Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Cavalier Quandary

Today I'm going to delve into a subject most of us in the world of professional horsemen would rather avoid. It boils down to a matter of ethics, really. This one really is near and dear to my heart -- trainers engaging in underhanded scheming to steal clients from another trainer, often through wholly unethical or even devious means. What can start as whispers begins to echo loudly throughout the industry. Mind that there are proper ways to attract clientele.

Where I come from, trainers rely on each other every bit as much as we rely on our clients. I respect my peers and deeply appreciate the ability to discuss openly things like training methods, activities for students, getting the most out of my horses and benefiting my clients. We can all compete against one another, our clients pitted against each other in the show ring, then share a dinner table and good laughs after competition has wrapped up for the day.

There is no doubt, these are hard times for many. Our nation's economy is in ruin and thousands if not millions of people are suffering. Hit particularly hard has been the horse industry. Over the past several years, friends have frequently commented to me on the imminent death of the horse business as we've known it. Sales are at record lows, as are horse show entries, registrations and to be sure, prices. Being a professional horseman has always been a tough job, not only from a physical standpoint, but due to the costs of doing business itself. We've had an old saying for years -- if you want to make a small fortune in the horse industry, start with a large fortune.

My business happens to be located in a geographic region extremely hard hit by the sagging economy. While it has never been an area known for wealthy horsemen, there was not a serious shortage of folks who were seeking training and other professional services until recently. Therefore, clients have a number of choices for training and riding instruction, yet trainers are scrambling to stay viable in a shrinking industry. With so much riding on getting those new clients into the barn, trainers seem to be more willing to come up with new ways of attracting customers. Locally, badmouthing your peers seems to be the most popular means of gaining business, if only by default.

From day one, I have sought to remain above the fray. In my office I have a sign that says, "ATTENTION: You Have Now Entered A Certified Drama Free Zone! (please leave your drama behind at the door) Thank You!" Keeping my nose to the grindstone, seeking new and improved ways to attract clientele and serve my customers, working hard to offer a place for learning, camaraderie, and fun. We have so many returning clients who continue to bring horses (and refer new riders) year after year. Some of my clients have been with me for more than ten years. I must be doing something right! It is both thrilling and humbling to have such loyal and dedicated customers...but that does tend to put a target on your back.

To my fellow trainers: Keep in mind, clients do come and go. It's the nature of the business. If you feel the need to talk poorly of your peers to a client, potential client or another trainer, expect that to do more harm than good in the long run. It will catch up with you. And actively soliciting clients who are presently in another trainer's barn is just low class. If they decide to leave their present trainer and choose you, congratulations. But let that be the client's decision without tarnishing the reputation of those who share your profession no matter how much you dislike them.

To the clients: Remember, you are free to choose who you send your horses to for training and who you have teach your children. Keep your eyes and ears open. If something doesn't seem quite right, it probably isn't. Get references. Plenty of them. There are good and bad in all professions and walks of life. Horse trainers are no different. But keep it professional. If you think your horse would do better in a different barn, you do have the right to give proper notice and remove your horse. Please make those decisions for the good of your horses and not in haste.

If you do your job well, treat your customers and their horses well, results will show themselves. You won't have to talk smack about your peers or try to denigrate them, because your business will be flourishing. Someday you might just need someone to refer a client to...or might wish to benefit from the referral of another. Food for thought.



  1. One of the joys (and benefits) of the free enterprise system is that competition improves your own performance. In other words, if you aren't sharpening your training skills--but are instead sharpening your fingernails to attack those in your same line of work--you probably won't be successful. The truism may be that ALL publicity is good publicity, but in reality when it comes to horses, training and lessons, your reputation is not enhanced by "bad news." While some people may take negative reports with a grain of salt, not everyone knows how to think critically.

    Stacy is correct here--look for ways to improve what you do to make your name one of the ones people will recommend. Avoid backstabbing. Sooner or later, you'll be "facing the other way" and people will come after you.

    A positive show record as well as happy horses and happy clients and the unwillingness to speak ill of others in your line of work will do more to burnish your reputation as a trainer than slinging mud to make everyone else look worse.

  2. Bingo!! That's my point here. What's the saying from Field Of Dreams, "Build it and they will come"...it's very true. But try to tear others down and you will ultimately only be harming yourself in the long run.

    Promote yourself and your accomplishments / abilities. Know your limits. Talk and think positively and you will have more clientele than you know what to do with. Building a positive reputation for yourself speaks volumes.


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