My coach, Michael Barisone, is a Big Deal Guy.
We’d met in passing a few times, but never had more than a superficial “Hi, how are you, nice ride,” conversation until I was at Gladstone a few years ago for one of the USEF Talent Search type things. I had Ella and Midgey, both on the brink of Grand Prix. I was 24 or 25, taking clinics here and there with whoever was around, all good people, but there was no single thread to my training, and I was deeply, terribly lost in the weeds.
I was sitting ringside, licking my wounds after two not-remotely-productive lessons, and Michael approached me. “Hi Lauren. Those are two nice horses you’ve got there,” he said. I thanked him, and he asked, “Do you, you know, have a plan for what you’re doing with them?” Not really, no, I said. “Well, who’s your coach?” he asked. I told him that I clinic with X and Y, and I rode in a lesson with Z last month, and blah blah blah.
And he said something I’ll never forget: “Look, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. But you’re a talented rider with nice horses, and you need a person. And if you want, I’ll be your person. I’ll show up whenever you need me. I’ll be kind to your amateur ladies, and I won’t try and steal your horses or your clients. And I’ll be your guy.”
No one had ever said that to me before, and he’s made good on every promise. I’m writing this from the Regional Finals, where I had a tough school on Ella on Thursday morning, and texted Michael that everything was horrible and I was quitting, and he texted me back right away that it was all going to be fine, then gave me 24 hours to shake it off before calling me up to tell me that everything is going to be fine, to give me a few things to think about in my next schooling ride, to tell me it was OK that I have these little freakouts (I’m very consistent), and that he loved me.
He’s my guy.
And that’s a lovely thing, and I love him and his team to bits and pieces, but that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about the fact that my coach makes that time for me, just as he does to Olympian Ali Brock, just as he does to the local trainers he coaches, just as he does to his amateur students, from green to Grand Prix. In Michael’s world, there’s no limit to kindness for his people, his team, his pack. He’d walk through fire for any of us.
It shocks me that more people aren’t this way. I have a trainer friend who came up the hard way, backing young horses as a side business until one customer wanted her youngster to do some dressage, so he learned by reading and watching videos and taking clinics and building up a knowledge base and building up a business until he got a client with a horse he’s been able to keep long enough to reach Grand Prix. He’s kind and tactful and fair, and this woman’s horse is a terribly nice horse.
And my friend told me last year that everywhere he goes, other trainers approach his owner and tell them that they could do a better job than he’s doing, and that the owner should send the horse to them.
I know that this happens. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to other friends of mine. It’s the business. But this story haunts me.
I’ve got clients who tell me how amazed they are that I’m not trying to steal the rides on their horses. I’ve had clients tell me about previous trainers they’ve had who called them stupid every day, who told them they were ruining their horses, that they were fat, that they were worthless. I’ve had clients tell me that they’re shocked that I’ll come warm them up for their training level classes at a show where I have students showing FEI, and I’ve got trainers I coach who tell me how amazing it is that I don’t try and sell their students’ horses.
There are trainers out there I don’t like. Maybe I’ve had bad interactions with them, or maybe I watch them ride and think they’re doing a bad job, or maybe I think they’re ninnies who are all talk and no action, and sure, my little green-eyed monster quietly, under my breath, roots for their small failures. I’m a human, and I’m not proud of that side of me, but there it is.
But active sabotage? Going behind the backs of other riders, fighting in the same trenches I’m fighting in—to keep the ride on the horses that can make our careers and take us places, to keep clients and keep them happy and making progress even if they’re not the easiest people, to keep fuel in the truck and food in the fridge when there’s vet bills and farrier bills and trailer payments to be made—to steal their livelihoods?
I want to make a living doing what I love, but I also want to be able to sleep at night. I want to have a team that loves me because they’re giving back what I give to them. And I’d rather be burned a thousand times than not give my whole heart to people for whom I’d walk through fire.