You’ve encouraged your riders to work together, play together and rally around the “team” at horse shows. But what’s a trainer to do when not everyone plays on the same financial field? Not all clients can do A-rated shows all the time, and some clients can’t do any. Here’s how some equine professionals handle the fact that not every bank account is created equal.
To Tell the Truth
Talking about money is often difficult. “No question about it,” says Tim McQuay, “you have to be very direct with your people, even when they want to ‘worm around.’” The first rider to ever earn over $2 million in reining competitions, McQuay has trained a few clients, too. He starts when a client is horse-shopping and asks: “What can you spend, because you still have to have money to go campaigning.” The sport is expensive, McQuay acknowledges, so he makes sure his clients understand all of the costs up front. And he tells them not be shy about saying, “I need to stay home a few weekends.” There’s nothing worse than a client who is forced to sell a horse because he overextended himself, McQuay concludes.
Truth is, no matter what discipline you’re competing in, showing costs money. Some shows cost more than others, and an astute trainer assesses his or her clientele and staffing before planning the next year’s show calendar.
Sandy Savage, dressage trainer at Pacific Equestrian Center in Wilton, Calif., appreciates that her facility hosts its own schooling shows and one-star events, too. She chooses wisely so that qualifying points can be accrued close to home for the California Dressage Society Championships without riders going over budget.
“You can get the same amount of points at a show that costs $100 for a couple of classes, or you can travel to more expensive shows,” says Savage. “We don’t do a lot far away, because that adds substantially to the cost of competing. I’m on a budget too, showing my own horse.” Savage oversees 13 clients at the barn, some of which go show with her. “Generally, we don’t go to more than one show a month, but not all of my students show monthly.”
“I have 14 or so clients, ranging from ‘Money is no object’ to ‘I have to sew some more drapes before my child can show again,’” says hunter/jumper trainer Missy Roades of Wait N’ See Farm in Beaufort, S.C. In terms of a budgetary hierarchy, Roades skillfully manages all financial levels of the client gamut: “I’ve got one of each, and everybody in between. It can be a nightmare to make everyone feel included. I do my best to give them equal attention, within the parameters of what particular activity is coming up.”
Case in point, Roades explains: “I had a kid go to Pony Finals and another go to Harrisburg. My other clients were fine with the extra time I had to spend with those winners, knowing that someday it might be them that got the extra attention.” For those clients that couldn’t afford to go as spectators, Roades made them feel like part of the action when she shot videos to bring back, along with show T-shirts to “include them as much as possible.” She also offers a working student board for less-privileged kids in exchange for mucking a couple days a week, or if a lower-budget child is close to a year-end win, may exchange a weekend of barn care for shipping costs. “We need more people like that in the sport, instead of a walking checkbook,” she says.
Like McQuay, she’s “dead honest” with them and says, “Okay: Some get to do less than others, so make it count. Our goal when we show is to evaluate where you are in your riding. Awards are the byproduct of success at home.”
Attention to All
At Stone Hollow Sport Horses in Johnston, Pa., Beth Thomas’ clients show Arabian working hunters and sport horses at both breed and open shows. At this smaller stable operation, she teaches a couple of clients who can afford to go more frequently than others, she says.
“I teach the same, no matter how many shows my riders do, the goal being to make them the best riders they can be,” says Thomas, who holds a show meeting early each year “to set out the shows we can possibly do, then discuss who wants to go to what. I am in a position that if just one client wants to go and they want to pay the whole tab, then I go. Everyone else is fine with that and this works well for us.”
Her clientele average about two or three shows a month during the season and don’t show over the winter. “This schedule keeps us all fresh and enjoying the shows, and our horses have won many high-point awards, including USEF HOTY national and regional.”
A New Orleans, La.-based American Saddlebred trainer who says she “loves to see people ride and loves to teach,” Barbe Smith of Cascade Stables operates a strong lease program for first-timers to learn the ropes of riding and the requirements, including financial, of showing. She attends both “A” and “B” shows. “Being in Louisiana, everything is really far for us, usually a 12-hour trip,” says Smith, who doesn’t miss convenient local competitions.
She’s also cool with clients whose love of horses surpasses that of accruing ribbons, even though she does have one national champion client. “If people want to own a Saddlebred and never show it, that’s OK. I just want them to enjoy the horse.” Like her counterparts, Smith, a 30-year veteran, is quick to identify kids in need by offering work in exchange for services. “I always try to help those kinds of young riders.”
If she senses disappointment or a “Why not me?” attitude developing, she goes straight to the parents without involving the child, and to avoid being the bearer of really bad news. Smith will couch the message like this: “’We’re not quite ready to go now, but we’ll be ready next year.’ Riding shouldn’t be all about finances, or they’ll give up, and no one wants that.” So you knew you were teacher and trainer, confidante, psychologist, and now, financial adviser, because you do “whatever works” to keep the troops in delicate balance.