Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trainer Etiquette

This is an extremely interesting question presented to me by a young woman who has a regular reining trainer she works with. She has developed an interest in working with cattle and her trainer doesn’t have offer this area of horsemanship.

She went to a cow clinic offered by a nationally ranked trainer and then had a few lessons with another area cowhorse trainer.

This adventurous rider wants to know if it is appropriate for her to be trying out these other trainers or if she is “trainer hopping,” an ethical no-no in the horse world.

“What is acceptable or etiquette in the world of trainers and clients? Is it acceptable to train with more than one? Is it proper to disclose the trainers you are riding with to each other?” she asked me.

This is a funny problem. To start with, trainers are funny minded, often egotistical, and very insecure. I’m not accusing, I’m just telling you how it is. I can’t accuse, because I was right there.
Unfortunately we (trainers) let the green eyed monster show instead of articulating the problem and it colors the real reasons it doesn’t work for a client to “trainer-hop.”

Each trainer has a different approach for success. There are variations in riding style, horse care, shoes, expectations of horses and clients, how a program is built and how fast progress is made.

We differ in how we teach our riders to sit in the saddle, where their hands and legs are during a stop, a run-down or a fence turn.

I know I prefer to work one aspect of my event each ride. I work straight lines and stops one day, circles another and spins the next. I’ll work on different drills and training approaches, but they’ll relate to the aspect I’m focused on that day. The Big K works on everything every day while concentrating on one aspect specifically.
This affects how we approach our horses and students both.

I have ridden with a reining trainer who based his method on French Dressage. It has him putting his weight to the inside of his turns, circles, spins, and fence turn. I put my weight in my outside hip pockets for those maneuvers. Who’s right? Neither, it’s just what works the best for us. Again, our clients would be deeply effected by the difference.

The principals and concepts of riding are complex and difficult to grasp. It takes years. Switching around can be confusing. Trust me, nothing is going to make your trainer feel crankier than hearing, “Why do start your spins by driving them forward? I went out and rode with “Sexy Rex” and he had me back Fluffy into the spin.”

Why? Because the only answer many of us will have is, “Because that’s how I do it.”

It’s especially hard on us if the trainer is someone we don’t respect. It’s a big no-no in our world to talk smack about another trainer. I reserve the right to rat out an abuser, but I won’t disparage somebody who trains differently than I do. So this puts us in an awkward spot. We don’t want to spell out why you shouldn’t waste your time with Sexy Rex. It makes us look, well, jealous and insecure. Which we are.

There’s also the down time on your horse. If the horse trains with trainer A and then has to relearn with trainer B he will, but his progress will slow way down. He has to quit improving and relearn what he thought he knew. Same with the student. So everybody falls behind.

When you sign on with a trainer then you are signing on to learn his method. This can be a long commitment.

On the other hand, if your going to make this type of commitment it’s best to know what you’re getting into.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with shopping for a trainer or instructor. I never had a problem with somebody giving me a test run, either as an instructor or a trainer. I think it’s fair to ride with someone long enough to get a feel for how they work and how they get along with your horse and then move on to ride for a short while with someone else. My personal preference would be if I knew this was the deal, but I don’t think it’s a requirement.

If your trainer doesn’t compete in the sport your interested in there’s absolutely no reason to not go ride with someone who does. There’s nothing wrong with working for one expert in his area and another expert in theirs.

I think clinics should be encouraged. It’s a great way to see someone else’s game without threatening your relationship at the barn. If your trainer is too fragile to handle a clinic here or there, well, Wah.

There are also times when you have outgrown your trainer and it’s time to step up. This is a toughie, but a completely solid reason to move on.

I know a non-pro breeder who sends her paints to one trainer and her quarters to another, even though they both train and show paints and quarters. But one shows primarily AQHA and the other primarily APHA. So she places her horses where she thinks they’ll get the most benefit.

The biggest point I’d like to make is the need for clear communication. This is another area I have learned about the hard way. When I wanted to learn to cut I decided I wanted to learn from an actual cutter. In cowhorse we cut, but it’s not the same as NCHA cutting. It’s so far removed we call it herd work. I wanted to cut like a cutter.

I was worried about disappointing my trainer (also my boss), OK, maybe I was afraid he’d get REALLY MAD.

So I’d sneak off and work with my chosen cutting trainer when the boss was out of town.

Small problem. My trainer, boss and friend, knew the second he saw me cut I hadn’t learned it from him. See, we know every move you and your horses make. So he saw the imprint of another trainer. He probably even recognized who it was. I know I can recognize student riding styles and the feel of horses trained by the other reiners and cowhorse trainers I’ve ridden with, I don’t know why I thought he wouldn’t.

I hurt my friend by sneaking off. If I had irritated the trainer and ticked off the boss by being admitting I was going elsewhere, it would have been a lot easier than seeing the hurt look on my friends face.

