The Presence of Parents

I was killing time before getting on Q today and decided to watch the lessons at the ring. I love doing this, and it reminds me of my high school days when I had no hurry and could spend an entire day watching my trainer’s lessons. I rarely get to do that these days, so it’s a treat.

This time, I did not watch my own trainer, but another trainer who rides out of the facility. This woman is an accomplished rider, and while her style can at times be eccentric, I do respect her greatly.

Why are you hedging, you might ask?

Well, I did notice a specific and very common trend with this trainer. This trainer to student behavior is one that I have seen and repeatedly been the recipient of when I was growing up.

During a young teen’s lesson, this trainer was being hard. Her commands were tough, shouting, and exacting. I did not disagree with her corrections, but the manner of them would certainly be on south end of pleasant.

Then, the parent comes to pick her up.

And rather suddenly, the entire tone of the lesson changes. Rather than a laundry list of corrections, the trainer moves to asking exploratory questions and notes of praise. “You cannot jump until you correct your hands” to “You are doing so well with this young horse.”

Again, not disagreeing with earlier phase of instructions, but merely observing how the one parent can alter the color of the conversation.

To a certain extent, it’s expected that a parent presence will elicit a change in the trainer. When your *real* customer shows up, you have to reinforce that they are not spending hard-earned money foolishly.

I remember this as a kid very distinctly, mostly because my parents did not often stick around to watch my lessons. When they did have a weekend day free and would watch a lesson, the flip-flop was stark. I disliked when they watched. My trainer acted oddly. Maybe even disingenuous.

Until this weekend, I had yet to witness this phenomenon as a bystander, and I do think it exemplifies how much of a people business this is. Yes, it’s about getting the right horse flesh in your barn, managing and bookkeeping, and ensuring you have a well-trained staff.

But the horse industry is customer service. And until kids pay for lessons themselves, the parent will always be an ultimate decision maker.

I wish parents stuck around for lessons more. A partnership with horses is so rarely understood outside of horse people, and the more exposure, the higher the likelihood that a parent will “get it”.

Moreover, I wish trainers were more consistent. If you are going to be the tough yeller, own it. If you are going to be supportive and flowery, own that. Admittedly, trainers need various tools to work through diverse issues. That includes a spectrum of approaches – soft and hard.

The distinction lies in addressing the same core problem. To vary the tone of instruction within the span of an hour smells worrying. Especially if that change occurs after parental company arrives. That’s fishy.

Horse people in a nutshell.

I cannot be the only person to notice this?

The Effect of Urbanization on the Industry

It’s no secret that the world is moving to cities. As we migrate to our high-rises and skyscrapers, land becomes increasingly expensive as most of our public spaces will be converted into vertical architecture.

We cannot put horses in skyscrapers. Though at the Royal Agricultural Fair, there is a two-story stable building which has always given me pause. As well, I do know some carriage horses in New York and other large cities reside in multi-story buildings.

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This is far from the ideal circumstances for our performance horses.

So this begs the question, how will increased city living change the way we ride our horses?

More with Less

This is the key driver forcing all of the below listed after effects. My suspicion with increasing property values is that horses will have to be managed on less land. That means larger scale barns, smaller turnouts, and meticulous scheduling.

Regimented Exercise

Getting a horse moving will become increasingly reliant on treadmills / hot walkers and other “simulated” turnouts. Gone will be the days of endless lush green turnouts for solely two horses.

Veterinary Shifts

Our horse care professionals will need to accommodate for less variety of footing and likely less of “freeform” exercise. We will see more injuries related to inconsistencies in work frequency and loading; fewer related to turnout-related freak accidents.

Increases in horse proximity and activity may lead to higher instances of ulcers.

Behavioral Accommodation

Horses that are given strict schedules may flourish (high-level of detail on care and training) or flounder (over drilling until submission). With greater time spent in a stall, owners may spend more on enrichment objects and activities for their horses.

Upward Costs

With the mounting pressure financially, some barns will not be able to afford to be a mid-tier facility. Stratifying the divide between “us” and “them”, the elitism of the sport will be positioned to intensify.

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Living in close proximity to others has shared advantages of public services, transportation, and culture. We gain so much from interactions with diversity and enabling a pooled set of resources.

Horseback riding is not a typical sport. You cannot shove it in the basement of a gym, and rest laurels on the comradely of people. Our equipment requires special storage, care, and attention.

As we adjust to the new normal, this will present real shifts in our industry. In my suspected future, what do you agree or disagree with? What did I miss?