Thursday, May. 23, 2024

How My Daughter’s Trainer Made Me A Better Mom 

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I’m the mom who made her daughter’s riding about me. I’ll admit it. Thankfully, my daughter’s trainer wasn’t afraid to call me out.

Two years ago, I witnessed my daughter’s ongoing battle to ride her pony. We switched barns and found a new trainer. Even though we found a better situation, seeing my daughter struggle brought on waves of sadness that I couldn’t stuff down. 

This new trainer had a no-nonsense, can-do attitude, and though she listened, she pushed me to reconsider my position. “We aren’t going to feel sorry for her,” she repeated on numerous occasions, stopping me in my tracks when I let emotion get the best of me. 

But I wanted to make it better, to fix it. I wished we could afford a made pony to solve all my daughter’s “problems.” However, this trainer understood that teaching her to overcome adversity was more powerful than wallowing in it or labeling a challenge a “problem.”

Trainer Ellen Cabot talking to blogger Jamie Sindell’s daughter during a “teaching moment” at the end of a lesson at Top Flight Stables. Photos Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

Her trainer was also teaching me that, when things got tough, my daughter looked toward me. My actions and attitude would shape her response to hurdles in life. Would she quit or work harder? I needed to suck it up, keep my feelings in check, and let this trainer teach my daughter to ride. After all, that’s all my daughter wanted.

Under the direction of her trainer, my kid progressed to showing locally. She was having fun again and was ready to move up. Though other friends with more seasoned mounts had already moved up at least a division or more, she was thrilled to move up to 2’. 

It felt like our horse difficulties were behind us. Her determination had paid off! However, that’s not life with horses, no matter their purchase price. I hadn’t quite figured that part out.

One local derby last year was my emotional breaking point. That brisk morning, I texted my daughter asking her what time she would show. 

She shot back a quick text: “I’m not showing.” 

I countered immediately, mind churning: “WHATTTT???” We had paid for trailering, braiding, and longeing. Her trainer had even ridden the pony in the schooling class. Still, after months of hard work and money, she couldn’t show. 

In my head, instead of a milestone reflecting my kid’s growth and stick-to-it-ivness, the show was another horse flop. Her trainer and I had failed her. Even after all this prep, she couldn’t complete a round. 

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My daughter, on the other hand, was upset but not crushed. She elected to remain at the derby for the day, supporting her friends. I arrived later that afternoon to pick her up, wearing the disappointment on my face like a mask I couldn’t scrub off.

Though I reminded myself I was “mom,” the one setting the example, I remained lemon-sour, shoulders hunched. I knew I was the party pooper, making this all about me and the expectations I had set to measure my daughter’s success—and my success as a mother. 

“I’m the mom who made her daughter’s riding about me. I’ll admit it,” writes Sindell, here with her daughter at Top Flight Stables (Pa.) where she trains with Ellen Cabot. “Thankfully, my daughter’s trainer wasn’t afraid to call me out.”

But I couldn’t snap out of it. I could barely face her trainer and uttered a quick: “Let’s go,” nearly yanking my daughter to the car. My daughter pleaded to watch one last round. Though everything in me wanted to bolt, I let her stay. 

Then, ugh, her trainer approached me. I looked, but there was nowhere to hide. No food-truck line to flee to in sight. Beads of sweat trickled down my back. I was in for a reckoning. 

She was firm: “Horses have bad days just like people. They aren’t machines. Today’s just not her pony’s day. He’s overjumping and overwhelmed by all the fall decorations.” It was true. In the ring, scarecrows peeked out of corners, and vats of mums peppered the jumps. This ring wasn’t for the faint of heart.

“I don’t want either of them to have a bad experience,” her trainer continued. 

Her words were logical. My cheeks flushed red with shame. I didn’t want to be the bad influence. My daughter seemed satisfied. I was the upset one. I would do better.

Then last spring we sold our daughter’s pony, and my resolve was tested again. Our limited budget made it tricky to find a suitable replacement. When we finally found a packer, a gorgeous black gelding, I was thrilled for my girl. In my elated haze, I envisioned my daughter focusing on herself, continuing to show, and moving up. FINALLY! 

Unexpectedly the lease fell apart. Devastation. I returned to: My poor kid! If only we had a bigger budget, we could fix this for her! Money was a throbbing source of tension and guilt. I regularly compared our experience to other families who had seemingly had gobs of money to spend on horses—their grinning kids on hack winners, floating around the ring without a care in the world…

Though I knew this was an unfair, inaccurate comparison, it was my default. 

 It seemed shameful to fret over money when we had a very comfortable life, but this sport stung me with fleeting moments of jealousy. I wanted the best for my daughter, even if it required copious amounts of cash.

Her trainer pushed me to reconsider my emotional response to the lease: “We aren’t going to do the ‘woe is me’ thing in front of her. We aren’t going to dwell on this.” 

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This time around, her words resonated. I understood that my daughter’s situation wasn’t awful. She loved to ride, she loved the horses, and she loved her barn. Even with some mishaps, she still had this beauty in her life. She would get through losing the lease horse unscathed and stronger. This was not a “problem” we needed to throw the money we didn’t have at. 

Her trainer was compassionate enough to give her the opportunity to “work” in exchange for lessons. My kid was able to ride some of the retirees and a lesson horse.  She spent those horseless months fulfilled.

At the end of the summer, we found a lovely but greener mount. Her father and I explained this was a six-month lease with the option to renew, but we couldn’t guarantee anything. The pair had a successful show at the Devon (Pennsylvania) Fairgrounds. 

As the fall turned into a chilly winter, all the horses were feeling the zoomies. The mare got a little trickier for my daughter. So instead of showing and focusing on moving up like many of her friends, she stayed home and worked closely with her trainer. In the indoor, she practiced serpentines and circles, softening up her hands, encouraging the mare to relax. She took lessons on longeing and positive reinforcement training, bonding with her horse on the ground, forging a deeper partnership. 

Rather than asking her if she jumped in her lessons, I asked her different types of questions: How was her ride? What did she work on? What was she most proud of? 

Her answers were effervescent, rarely tinged with negativity: “We did a course of poles today. I was so proud of her. She was so good!” Her trainer was right. When I stayed positive and trusted in my daughter’s resilience and passion, she thrived.

Sindell’s daughter gives her leased mare a hug at the end of a lesson.

I kept her trainer’s advice in mind when another potential horse setback arose. Our lease was coming to an end, and I wasn’t sure we could muster up the funds to continue. This time, however, broaching the subject felt different. I felt different. I would make her trainer proud.

Instead of feeling sorry for my daughter, believing this conversation would crush her, destroy her love for horses, I knew she would be fine. She had proven to me that she was resilient and could ride out whatever happened next. 

As we drove home from the barn, I broke the news that we would try, but we weren’t sure we could renew the lease. For a few minutes, she stared blankly at the star flicks in the sky. Then tears came streaming down. She wiped them away with her hoodie sleeve. Finally, she looked at me: “I understand, Mom.” And I believed her instead of pitying her.

Now, her trainer and I have a mutual agreement about my daughter. We agree that learning to ride greener and varied horses might afford her opportunities like catch riding at shows down the line. We agree that at times it must be hard for her to see her friends progressing at a more rapid rate, but she’s not at a disadvantage. She’s just on a different journey. 


Jamie Sindell has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and has ridden and owned hunters on and off throughout her life. She is a mom of five kids, ages 2, 3, 6, 10 and 13. She and her family reside at Wish List Farm, where her horse crazy girls play with their small pony, Cupcake, and her son and husband play with the tractor. Jamie and her trainer are still on the hunt for her oldest daughter’s new horse.

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