I was cutting pretty good though, I just wish I had been up front about it.

Splitting up with a client or trainer is never easy. Feelings are almost always hurt and tempers can flare. I’ve seen it blow up when people were up front and when they weren’t. So I understand it’s tempting to either get angry and toss somebody out, or to sneak off in the night. I still think it’s best to just lay it on the line when it’s time to move on.

I had two major splits with clients and two major splits with trainers before I retired.

It worked out amicably once and the other three times, not so much. Each time I gave 30 days notice and a clear explanation of why I was making my decision. Two out the three rough “break-ups” ended up with us all becoming friends again. The third has at least become polite.

So I guess my advice is this, tell your trainer if your riding with someone else and why. Don’t feel guilty. Give your trainer time to fix elements of your relationship that aren’t working but be prepared to move on if needed.

My next thought is, be nice, things happen.


KT said...

I have a question for when there's no horse in the equation. Granted, I ride hunter seat equitation (I'd prefer jumpers but I feel like I'd rather solidify my position before adding speed and height to the equation) but I think your advice transcends disciplines =). There's one trainer I'd really like to ride with. I've done a clinic with him before while riding under another instructor and he really seemed to like me and I took a lot away from the lesson, but I've looked up his prices and they'd be stretching my college student budget, plus he's about 40 minutes away.
The instructor I rode with for 11 years, who started me out, exited the business and while I was sad for awhile I've now realized it's probably better that I moved on. So last summer I took up with an instructor who was in a similar price range and only about 15 minutes away. I really love her lessons and she teaches with a great amount of intensity. Would it be wrong to lesson with the clinician every six weeks and continue to ride with my primary instructor the rest of the time? I kind of see it as the best of both worlds but I don't know if that would hurt anybody's feelings. Is every six weeks long enough to get a kind of "progress report" and ideas to carry over into my riding or would it disrupt what my other instructor is teaching?
And to further complicate the matter, I lease a horse independent of both instructors and that's where the rest of my riding time comes from.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Ironic that I would read this post this evening.

I was just at my farrier's today and ended up using his indoor arena and I am going back tomorrow to ride as well.

My farrier is actually a full time reining horse trainer and just took a couple of my horses on because they have feet issues.

In our normal conversation while he is shoeing, I told him I was heading to a cutting clinic down the road a bit. I didn't think much of it, because this guy does not do anything BUT reining and he is not my trainer/instructor or anything related to riding with me or my horses. However, that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

I just got a weird vibe after I mentioned that. I sort of tried to smooth it over by expounding that I was bored and just wanted something fun to do until the weather gets nicer.

Now I know Trainer B also trains reining horses, but realistically, he is more of a versatility trainer. He cuts, reins, does working cowhorse and Versatility Ranch Horse.

I know these guys know each other. Heck, their training facilities used to be on the same road. I don't know if I offended my farrier by telling him I was going to this other guy or if they don't like each other and my farrier was just trying to be professional and not say anything bad about Trainer B. ??? I'm relatively new to this area, so I don't know all the ins and outs of everyone's history here.

Just goes to show how touchy the subject can be.

kel said...

Thanks for the answer. It is a tough spot for both rider and trainer and when you have become friends the line blurs even more. I can remember my mom saying "Honesty is the always the best policy". Words to live by.

Muriel said...

Brilliant, Brilliant and spot on. I am printing it out right now and I will make my friedn read it.
HER best friend bough a horse trained by Trainer A, then she went to train with Trainer B, then took her horse back and gave it back to trainer A, while complaining about trainer B. Now she wants to come back with trainer B. Trainer B told her to get lost. My friend does not undertsand why Trainer B told her best friend to sod off.
I do ^-^
I hope your article will make light for her. The victim in this story is As USUAL the horse ....

Promise said...

Even if it is pre-arranged, still tread lightly. I lost a trainer/mentor/best friend to jealousy. She lived 3 hours away, and Promise was very green, so I needed weekly lessons, sometimes more. She wasn't able to commit to the commute, so we talked about it and decided it would be best for me to ride with the on-site trainer, and she'd come out when she could.

Fortunately for Promise and I, we were really making a lot of noticeable progress. Unfortunately, this strained my relationship with the trainer. She started an argument with (a then 16-year-old) me about the length of my stirrups at a 4-day show we went to together. We compromised on raising them 1 hole rather than 2, so as not to compromise my seat, etc., and I went off and did my classes, and did well.

Long story short, she barely spoke to me for the rest of the weekend, even when I tried to apologize for the miscommunication...and hasn't spoken to me since, despite repeated attempts on my part to contact her in the last 10 years.

Patches said...

