On March 31, as California-based hunter/jumper professional and ‘R’ judge Hope Glynn waited to board a plane at the end of Desert Circuit, she sat down and tapped out her thoughts about the current state of trainer-client relationships, particularly involving juniors, in the hunter/jumper world. Her post, warning trainers and parents alike that they need to be more diligent in protecting horses and students, went viral. It was shared and re-shared thousands of times, and many who read it reached out to Glynn to share their thoughts. Here she shares what she learned from the response to her message.
I received over 150 texts and probably 50 phone calls within three days from people who just wanted to tell me their story or say, “I’m so glad you posted this because I feel exactly what you said.”
I’m talking about professionals from all over the country and from Europe. I’m talking about people in dressage, people in Western. It’s something that is happening across disciplines, which I didn’t recognize until writing this.
I heard from several parents, too, who have chosen to put their kids in programs with good trainers—parents who are making the right decision called me to basically validate that they had made the right decision. I didn’t get any calls from parents who were like, “Really? Am I putting too much pressure on my trainer?” and wanting to reevaluate, but hopefully they read it, and they realized I was talking to them.
I asked all these other trainers for their ideas and suggestions. It was interesting to hear that a lot of people were just disappointed and feeling like we’re at the point of no return.
The two main issues they brought up are that we’re not bringing good enough professionals into this business and training them correctly, and that we don’t have enough suitable starter horses in this country for beginner riders. The prices of entry-level horses in this business are astronomical for middle-class America, or even the upper middle class, to get into showing.
We Need Better-Trained Trainers
The most common feedback I got was that we have too many uneducated professionals in this business that, unfortunately, never learned how to bring a young horse along or lived with horses at home and were never taught horsemanship. Among the younger ones, these were kids who were raised on the circuit, riding horses who were trained and prepared for them. And then instead of choosing another career path, they bought a tent and a fancy setup, and because they had won some classes as a junior, decided that they were qualified to become professionals and teach.
We all know there is no real system for training trainers in this country. Although there’s a trainer certification program, most of us don’t do it, and most parents never look at it; it’s a good idea but a flawed system.
Instead, we have a lot of uneducated professionals in this country. One of the biggest problems is that we have trainers who don’t know how to bring young horses along or how to coach and how to fix problems. That’s something I see all the time in warm-up areas: Trainers are yelling at their clients, “I want you to pick a better distance to that jump!” but giving them no tools for how to do it. These professionals are not recognizing that the reason the distance isn’t working out is because the pace isn’t correct, or the child’s leg is too far back, or the horse has the wrong bit. They don’t know enough to recognize the problem, so their solution is either buy another horse, or just let it go poorly and blame the kid.
I feel like there should be a handbook for parents, so that when new people join USEF, they could look online and get pointers on topics like what to look for in a coach. Parents don’t have any sort of guide as to what they actually should be looking for, especially when they start in this business. As they go along the path, some figure it out, but I think a lot of parents don’t, and they just keep throwing good money after bad on horses and trainers that aren’t appropriate. That’s killing the sport.
We Need More Suitable Starter Horses
Another thing people brought up is the lack of good starter horsemanship programs left in this country. And because of the cost of entry-level horses and the cost of property, I don’t see that changing.
I had so many people tell me—people who have been in this sport 50 years, back when we used Thoroughbreds for everything—that they can’t find horses anymore for the average person learn to ride. The majority of this business has become 2’ to 2’9” riders, including the ones who are also the owners of the grand prix horses at the very top level. The problem is that animals who go quietly, relaxed and safely are few and far between. These athletic animals we are breeding for the top of the sport don’t necessarily go the way we need them to go to the lower levels. Well-respected, older horsemen told me they feel like they can’t get a horse ready to go in the 2’9” and under division without longing it or without giving it Ace and other medications that are unhealthy for the animal.
We have taken the market completely out for animals like Thoroughbreds; they have a bit too much blood for starter riders but are really good animals that could go on in sport forever, except then we longe them all the time and break them down. So the cost of the suitable entry-level horses has gone through the roof because there aren’t enough of them. (I’m in sales, and those few starter horses have doubled in price: What you used to buy for $25,000 to $35,000 is now $65,000.) So again, we’re just losing more people who might want to enter this sport because there’s no way they can get into it like that.
