the poison from one side

The dictionary version of the word definition of “entitlement”  the fact of having a right to something.  “full entitlement to fees and maintenance should be offered”

The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. “no wonder your kids have a sense of entitlement”. 

So why does it seem like ‘entitlement’ works as a sort of poison in hunter jumper industry, wielding it’s slimy head every where you turn, with regards to income, welfare, work ethic, treatment of animals and humans alike, tack trunk placement, stall placement, sponsorship, venues, show schedules, purchasing of animals, commissions, or trophies…..It is so far ingrained into our sport, it is almost impossible to take it completely out of the equation. When a football player joins the NFL, he joins a team, is told to play by the rules, not get in trouble and score as many touchdowns as possible with his team. Occasionally, that sport is riddled with various entitlement issues, arrogance, cheating, horrible personal issues, but, in general, the game moves forward, and we all follow along each season, the Super Bowl acts as a big finish, we have a party, then we all move on to the next seasonal sport. The good players start foundations and give back to the community.  In society, those same entitlement issues can be magnified intensely to things like gridlock in congress, international affairs, can lead to wars, etc.

In being part of the human race, we even have given ourselves permission to desecrate an entire planet, destroy entire species, and now have our eyes on the next one, because it is considered our right to go stake a claim to it. Poor Mars, he stands no chance, leave that poor bugger alone already.

In the horse show world, there has been a pretty dramatic shift which may have allowed certain entitlement factors to spiral out of control. 40 years ago, you wouldn’t dream of telling a Good Trainer what you wanted as far as horse showing and horse flesh, you were just pretty darn grateful and appreciative for the time of day from a Trainer. Maybe there were fewer of them. Today, in contrast,  probably due to lack of enough tradition and education, or whatever, the shift of decision-making relies more heavily either on the wealthiest client owning the most horses in the barn, or the parents of children seeking specific agendas for their children. (Not just in the horse world, either – how may times have you heard of parents interfering with teachers at college or high school?) And it super tricky to keep every single person happy, when clients come from all different backgrounds.

Most trainers don’t come from trust funds. NOR are they licensed therapists (no, really, get your own doctor). Most trainers in the horse business love to work around and ride horses, they probably grew up doing it, immersed themselves in it, then started accepting clients in order to stay in the business, and before you know it those same trainers find themselves wondering how long they can go without health or life insurance despite being in a rather dangerous sport. They stand in the check out lines in the show office on Sunday afternoons, trying to focus on tack room splits (with the small exception of advanced systems using credit card machines), hope the farrier, braiders and grooms all got paid, then get in the truck and drive an hour, or eight, only to unload horses, put them to bed, and worry if one of them isn’t drinking enough water. The next morning, while clients are sleeping in, at school, or at the spa, the trainers are probably: wondering about how to schedule the vet/blacksmith, order supplies, attempt billing, attend association meetings, scrolling through 98 pages of proposed rule changes for the USHJA, trying to figure out a way to fund that trip to the convention where they will be expected to have enough clarity to make beneficial decisions on the sport, get the leak in the truck addressed, find food, look at horse videos for clients, pay rent, and about a billion other things before Tuesday roles up and it is off to another show again.

Staying in business without clients is not an easy option, and rare. This sport is made up of professionals showing during the week, and clients showing on the weekends. hmm.

If trainers were like teachers, and went to school for eight years to learn how to deal with children in the classroom, and all the benefits that come with education, handling entitled clients might be easier. Obvi, this doesn’t happen. The tools are only learned along the way, and the emotional toll it takes shows itself down the road. Every professional in the horse show industry could write a long series of books on clients behaving badly. Refusing to pay for services rendered (stealing),  turning stables in to kindergarten class when the tack trunk isn’t facing the right direction, stall placements (like your trainer would not feed your horse?), making unwarranted demands on care, scheduling, showing, fake tails, yada, yada, yada, all seemingly justified behavior because they have brought in 6 horses for the trainer to have the pleasure of training, showing and the chance of being famous. It is too taxing, and not cool. Really good people have walked away form this sport because of the high price to pay from entitled clients.

