Horse Professionals and Customer Service

I read an article a few months ago, Is My Relationship with My Trainer Normal? It annoyed me greatly at the time, and I thought about it again recently as I’ve been searching for a new trainer, and customer service has been on my mind a lot. 

To me, this article basically amounts to a trainer saying, “Stop talking and give me money.” Trainers don’t have to be responsive, they don’t have to give you the attention you are paying for, and you are expected to foot the bill for them to show your horse without complaint. If you don’t think you are improving, well, that’s just because you don’t understand the subtle intricacies of horse training, and aren’t qualified enough to look beyond A+B is still equaling C. 

I may not be “Expert Horseperson, knower of all things equine,” but I am still moderately knowledgeable Courtney, and even if I don’t know everything horses, I know how I’m expected to behave in a professional environment. I know that I can’t push off my boss’s requests, ignore clients for other clients, and charge them for things not previously agreed upon. Why do trainers get away with this behavior? Poor customer service is rampant. People fall into this business because they like horses, and rank people low on the priority list. 

In my years of working with horse professionals, I have been annoyed by many things that I kept my mouth shut about. I showed up for a scheduled lesson, started riding, but when my trainer came in, she started reworking her footing instead of teaching me. 45 minutes went by before my husband took over working with her footing so I could get my lesson. One big name trainer, who I was so excited to work with that I bought 8 lessons up front, ended up being on her cell phone the entire time. I have a video of her staring at her phone while still telling me I was doing a great job. I never finished out the lesson package. There’s the chronic lateness. I show up on time, trainer doesn’t show up until 15 minutes later. Lesson still ends at scheduled time. Or, changing my private lesson to a group lesson without consulting me, and still charging me the same private rate. 

One of my favorite stories is when I paid for a lesson for my mother in law. I was a working student with this trainer, and therefore, I guess she thought I had “sucker” written across my forehead. She gave my MIL a 10-minute lesson, barely did anything, and asked my MIL if she felt sore. My MIL said she did feel a little sore (as expected of a brand new rider taking their first lesson), so my trainer had her get off and tried to charge me for a full half hour. Sorry, that’s not happening. I was so enraged, I fought that one. 

Most recently, I took a trial lesson with a new trainer, and I really liked him. After specifically asking him the best way to reach him, I emailed him to schedule a follow-up lesson. No answer. I messaged on facebook, no answer. He saw the message, I could see that. But still, no answer. 3 weeks later, he finally replies that he just saw the message, so sorry! But nothing else. Do you not want my business then? I find that hard to believe based on your Facebook advertising. So why are you putting so little effort into customer service? 

Customer service can make or break other businesses. Look at Yelp reviews of any random store or cafe. Uber drivers go above and beyond to get a good rating. Social media users are inflamed by anything they think is low-quality customer service. Yet, horse professionals get away with it because “that’s how it is.”

I know good horse people are worth their weight in gold. They help us understand our horse’s brain, they help us achieve our riding goals. But I think the true marker of a professional is someone who has the complementary skills of business sense and customer service. Yes, this is a horse business, but in the end, it’s a people business. The horses don’t pay the bills, the people pay the bills. 

This means, my horse doesn’t care if you’re 15 minutes later. But I, who has a meeting after this lesson, and needs to allow for enough time to get my horse and I cleaned up so I can get there on time, do care. I care a great deal. That meeting is what makes me able to afford this hobby, and it is (sadly) a higher priority than the lesson. 

It means that if I’m paying $60 for a lesson, I want your full (or if a group, divided) attention for the duration of it. Sure, you can take a breather (ideally when I take one too) or if something literally takes only a minute, go for it, but do you really think there is any situation that I would be happy to pay for you to play on your cell phone for the majority of my lesson?

It means communicating with me where you think my riding is going. If you can’t offer up the plan of my riding progression, I will assume you don’t have one. If you can’t tell me why I’m doing something in a lesson, I’ll assume you don’t know. If you don’t know, I certainly don’t know. Teachers and professors are expected to have a syllabus, do you have one? I wouldn’t expect an actual paper, divided up by semester (or lesson, haha) but I know trainers follow a basic formula/progression of the steps of building a rider, and if you can share your plan, I’ll know I’m on the right course with you. 