It’s also harder now to let new riders get a full experience of not just riding, but working and hanging around the barn, getting to know their horse and how to care for it. I truly think most kids who start in this do it because they love horses. And those kids do want to be barn rats, but there’s only certain places that still allow that. If the kids are getting their own horses ready in the crossties and they’re spending 20 minutes in one crosstie to hang out with the horse before and afterward, it’s slow. The unfortunate thing I see—and I understand it, as a person who owned a top show barn for 30 years—is that these big barns don’t allow it because it’s not efficient.
We Need Trainer-To-Trainer Solutions
I don’t think there’s an easy solution, but I do think there are steps we can take within our industry. The good professionals are in the best position to educate the other professionals, especially the younger ones.
I recently participated in a fantastic program with the Colorado Hunter Jumper Association in which it gave scholarships to local trainers who wanted to learn more. The trainers were awarded funds they could use to go work with a mentor on the circuit—whether that meant going to a horse show with them to learn how they run their business, how they train at a horse show, or whether they wanted to go learn schooling at barn management from them at home.
A Colorado trainer called to say she wanted to work with me. I suggested she come to a clinic I was teaching so she could see me teach different types of people and ride in the clinic herself so I could give her some skills that she might be able to apply to her business.
Not only was CHJA encouraging their own trainers to keep learning, but they were giving them the ability to choose what would best help their business.
We have to continue to offer programs like that, where people can get out and learn from more experienced professionals. Having more scholarships available for professionals who want to go learn from a mentor is not a total solution, but it’s an idea I like.
We Need To Slow Down Newer Jumpers
Another really interesting thing that a lot of people brought up was making the lower-level jumper classes safer. The biggest thing I heard from jumper judges was how awful it is to watch these classes; they feel like they’re seeing horses and riders flip over in numbers they’ve never seen before. Ambulances are being called to the 1.0-meter, 1.10-meter ring.
Why are we not implementing optimum time? Why is optimum time and learning how to ride the line at a certain pace not implemented up to a certain level in this this country? You’ve got to learn to slow your horse down and turn and organize and find an ideal pace. You’re much less likely to flip a horse over or break a kid or a horse in an optimum-time class.
One person who reached out suggested we implement simple qualifying classes that riders would need to pass to move up from, say, .80-meter to 1 meter, to demonstrate they can organize their pace. Like, two qualifying classes at a horse show where you have to canter around and demonstrate competence: being able to hold your horse on course, halt in the middle of the course, get the right numbers in the combination. These could be classes that are $25 or something; a smaller judge or a guest judge could even officiate in the ticket ring. If you did that, then hopefully by the time you get to the 1.20-meter, we know those kids passed it at the 1.10-meter.
We Need To Do It For Our Own Good
So many trainers told me, “I really care about the horses, and as soon as I told the kid or the parent that they couldn’t move up, they left and went somewhere else.”
We, as a group of professionals, have to do better in dealing with parents who don’t want to listen. At the very top we have to decide, as a group, that if a rider is not ready to move up and doing so will put the rider or the horse in danger, that we are going to say no, even if that means losing the client. If a professional sends an unprepared kid or an inappropriate match into a class—knowing they shouldn’t be there—and there is an accident, they need to take the responsibility.
If trainers collectively stood together and prevented that, it would change the dynamics of everything. It would make for a better sport. It would save our horses and save our riders.
But the majority of professionals will beg, borrow and steal if it means they will get another client from someone else. That’s unfortunately what we see in this business, and it’s hurting all of us.
There are only so many people that really have the money to be able to do this extremely expensive sport. If you beg, borrow and steal from enough of them, they’re going to get out, and they’re going to tell their friends: “Stay away; don’t let your kid ride.”
Your quick fixes could win a class sometimes, but you’re going to put enough parents into situations where they are basically stolen from, or their kid gets hurt, that they sour on the sport. Then they’re telling their friends, “You know, this kid broke their leg;” “This kid’s horse broke;” “We bought five horses in one year.”
This conversation stirred up so many interesting responses. The thing that gave me hope was how many people reached out who really want to make changes but just don’t know the path to do it.
Hope Hobday Glynn has been a licensed ‘R’ judge for more than 25 years. She currently owns and operates Hope LLC, a successful sales barn in California, and is a busy horsewoman and horse show mom to her daughter Avery Glynn. She gives about 15 clinics a year across the United States and Canada.