Wow, did I ask that question and not remember? This is so applicable to my life right now. I have been taking reining/dry work lessons with Trainer A for a year and a half now. She is really good and we get along great on a professional and personal level. My former trail/drill team horse and I have come further in reining then I thought possible.

Last summer I bought a baby from Trainer B, also A's former boss. Trainer B is a cow horse trainer. I showed cow horse last year in beginner classes (boxing, not down the fence) with my very limited cutting knowledge. This year I plan to go down the fence and I am hoping to do a futurity with my baby, also down the fence. I plan to take lessons with Trainer B on stock but continue my dry work lessons with Trainer A. A & B are still good friends, talk all the time and both are totally aware that we are taking lessons from both.

It's still weird though.

There are things that each one does that is different and I prefer one or the other's way. B is better with babies and the snaffle/bosal/two-rein/bridle progression and cows. A is better with articulating the hows/whys of dry work and has done some amazing work with me and my bridle horse. A has several clients showing cow horse this coming year, we are not the only ones going to B for lessons on stock. A plans to be at most of the cow horse shows this year with us.

The situation seems to be going okay for now. My main concern with this set-up is when we go to shows. I consider them both my trainers. I want to stall with them both and consider myself part of each barn. I assume they will stall next to each other. Last year A was not able to make it to most of the cow horse shows due to conflicting reining shows. At those shows B adopted us, no charge. But will we get stuck with two trainer show bills this year now that we are taking lessons from both? I have no problem paying trainers for their time, but I would really rather not pay two trainers a full show bill. More then that, I don't want to cause any animosity between A & B. Is there a polite way to bring this subject up to them?

This got long and rambly. Hopefully it makes some sense. Any suggestions on how to proceed would be greatly appreciated!

Val said...

When I was an early twenty-something, I pissed off my trainer to the point where she threatened to ask me to leave her property. To this day, I do not know what set her off. No other trainer was in the picture. She asked me to perform some movement at a letter that I had already passed. When I looked around and realized the letter was behind me, I verbalized my realization and she blew up. I do not think that I used an accusing or disrespectful tone. I had been riding with her for about 10 years, took care of her horses when she went on vacation, and other stuff like that. In the back of my mind, I think that she was running out of things to teach me, but would not admit it. When she felt that I was trying to point out a mistake (I wasn't; I loved her and considered her my mentor.), she lost it. I was left floored and hurt.

Almost ten years later, I pick my clinicians and trainers very carefully. I also try to maintain working-communication with my students, so that history is not repeated.

nagonmom said...

Sorry mugs. I understand the rationalization about different individualized trainer teachings confusing the rider. But in my residency, we were told on day 1 "There are 30 different teachers from all over the world, and they teach differently from one another. Each may be convinced their way is the "only" way. Do it Dr. A's way with Dr. A and Dr. B's way with Dr.B. When you are on your own and in a rough spot, you hopefully will have 30 ways to get your patient through that rough spot." And it really was true. As long as the rider is an adult and understands that there is more than one way to achieve a goal, different approaches could be helpful. As the the trainer vs trainer animosity, that is ego. Sad but true, and often not to the benefit of the horse or the rider, just turf wars between the trainers.

mugwump said...

nagonmom- I'm guessing your residency wasn't with a horse trainer?
I'm not sure where you picked up the idea I was saying there is only one way.
I'm also not sure you are aware that people who trainer hop end up not being welcomed in anyones barn.
Not because of jealousy, but because they always end up being the clients who move on when the going gets tough.

They are rarely clients who have success, so they don't have much to offer.

I feel like your comparing apples to oranges here.

nagonmom said...

I guess I was thinking teaching medical care would be a tad more demanding than riding, and that the usefulness of different solutions to the same problem would apply. Of course, one huge difference is studies/standards exist in medicine. Horse training credentials are much more flexible, and often word of mouth. But I am glad you posted this. I had no idea going to a clinic would be a no-no. So I will at least clear it with my trainer before I go. And no, you who defined Mugwump for me would not claim one way to be the only way.

mugwump said...

nagonmom- we are sooo not communicating today. I was encouraging clinics as a good way to get outside help.If your trainer doesn't like it, I say tough.

Big Hound said...

I think maybe the really big difference between learning something like medicine ( or to take an example within my own experience, martial arts ) where different teachers will show you different ways of working all of which help you learn to see things in a different way and give a more rounded understanding of a subject.

That stuff is great, when it's only you learning. But if you have a horse added into the equation then they have to be able to keep up too- often two trainers will have totally different cues for the same thing and I guess you could even get a situation where trainers use the same cue for different things. How is your horse expected to separate that out?

If you could go to ten different trainers and with each of them ride a horse that was totally tuned in to their way of working that would be a great way of understanding what they have to teach. But at the end of the day you have to find something that works for you and your horse and to be fair to them you need to make yourself easy to understand and not keep changing the cues you use and the way you use them.

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