In that same vein, it means a two-way conversation about our roles training the horse. If you toss out that you should show my horse for me, yeah, I’m going to be a bit annoyed. First off, I pay for lessons so that I can ride my horse. It’s my horse, it’s my dreams, it’s my goals. If my goal to take my horse into a 3’9″ hunter derby, why would I pay you to do it? I don’t care if it’s the first time the horse does it, again, it’s my goal to take my horse into a hunter derby. What have I accomplished by having you show my horse? Yes, I get it, it needs “miles” or whatever. How about, I’ll pay the show fees to ride my own horse for miles, because that’s the point of buying my own horse. For me to ride. If the trainer thinks that I’m not ready for the derby, well, that’s the entire point of being in a training program, isn’t it? For me and horse to prepare for things like that? If I’m not actually ready, why would I go to the show in the first place, let alone pay all the fees for someone else to do it?

I know not all horse professionals rank customer service as a low priority. I’ve talked with some trainers that make my heart sing at how much they do care about providing excellent customer service. In that group, even some of the Big Name Trainers I contacted consider customer service a priority. I reached out to one BNT about lessons, she emailed me back within 10 hours with her cell phone number so we could talk directly. My friend recently reached out to (author of a recent amateur article) about a lesson. She didn’t have the contact information so she just contacted the sales page. It wasn’t her, but they brought the message all the way to her, and then her secretary reached out with information. It was maybe a three days total response time, and they provided updates of where the message was along the way. These are two both highly talented riders and trainers, but they understood the importance of customer service. 

Making customer service a priority would not be difficult. The trainers themselves need to set a new standard and decide to respond to all messages within a timeframe or at a set time, lessons will be on time, they will not be on their cell phones, and they will give all paying clients the attention they pay for. Basic things. But right now there’s no incentive for them to do this. Amateurs allow customer service to be a low priority because “that’s how it’s always been done,” and articles are published telling them they should just expect this kind of treatment. I think we should set the standard and insist on good customer service. I’ve personally decided I’m sick of putting up with bad customer service, and I will not patronize any barn that makes it a low priority. In the future, I plan to call out bad customer service as I see it. Not publicly, and not in an attempt to embarrass, but to tell them how it affects me personally, and why I need to be at a barn that puts a priority on good customer service. I will give my money to trainers and professionals who view our relationship with professional respect. 

I’m not being difficult, I just want a respectful relationship with my trainer. I will do my part to respect their time, not bother them with unneeded messages, make sure my expectations are clear and pay on time. 

I hope others will join me in insisting upon good customer service, and maybe we can change the industry for the better. 

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The Bloodlines of F#

warmblood horse breeders

So basically, Sharpie is all I have on my mind these days. Even as I’m scratching Pony, all I can think is, Wow, Pony, you sure are fatter than Sharpie. And he is. And he’s going to be getting the muzzle of shame because he’s gotten so fat. Seriously, that Pony needs to be on a diet. But that’s another story… one that was basically summed up in the previous two sentences. 

Moving on, now that Sharpie is mine, I want to share a little bit about the effort that brought him here. The breeders themselves have been breeding for over 20 years, and I think they have an excellent grasp of bloodlines, registries, breeding, and horses in general. I’m still going to be clinging on to them until I retrieve Sharpie in November, but I might cling again later. Like if I decide I want another foal. At this point, I don’t know why I would breed my horses when I can buy one of theirs at an extremely reasonable price. And they are just such nice people. Like super nice! I want to just gush and gush over how wonderful I think them and their breeding program is. If you want to stalk or admire from afar, follow them on Facebook to see all their adorable little foals pop out. I think this year’s season is done, but I’m already excited to see next years babies start popping… I do know someone who has 3 of their babies, and I admit, it’s easy to see why…

Dam Line 

The dam line was super important to me, as I think in the end the foal will be mostly mother. When I first saw Alala, I fell in love with her. She’s exactly what I was looking for in a big hunter horse. Later, I looked her up and discovered she had bloodlines to support this, and I gave myself a big pat on the back for knowing this just from looking at her in a pasture and wildly guessing at her potential.

Again, Sharpie was an embryo transplant, so he’s not going to know her like a mother… he thinks Jeff, the champagne Oldenburg, is his mother. Which is fine, Jeff is extremely calm, therefore, Sharpie is extremely calm. 

