When I started keeping this blog years ago, my goal to tell the stories behind the blurbs that show up on SFD’s Facebook Page. I still think this is a great platform to do that, but I find a lot of my writing these days has more of a musing manner. Sometimes these musings are related to the day-to-day events, and sometimes they are related to more general events in the dressage world. As I’ve been unsure if these musings apply to the original goal, I’ve been a bit reluctant to share them. But heck, it’s my blog, so I think it’s going to evolve a bit.
One of my recent musings has been about how different dressage professionals gear their business, and how that affects the type of clients they attract. Some horse professionals build their business around their personal competition goals. Others, me included, built their business around client support. Neither plan is inherently wrong, and both business models need to incorperate elements of both in order to be sustainable. I have been extremely fortunate that my client-support business model has, thanks to some amazing clients, allowed me to continue to achieve my personal competition goals. But not all client-support-based trainers have been so lucky.
What I find interesting is the dressage community’s assumptions. For some reason, many dressage students believe a business built around the trainer’s competition goals to be superior to a business built around client support. Which I find ironic, as students are coming in as clients.
From where I sit, it seems most goal-based businesses started with a springboard – a nice horse or two, a family farm, an investor. Often, that is the main difference. Because I promise you, every one of us who have dediated our careers to developing dressage horses, deep in their hearts, wants to be in that CDI victory gallop and in the latest issue of Dressage Today. Every one of us works hard to hone our craft, improve our seats, and polish our skills.
Which comes to the topic of which model is better for clients. I know many pros with goal-based businesses that do a great job supporting clients, equal to or even better than some client-based business models. I also know many client-centered-business pros that are overlooked because they are so dedicated to supporting their students that their own show goals go by the wayside.
So which model is better for the AA student? I think, at the end of the day, it comes down to good fit.
The hard part is figuring out what comprises a "good fit." Sometimes the right fit is about instruction, or showing, or training. Sometimes the right fit is more about the barn itself – location, society in the barn, accessibility to hacking – than the trainer. When looking for a barn, determining what is "good fit" takes a bit of honest evaluation. A rider who knows not only their goals, but also their limitations will have the best chances of finding "good fit."
A big part of determining "good fit" is the goals. If your goal is to earn your bronze or silver medal, boarding at a barn with a relaxed atmosphere, full of AAs who enjoy a paper chase one weekend, a dressage schooling show the next, and a hunter show the third, may be a great barn, but will, in the end, leave you dissatisfied with your goals. Often, an all-around rider, who would thrive in the more relaxed barn, will feel pressured in a more competitive program, even if that program is right around the corner from their house.
The hard part is when in your heart, you want those medals, but your comfort zone is with the more recreational program. That’s when some serious soul-searching needs to happen. Are you willing to push your comfort zone for your goals, or sacrifice your goals for your comfort zone? That is a personal decision each rider makes at some point in their riding, and neither decision is inherently wrong, and therefore shouldn’t be criticized.
The second part of determining “good fit” is limitations. If a rider has a goal of competing GP, but has a 20-year-old 2nd level horse they won’t part with and budget for just one horse, the horse becomes a limitation on their goals, not their trainer. Switching to a trainer who has developed several GP horses won’t change that. If a limitation is 2 kids and a full-time job, the limitation becomes time, so a trainer willing to school your horse a couple times a week becomes a key component to “fit.”
Regardless of what creates fit, I think all students should not settle until they find a fit that fulfills them as riders, trainers, and people. Regardless of if the head trainer dons a magazine cover.