Historically, the term “horse trader” has had a negative connotation, in part because buying a horse includes so many variables. Unlike a used car or tractor, a horse is a living animal that feels, learns and reacts to his environment. And a successful horse trader would know how to minimize the negatives and capitalize on the positives, otherwise he wouldn’t be in business long.
And so it’s understandable why laypeople who initially step into the horse world, say through purchasing a first horse for themselves or their children, might wonder about the merits of the person to whom they’re writing a large check.
That means it’s often up to a horseman to prove to newcomers to the sport—or those who have been once taken and twice shy—beyond a shadow of a doubt that his integrity is rock solid.
This week, Between Rounds columnist Bill Moroney tackles many aspects of integrity in his article “What Makes A Successful Teacher?” He believes the most important trait a teacher has is his integrity, pure and simple.
I’ve had many wonderful trainers over the years, and I agree that what stands out among my favorites is their integrity, which manifests into my trust and belief in them.
One of these special teachers took me from the three-foot hunter division, where I’d stagnated, and propelled me into the jumper world with confidence and success. It wasn’t necessarily that my skills and talent improved dramatically under her tutelage. Instead, it was that I truly believed in what she said and came to completely trust her. When she said I had the ability to trot down to a four-foot vertical, I did it.
But it wasn’t necessarily just her teaching methods that developed my trust; it was her interactions with other students, owners and professionals, which I observed over time. Her honesty carried through to other aspects of her life as well as her time in the ring. No, she wasn’t perfect, and I saw her make mistakes, but she didn’t run from them.
Integrity is one of those traits that many people develop over time through hard work and daily practice. And, consequently, it can also be eroded little by little through decisions made that might seem minute at first but eventually add up. One day you might wake up and think, “Wow, how did I get here? This isn’t me.”
Often, as a person loses integrity he also destroys his reputation. In the horse world it doesn’t take many poor decisions to seriously tarnish a reputation. Matching the wrong horse and rider or not disclosing serious character flaws in a sale horse can have long-lasting and grave repercussions.
Even horsemen with golden reputations must still grapple with ethical decisions on a daily basis. How much preparation do you give a horse before a customer tries it? When do you tell a student, “I’m not going to sell you that horse?” Maintaining integrity is always a work in progress.
As Bill said in his column, one positive aspect of gaining experience in the world is the ability to look back upon your experiences, good and bad, and learn from them. Nuturing your integrity is hard work, and it’s a difficult habit to adjust to at first, but in the long run it’s also one of the most rewarding.