The Dam – Alala

warmblood dam

This mare was bred by Silver Creek Farm in Oklahoma, former owners of her sire.

Grand- Dam: Thoroughbred mare, looks like she competed in the 3’6″ hunters. I’m not clear of the exacts because not a lot of information exists on her and I can only base it on one picture of her jumping a big huntery oxer. It has a huge watermark on it so I don’t think they want it shared.  But here’s a conformation shot!

I think it’s easy to see Alala is a mash of her dam, and the sire below. 

Grand-Sire: Apiro

Marabet Farm

The amazing Apiro! Formerly owned by Silver Creek Farm, now owned by Marabet Farm. One of the top hunter stallions in 2010 and 2013. His page above tells more. If Sharpie ends up exactly like this horse, that would be ideal and amazing! He is such a beautiful animal! Also, I’m liking the music selection they picked for the videos of this stallion! 

I make no apologies, I love this song. Really thought that was Oasis, but turns out it’s The Bravery. I learned something new today.

Because it’s the final countdoooooown! Sharpie is totally going to be a fan of 80’s music, just like his grandsire and now adopted human father.

Rh, this music is okay I guess. Wouldn’t have been my choice, but mainly because it starts so slow and takes too long to pick up. 

Ugh, this video was muted! How am I going to know what music should be the theme song of his life?!

Overall, I would give Apiro’s music selection an 7/10. I gave him significant points because I liked the first song so much, but I did take off a point since the last video has no music at all. Maybe they can pick something else to put on that. 

Sire Line

Sire: Flint GSF

Flint is owned and was bred by the same breeder I bought Sharpie from. He’s gone through the stallion testing and is approved for Oldenburg and Westfalen NA for stud book 1. 

And one time I saw him and he carried around a weed in his mouth for several minutes. Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have of him. I guess it sums him up well.

bay stallion

But here he is actually moving!

I’ll approve of the music choice in an angsty teenager type way. Also, he looks so excited to jump! I love it. 

Sire’s Sire: Weltstern

I don’t know very much about Weltstern, but googling him brings up many results of people who like him. This is what the breeder says about him:

Weltstern was born in Cloppenburg Germany in 1982 and imported to the US after his approval as an Oldenburg stallion through the 100 Day Test in Muenster Germany in 1985 with a very respectable score of 111.35 points. Weltstern is an exceptional stallion with extraordinary bloodlines. Weltstern carries the blood of such influential stallions as Welt As, Ferdinanad, Don Carlos, Furioso II and Absatz. The dam lines in his pedigree are remarkable as well. At least seven of the mares in his pedigree are State Premium mares and many of these mares also carry the coveted title of DLG winner as well, a very prestigious honor. He is the half brother of Bonfire, ridden by Anky von Grunsven to numerous wins in dressage, including the Olympics and the World Cup .

Weltstern’s show career started at the age of 14 where he started at third level and competed to Intemediare I with scores in the 60s. Weltstern has sired three stallions approved for breeding through the 100 day test. All three stallions scored over one hundred at their testing. One more son of Weltstern’s is gaining his approval through performance records and has already been awarded a breeding license through Rheinland Pfalz Saar.

My thought… well, he looks pretty handsome! If I find out more in the future, I will update this.

That sums up Sharpie’s bloodlines! I’m hoping for the best out of him – and also that if he is super amazing, I actually manage to keep up with him. Fingers crossed!!

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Spring Gold Cup

Gold Cup was over a week ago. But it did happen, so here’s the official report. 

It was a very wet, very muddy day that basically passed in a blur. But a great day with bloggers Emma, D’Arcy, and Shelby

We actually got Emma to come out! We were thrilled that we managed to bring her to our area in Virginia! 

Looking super stylish in a red jacket with the hood up while wearing a fascinator.

We drank champagne/mimosas.

She has a mimosa in her hand, but also the term “cute as a button” as been thrown around.

We were invited onto Member’s Hill and maybe/maybe not into a certain tent and definitely did not sneak in to enjoy the open bar and feeling of exclusiveness. 

Everyone looks totally adorable and I look like grandma’s lace doily, and I’m trusting all of you to never bring this up again.

Also, I believe there was a horse race going on.

He must have won a race!
That first horse looks like it’s auditioning for the ballet.

