avoid making up snow days. I would like to add something here about wealth inequality, but I fear the repercussions. More importantly, I digress from the topic of my trainer confession.
It used to be that eventing was the horse sport that was friendly to a kid like me; i.e., a kid whose parents begrudgingly purchased a cheap and inappropriately green OTTB for a 13 year old because there was only enough money for the kid to have one horse, and that horse had to last through middle school and high school. Eventing offered somewhat of a level playing field, much more so than dressage shows or hunter/jumper shows. There were often other inappropriately matched kids on green horses, or horses who weren’t “fancy” enough for pure dressage or hunters. We all struggled together and small victories were meaningful, even monumental (wait, I actually stayed IN the dressage arena this time AND I only had two stops on cross country!). Did I mention that I had one saddle for all three phases? When my horse made it clear that he didn’t really enjoy cross country after many years of struggle, it was never an option for me to even think about getting a different horse. Instead, I focused more on dressage in my last few years before college and I was fortunate enough to borrow a friend’s horse for my B rating in pony club. My horse was a privilege, he was my responsibility, he was my family.
I am increasingly disenchanted with this sport that has always been my passion in life. I am disheartened as I watch hard working kids become discouraged for not being competitive enough at a high enough level; for not being able to attend every show and every clinic; for not getting to jump the heck out of their horses because they have to keep in mind what is best for the longevity of the horse; for not having a Devoucoux; for not having a second Devoucoux; for not having spent the winter in Ocala; for having to put school first; for having to earn money to help pay for the horse, the list could go on and on. I realize I sound like a whiny child exclaiming, “it’s not fair!” and that life isn’t fair, but I worry that in the rush to compete and to advance through the levels we are losing sense of that which we should cherish the most- the relationship between horse and rider; the gift of a magnificent, forgiving animal waiting for you first thing in the morning or at the end of a long day. When I see the shadow of gloom cross my student’s face as she notices her peer posting pictures on social media of blue ribbons and jumping 4’ twice a week, I try to remind her to focus on the process and that the relationship she is building with her horse is more important than how high she jumps or when she gets to move up to the next level. I hope she will hear me.
I hope she will remember the quiet moments; those late afternoons when the sky is almost silver and your horse knickers at you as he jogs toward you in the pasture, or a soft breath in the crook of your arm before you say good night, the feeling of weightlessness as you float across a diagonal or step into a sweeping canter. I want to tell my student that this is what matters. I hope she will hear me.
I have a vivid memory of saying farewell to my stubborn horse who strongly disliked cross country the afternoon before I left for college. I turned to walk away from the pasture gate and glanced back to see him watching me, as if he were memorizing the path of my footfalls. No matter what has happened in my life, horses have always brought me back to a peaceful place, where all is forgiven and I am reminded of how blessed I am to have had the honor of loving a horse. As I review my own words, my trainer confession is this: I hope I will never lose sight of what my horse tried to teach me.