I feel your pain. Too bad "it's not you, it's me" doesn't work. I tried being honest, but tactful, but it didn't work - ended up hurting the person's feelings & now relations are tense, at best. Say it in person, be polite, give notice & move on. It really depends on the maturity of the person, IMO.
I agree, you can't be responsible for hurt feelings.
But, you might add, "Thank you for all you have done for me, and for my horse."
The trainer might not be able to hear that, but if s/he CAN hear that, s/he will know that you do realize that s/he has been helpful to you and you appreciate that.
I am not sure that it is possible to leave a trainer without any hard feelings - you are leaving them, after all, and that has got to sting.
However, I have usually found that bringing a small gift and a nice note along with me to that meeting can help quite a bit to reinforce the message that you appreciate all they have done for you, still think highly of them, and want to leave without drama. Depending on the individual, I've brought a bottle of wine, a pretty scarf, or something along those lines, wrapped up nicely and accompanied by a card that outlines how much I've learned from them, appreciated them, etc.
Frankly I also usually make a point of saying that I am making a change because the new barn is a "better fit" (very generic) without being too specific about whatever it is that didn't work for me and caused me to leave. There are very, very few trainers who are able to objectively assess their own qualifications/program/facilities and actually understand and accept a client leaving based on those factors. Also, if I am leaving for that type of reason, it is generally something that the trainer can't fix, so there is no point in beating them up about it.
********** We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
I think all you can really do is be polite, tactful and upfront, and as lucassb says, make a point of how appreciative you are for everything this trainer has done for you. I also agree that something like "I feel like a different approach is a better fit for where I am right now" is a good phrase. Do what you can to help them save face and add a spoonfull of sugar: emphasize some good points about their skills or program, and have the discussion privately and quietly, away from other clients. But while you should be kind and gracious, you should also be firm and honest. Don't waffle or be unclear, or make them do the work of pulling your opinions out of you.
If you've done that, then you've done all you can. Then the ball is in your trainer's court to respond professionally, appropriately and graciously in turn.
Suz raises a very good point about being discreet and tactful about delivering the news. If you want to leave without drama - tell the trainer directly, and don't advertise the decision to the other customers, staff etc. If and when confronted by other clients (OMG heard you were leaving!! Why?! Where are you going?!) my advice is to be as gracious, vague and tactful as possible. Current barn is of course a wonderful place and you will miss so much about it, but new barn is just a better fit at the moment.
********** We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
After working with trainers for so many years, I have come to the conclusion that it is a conversation to have EARLY ON (i.e., when you are starting with someone) about what to do when you need to move on. The reality is that people need different things at different stages. If you discuss this before you start, they you can refer back to that conversation. It often happens that one has to move on.
Good luck...it's not an easy situation and probably impossible to avoid some bad feelings. But, IMO best to try and find a publicly stated rationale that is face saving for all involved and try not to burn bridges as it really is "a small world after all". But at the end of the day you need to do what's right for you and hope that if you are a classy person that others will recognize that.
I recently chose to leave my trainer of 5+ years. There were lots of reasons, but I I just boiled it down to it was time for me to make a change. We had become friends over the years even outside of our training relationship, so it was a hard decision to come to and an even harder one to share. My trainer had always asked me that if I decided to move on to let her know. So I did just that, we met for dinner, I let her know my decision and we ended our training relationship on a good note. I know I hurt her feelings, but a few weeks later I feel our friendship has not been affected and we've "moved on" past the training thing. Any respectable person will appreciate the notice. I think one of the key things is regardless of the reason you are moving on, don't harp on the negative, it really isn't necessary. Good luck, you'll feel better once it's all out in the open.
do not walk around trashing her to her other clients
do not try to take your best riding buddy with you ( who was otherwise perfectly content)
do not continue to trash talk her when you are working with your new trainer for example( blame all your riding faults on the old trainer and take now ownership of your own)
do: talk to her or him directly, you do not have to justify your reasons, but be thankful for what you have gained from their tutelage.
I can tell you from the persective of some one who just recently aquired a few new clients, what really sticks out as the wrong way to do it.
do not walk around trashing your old trainer to everyone who will listen.
do not try to bring your best barn buddy, or any one else with you, ( who were otherwise content with their own trainer) to try and validate your choice
do not blame the old trainer, every time your new trainer tries to teach you something. ( after thirty days of this, I asked her to leave, understanding that she is not probably trashing me to everyone she knows)
I think having a sense of appreciation for what you learned, and moving forward is the best tactic ( and of the riders who came to me, the one who is following this path is learning and progressing best) the girl who did this is progressing in leaps and bounds.
how to leave. I do change badly myself, but if you are open, but kind, if you focus on the positive, and tell your trainer first, not last, it will come out good