Another highlight included watching the women who wore fancy heels that ended up completely covered in mud. Poor ladies…

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So Many Foals

If anything could inspire me to have a breeding farm, it would definitely be going to a breeding farm. They are so incredibly cute, I want to be surrounded by foals all the time. I want to lay in the middle of the field and have lots of foals leaning up against me, like a foal pile. 

When I was a teenager, my family raised sheep, and it was generally agreed upon by the sheep community that the primary reason to raise sheep is for lamb season. Watching them bounce around, call to their mother, stand on their mothers, play with each other, and just lounge around so cutely was the highlight of the sheep year. I imagine that is how some horse breeders feel, too. I mean, sure, the foals will become magnificent horses, but in the meantime, SQUEEE, look at the babies!!

I found this breeder a year ago. It was actually recommended on Chronicle of the Horse forums, and I checked it out, and thought, I’ll keep an eye on that one. I followed it on Facebook, and left it at that. As I researched more and more about what I wanted, this breeder just really caught my eye, and one day I realized that the farm is not too far from me. I truly do not know how I missed this detail, but for some reason, I thought they were out west somewhere. Once I realized I could easily visit in person, they became a viable option. 

I made my way southward and found this landmark right near the farm.

This is Commonwealth Park, aka, the home of HITS Culpeper. It’s also super depressing when there’s no show going on, and it literally looked abandoned/haunted. They could at least mow the grass!

The farm was huge! 150 acres and there were so many horses! I live in horse country, but I have never seen so many horses on one farm. It was the kind of place where they aren’t totally sure how many horses they have because there are so freaking many. But the farm was beautiful. All the horses were out on well-maintained grass, and it was clear they take very good care of all their horses. It truly is a great place for foals to grow up.

The first mare we saw was a thoroughbred mare named Berry. She definitely deserves a shout-out for having the same name as my horse, and also for being a thoroughbred. Both excellent qualities.

Similarities – They are bay thoroughbreds named Berry. Differences – Basically everything else. Also, this one has a uniquely colored foal, my Berry definitely does not.

Berry’s baby was only about 3 days old. So tiny and cute! He was too young even to be out with the other mares and foals, so they were hanging out in the arena. After checking them out for a few minutes, they were relocated so we could see one of the big men on the farm, their stallion. (One of their stallions, I think they have four total).

He is in training at a dressage barn, but he’s back at home to bred to the mares that have already given birth. As soon as they brought him in, I was in awe. He is a very impressive guy!

He stood for us for a few minutes while we checked him out, and then he was released to strut his stuff. He determined that the immediate course of action was to sniff poop, so he did that for several minutes first.

I’m planning to edit the video I got of him, but for now, pictures will have to do.

After viewing him, it was time to look at the foals. It was a field full of foals. Sadly, my picture of them en mass came out really blurry, but there were 10 foals out there, looking so adorable.

“Yes, I am adorable foal.”

The ones we looked at were all daughters of the stallion above. They were all so adorable, and their moms were lovely – I wish I could take them all home!

Although suspicious at first, this one was the only one that let me pet it, while laying down no less. I was tempted to get this one for that reason alone.
This won’t be the last time you see this gorgeous filly…

After viewing our favorite foals, they showed us some of the yearlings to get a sense of how the foals will develop. Keep in mind – these are yearlings, and yearlings are awkward. No one wants to be judged by their awkward adolescence! 

My original interest was in a foal that would have the same breeding at this dark bay filly. 

They were such puppy dogs! They just love people! (which was actually true of every horse on this farm. I asked them about it, and they said they only keep/breed horses with personalities that they like.)

All about the itches here!
ITCHES!!

We moved on from the yearlings to the older mares’ field. It was a mix of 3 year olds and older mares, I assume to babysit and put those young whippersnappers in their place. Once again, super, super friendly.

Half horse, half puppy dog.

We were introduced to the stallion’s full sister. It’s interesting how they are related, yet they look so different. As the breeder put it, same frame, but very different finish. (granted, not super easy to tell when in an uneven field and not square).

Her foal was the one I was originally interested in – The dark yearling above is her daughter. She’s not pregnant, they did embryo transfer with her.

Our final stop was the field of mares who were giving birth soon. It was a field of adorably chubby mares. They got a bit excited when we showed up, and galloped as fast as their fat pregnant bodies could carry them.