Is there a better way to balance the trainer client relationships in the entire horse show world? If Trainers were fairly treated, and difficult clients turned into supportive human beings, knowing that they are involved in a business, and contributing to the success of said business, would the ripple effect in turn, allow trainers to make better decisions for the welfare of the horses, and the welfare of the entire sport? If someone is kind to me, do I turn around and pay that forward? In a society like ours, how impossible would that be to achieve? Is seeing the big picture, the forest through the trees, actually that difficult? The long term expectations are tricky to manage, most trainers see themselves in the business for great lengths of time, whereas not enough clients think past the horse(s) they are riding right now, nor do they see their need to contribute for the long haul. If more clients looked around past the little stable bubble, recognized where improvements could be made in the entire industry, and came up with ideas and solutions, would we be in a better place for it? I hate that so much bad press is really damaging to the hunter/jumper world, not really inviting enough to the outsiders, or even younger professionals and I wonder if there are enough good people truly trying to swing the industry in a better, more positive direction. The owners and clients really need to step up and be better role models. When I see good clients I get all excited for that trainer, and think how LUCKY they are to have them! And then I get depressed, because that is actually not the norm in this business. Many people are NOT lucky enough to have good clients.

Walking out on a board bill is not acceptable. It is like ordering a cheeseburger in the McyD’s drive through, and then not paying for it. So why does it seem like EVERY trainer has that story to tell? We accept it and move on, trying to forget about it, because making a scene is considered tacky and not going to solve anything, and most clients that do it know perfectly well the busy trainer isn’t likely to seek an attorney and rack up even more fees. It will be considered an unfortunate loss, and everyone moves on.

Does EVERY individual in the horse industry have a moral responsibility to make the entire industry better? Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you want that for the next generation? We all deserve to be here riding, training, and showing, (responsibly) and aren’t you thinking about the legacy you leave behind? The weight of entitlement is not on the Client/Owner at all times either. It is with all people involved in sport. Show Managers as well. Show Managers play a big part in industry change. They need to be watched carefully like everyone else, contribute to the welfare of the sport, listen to the bulk of their exhibitors showing, somehow, and respond tho their needs.… No one should be exempt. If you see the shift in control changing and can offer constructive structure, by all means do so. I just picked up an instruction manual from a show stable that spelled out roles for trainers, parents, and clients in about thirty pages of information. I bet it works for them. Certainly made sense to me, what a great idea. They have decades of experience, saw the need for clearer communication and bam! – an in house manual spelling out teamwork, with all the expectations spelled out clearly, and positive feedback about goals expected.

Maybe we need to start asking better questions. I do see a few amateur riders on boards of associations, which is super important, and cool, but even if an amateur is without a horse for a few years, can they be involved and included without judgement?  just because they don’t have a USEF?USHJA membership? Healthy industries are healthy because of positive influence, and when we are just dodging the bad press instead of making changes, our industry will not really be healthy. It will merely be self-serving. The ‘giving back’ will fall on just a few shoulders.

It is pretty easy to start small and grow from there. General treatment of people in the horse show industry, in my opinion, is pretty poor, and could stand some improvements.  The person taking numbers at the in-gate is your best friend from now on, start acting like an adult, and instead barking orders, maybe even start with “Good Morning!”.  Exchange simple details, like names. I don’t care who you are, how much or how little money you have, the simple fact that we cannot say hello to each other at a horse show is completely intolerable. And I am certainly no Susie Sunshine, I have been molded into the weirdo I am, have difficulties understanding many humans on the planet, my communication skills are substantially better with my horses, not my people, yet I still make an effort to show some manners, and a mass amount of respect for people in the same circus I contribute to.

Maybe if we started with some simple ideas, like pulling people like McLain Ward into the picture promoting basic horse care (PICK OUT THE FEET!! I CAN DO IT SO CAN YOU!!) have Beezie Madden give every child on the planet encoragement to tack up his or her own pony, hereby making other aspects of horsemanship more popular again,  we could watch our treatment of horses follow along the same lines? Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? We all slowly integrate and move forward as one healthy industry? We all become good role models for the future generation? We read more stories about wealthy clients helping working students achieve dreams?

We are constantly looking to social media for that utopia, that good news, those selfless pictures and stories, when we could be creating it all in our own backyards. everyday. every week, every year. Gotta start small though, one tiny baby step at a time. Wouldn’t want anyone having a panic attack over so much change….



One thought on “the poison from one side

  1. I love your passion. I think this post pertains to LIFE! EVERYTHING IN LIFE. Every business. I got out of the horse business for numerous reasons but I deal with some of the same issues in my new occupation as well. Great post. Initiate change. Everywhere.


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