A Labor of Love- Trainer Perspective

You charge HOW much for an hour riding lesson?!

 I am cancelling my lesson today sorry for the late notice.

I am running late and hope I can still have my full hour.

I would like you to do X,Y, and Z while you are at the barn to.

Most likely every riding instructor/trainer has heard these types of statements and cringed. When a riding student schedules and commits to lessons and/or a training program for their horse, they may not realize just exactly what is behind the fees, the amount of effort the instructor/trainer has put into this plan, nor do they realize the negative impact a hasty last minute decision can have on their instructor/trainer.

Riding instructors/trainers most likely have spent the majority of their life riding, managing and caring for horses, competing, participating in and auditing clinics, learning business,  spending unusually long hours of their energy and  time, and spending the majority of their hard earned money in order to obtain and then offer this knowledge and experience to their students and clients. Yes, it is a passion, and most likely the trainer is doing what they love, but it is truly a LABOR of love and quite an unpredictable and difficult career on many levels.

The profession is HARD work, which means it is also hard on the body. Most riding professionals need to spend income to maintain body wellness with some sort of personal bodywork especially as they age. Not to mention receive some type of “repair work” from a life of horse related injuries and falls. Many professionals also supplement their riding with specialized fitness routines in order to be great at what they do. This person literally puts their life and physical well-being on the line every day due to the risk factor of riding and working with large, powerful, unpredictable, fight or flight animals, on a day to day basis.

Instructors/trainers often are working extra ordinarily long hours in every climate imaginable. They often miss holidays, weekends, and late nights so that their students can enjoy their lessons in their free time on holidays and weekends. As a general rule, there are often no paid holidays or sick days, no company provided health care insurance, company benefits, or retirement plans. Quite simply, when this person does not work, they do not get paid and whatever future financial planning they may want to have, must come out of their own doing and business planning. Some like myself work FULL time jobs to receive the things listed above on top of working in a barn and giving lessons because we enjoy it.

Most instructor/ trainers have costly overheads in order to offer services. This means everything from facility maintenance, to specialized liability insurance, to advertising expenses, to riding and training equipment, lesson horses and their costly care, maintenance of trailers and trucks, upgrades to arenas, fluxuating feed costs, and dealing with the general constant rise of equine related costs. Instructors and trainers also must stay aligned with what the going rate is on other businesses in their geographic area in order to attract and maintain business. If they are not lucky enough to have a covered area, income loss during the winter months can be substantial and even with the covered arena, loss of student motivation and the holidays always have an impact on income.

When a trainer spends their time with a horse in training, there is a goal in mind for the progress and development of this animal. Training is progressive in nature and cannot and should not be rushed. Suddenly pulling a horse out of a good training program on a whim can often disrupt the progress and confuse the horse.  This can then lead to behavior problems especially when the horse is then asked to perform by a person less qualified.  If the owner then wants the trainer to show and compete the horse after a break in this process, it can increase the risk factor and the well-being of both the horse and trainer because the horse is not adequately prepared mentally or physically. This can also publicly reflect on the trainer’s abilities if the performance is less than adequate and/or dangerous, potentially having a negative reflection on the trainers business.

Just as show horses are, school horses are expensive to maintain and must be used enough to maintain their fitness level and so that they can “pay for their expenses” or this cost comes directly out of the instructor’s pocket.  Trainers must allow time to train and school these horses so that they are of good quality and stay “tuned up” for the various riders that ride them in lessons and can participate in horse shows with these students. The instructor/trainer is also responsible for paying for any vet costs related to injuries the horses’ may incur and must also deal with the double whammy of loss of use and loss of income if the horse is laid up due to an injury.

The trainer/instructor only has so many hours in a day they can earn a living and often lessons and training spaces are carefully scheduled so that it ensures they are “paying the bills” so to speak. When a student or client casually cancels lessons or makes hasty training plan decisions, this can financially impact the instructor/trainer dramatically. Cancelling lessons or training sessions and not rescheduling them, means the instructor gets a “pay cut” that month. If just a few students are cancelling lessons over a month’s time, this can add up very rapidly. Even when the student reschedules their missed lessons, this means the instructor has to find time slots in the already very busy schedule to squeeze them in as well as find times the school horse is available so that they are not being over worked.

Monthly scheduling and rescheduling, also involves lessons plans, training schedules, show calendars, fitting in time for all the equine related services such as farriers, equine body-workers and saddle fittings, staff schedules, and if they are lucky scheduling a vacation or time to visit family and friends all takes… TIME. Time to make phone calls, time to return emails and texts, time to coordinate schedules, time to review and set show calendars, time to order monthly deliveries, not to mention time to work on their business financials. So when one see’s their trainer/ instructor during their long working hours at the barn, they may not realize that often when the day is done, the horses are fed, the clients have gone on their way, that this same person may have 30 minutes up to several hours of work to continue while at home during their “off” time.

A good instructor/trainer also has to be “on” every moment when working with their students and their horses in training and they must understand and accommodate their student’s and horses in training unique learning styles. This means staying positive, mentally alert, physically fit, emotionally stable and quiet, staying fresh and inspiring even when at times they may be physically and mentally exhausted, or have their own personal life stresses and troubles.  This also means staying flexible and dealing with a multitude of client personalities, some with unrealistic aspirations or undesirable personality traits, in a consistent, tactful, and professional manner.

The point being, even though ultimately, this person has chosen this field due to their love of horses, it is not a hobby, it is their profession and a business, and the means of their income and ability to lead a happy and productive life. Hopefully having an understanding of what this role means will help the student/client maintain a more positive and productive relationship with their instructor/trainer. This can lay the foundation for a wonderful student/teacher partnership of achieving one’s goals and dreams with their horse, which is truly the highest joy and reward for any professional riding instructor and/or horse trainer.

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