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Horses are expensive. Dads will do anything for their daughters. How do you convince a dad to buy his daughter a horse?

Growing up I fell in love with a sassy lesson horse. She was every bit as stubborn as me and required a convincing and savvy rider to accomplish any sort of desirable display [cue the bold and cheeky 8 year old me]. At around 14.2 this mare could trash a cart or parade around fancy and proud, depending on your negotiation skill and tactful communication. The day came that her owner needed to part ways and thus the question posed to my parents : Do you want to buy your daughter the horse?

With some finesse my parents agreed. My dad cried our first victory pass around the big Grand National colosseum during our 9 & Under Walk Trot Reserve Championship win. I’m sure if you ask him, that would be one of his fondest memories with horses.

Now, the competition days have drawn to a close, the ribbons are boxed and our time together riding has been traded in for treats and brushing. After spending more than 20 years together with my first horse, I can attest this was their best decision.

My dad would proudly say he owned a horse, although for many years he couldn’t point out his own horse in a herd. You could find him befriending new dads whose young girls were riding horses. When they would eventually turn to the topic of horse ownership and the new dad would question the necessity of buying their own daughter a horse, he is always quick to answer with a smirk and chuckle: what do you want your daughter riding, horses or boys?

Not everyone is going to love you. Hell, not everyone is going to like you (let alone love you). And in the horse world, you’ll find a greater collection of folks judging you (I’m talking about the pro-bono, free, unsolicited judgements) than you will find folks in your corner rooting for you - it’s weird, and it’s wrong and it’s something some wear as a badge of honor that they’re “doing something right”. What’s the saying - all publicity is good publicity. In some ways that is true. Look at Miley Cyrus (whom I just love); She went full on star-of-the-show for quite some time; she became even bigger than Hannah Montana ever could have and for entirely different reasons. Even if you didn’t like how she was acting or dressing, you were talking about her. You were buying into building her brand, growing her name; It’s not by mistake, she (and her team) are really savvy for how they blew up the Miley Cyrus brand.

What I’m getting at is when you start something, I’ve found, you’ll be surrounded by a small collection of folks who really believe in you, your dream, in the work you’re doing to create. These folks often will give themselves the title of “lifers”: Usually this is indicative of them and their horses (in my instance) spending the entirety of their lives riding, showing, retiring and sharing in the wonderful, unexpected horse journey with you. They become the foundation you build your business upon. Clients who turn into friends and friends you view as family. You work tirelessly for their dreams, you advocate for their horses’ best interest. Their dreams become your dreams. Until they’re not.. Until they are no longer lifers (with you).

I’m finding that [hopefully] the non-lifer-lifers are a small subset of the clients I will hold; however, the sting of being relieved of such duties by the ones you held close leaves a poor impression of the talents you were once so proud of. It happens to all of us at some point. When our time comes along, we tie up our boots, shift the focus, and remind ourselves why we started, why we do what we love with you.

Business ethics suggest that results and best-interest of your customer are the same in most instances. However, this balance changes when you add in a non-verbal being [at least not traditional vocalizations]. When you add in a 1200 lb animal that does not express their displeasure with more than a tail swish, flicked ear (or in the more exciting case a wicked buck) you are no longer working with one best-interest but those of the horse, rider and owner.

SO… do I have to choose between results and the best-interest of the animal I am entrusted with? If you ask a variety of trainers [and those who have labeled themselves as such] you will likely find varied answers and varied accounts of what this looks like. The horseman [or horsewoman] will share with you that the best interest of each horse looks slightly different. Let me give you an example:

Young horse comes in for training; the horse is built with the neck coming out slightly lower on the shoulder, nice hinge from a few inches above the withers to throat latch. Neck length is good. Horse has smooth cadence and is well balanced while maintaining varied speeds. From the shoulder there is a sloping connection to the upper forearm. This young horse is brave, and level-headed and is agreeable to work.

It would be a disservice to ask this horse to present for the Park division regardless of the owner’s wishes. Not only conformationally is the horse built for a division of lesser motion, but also characteristically the horse presents as a future amateur or junior exhibitor mount, likely for the western or equitation divisions.

Lets flip now to another horse. Big gelding, also younger has been growing non-stop and seems to finally be leveling out. Horse struggles to maintain cadence at slower speeds, especially at the canter. Seems to balance better at a medium speed. Head carriage is slightly higher out of the withers, hinging at the top.. Nice action with a forward gait. Horse is eager to please and has a spark when brought out to work. Conformationally, this horse is correct but also not suited for the Park nor Western divisions. As this gelding has grown quickly he is still finding where his legs go and how to best balance his cadence at the slowest speeds [picture bambi on ice]. Eventually could he drop into the western division, maybe. Eventually could he bump to the classic division, maybe. Would he be best suited initially in the hunter division? Probably. This would give him the best shot at success by setting achievable goals.

I can still achieve results by training the horse per the best-interest of the horse; a pace the horse can maintain and grow with, a division and gaits suitable to the conformation and mindset and pairing with a rider and owner that will value the results and goals this horse is able to achieve.

Now, how do I balance my client/owner’s best interest when the horse does not meet the qualifications or standards. This is typically the more challenging interest to fulfill. As a trainer there are three options: Rush to the desired result, patience for what will develop as a result and plot twist to accommodate everyone’s best interest.

Chances are if you or your client hasn’t been in the industry long, everyone is pushing, rushing to results. If you or your client has been in the game and is an advocate for their horse, they are leaning into the most patient perspective with respect towards the investment for results. And sometimes, we all just need a little plot twist when a match up isn’t quite right for the goals and success of all parties and a different mount or rider [or sometimes trainer] is needed.

If you fit into any of these three mindsets, or maybe have sampled them all, I want to remind you to advocate for your horses and yourself. Find the best trainer for your horse, trust the process and enjoy the small victories along the way [that is really what we’re all after anyway].

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