So much weight to carry…the one in the back looks like she’s trying to hard to keep up.
This appaloosa was definitely an instigator!

That’s when I met my unicorn mare, and fell in love.

D’Arcy examines, and mare contemplates life.

I do want to point out that while I was very impressed by this mare in person, I didn’t make the final decision until much later. I purposely didn’t want to rush into any choice. I went home and researched her and her lines before coming to my final decision. 

I was really happy with my experience so far at this farm. The owners were very knowledgeable and informative and didn’t try to sway the decision one way or another. They answered everything we asked and admitted they weren’t sure for things they couldn’t remember (mainly relating to a specific horse’s lines…they told us they’d have to look them up to be sure, there’s a lot of horses to keep track of.) They were up front with how the registrations they could assist with, and which horses are only eligible for half registration. They spent three and a half hours with us, showing us horses. 

Fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan! 

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ASSFS Blog Hop: Location, Location, Location

The lovely Sarah, from A Soft Spot for the Stars, is having the most wonderful bloghop, and I’m loving reading about people’s locations. Here’s mine!

I live in Northern Virginia, in the general area of Middleburg. It’s horse country here, but has the advantage/disadvantage of being close to DC. A huge portion of people from the city who want to be involved in horses either live here, or travel here for their horse fix. Land is becoming more and more scarce, and horses are being pushed further and further away from the city as land is sold to make developments.

This is how you know it's the DC area.
DC residents spend lots of time loitering at landmarks… or they could be tourists…I guess. 

Cost of Horsekeeping:

When I boarded, I paid $475 for my horse to spend half the day in a stall, and be turned out the other half. It was a serviceable barn, with two outdoors, clean, but no trainer. My friend paid $375 for pasture board with an indoor, an outdoor, and a cross country field. Again, no trainer, but that would be considered the cheapest place to board around here. At barns with trainers, the usual going rate is between $800 and $1400, depending on the level of service.

If you decide that’s too high, and you’d rather have your own property, the typical property for sale around here is usually a newer house on 5-10 acre lot, part of a large plot that’s been subdivided by a developer. Basically, it’s a still a suburb, if each house had more land. If you want to be in commuting distance of DC, price starts at around half a million dollars, increasing as you get closer to the city, or it’s more than an empty lot. Close to the city, any property big enough for a horse is almost unheard of. There might be a few teeny unicorns in the $1.2 – 1.5 million range.

Hay usually costs about $45 – $70 a round bale. Square bales are a steal at $4.50 each, frequently at $7-$9 each.

I pay $45 for a trim, front shoes are $150. I haven’t even asked about all round shoes, that thought is terrifying.

Vintage at boarding barn.
Vintage at boarding barn.

Weather:

It’s hot and humid in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter. The worst of both worlds. DC is a literally a swamp. Someone already drained the swamp and built DC upon it.

This year I was especially annoyed by the drastic thunderstorms we were having that would dump so much rain on us in such a short time, it would wash out the stone dust in my arena. Middleburg had windows broken by hail. It was like Middleburg was being punished this year by weather. They should all stop and think about what they did.

The main advantage to rain. (besides all that grass growth!)
The main advantage to rain. (besides all that grass growth!)

Riding Demographic:

It’s varied. There’s definitely lots and lots and LOTS of hunter/jumper. Some of that overlaps with the foxhunters. There’s five active hunts that I’m aware of.

Eventing is huge. Morningside was put on some national list for young rider training. Morven Park is an international facility. Since I don’t do eventing, I don’t know what else there is, but I hear people talk about it all the time. I’m not a good source for anything in this category.

Dressage has its place too. Some people use the dressage trainers in this area as a resource for eventing, others are pure dressage. It’s not as popular as the jumping sports, but there’s a solid dressage populace around here.

There are some western riders too, from pure recreational trail riders to the western sports. A good rule of thumb is the further out from DC they are, the more likely they are to be western.

I didn’t know how big polo was until this year. But since then, I’ve found out there are a bunch of polo clubs, and matches all summer. It’s popular.

Racing is popular, too. Middleburg has its own training facility, and there’s private tracks all over the place, including my own trainer’s barn. Charlestown Races is just over the border in West Virginia, and I bought a horse straight off the track there, and before she ended up in my hands, Berry showed her failure as a racehorse there. Great Meadow is nearby for steeplechase racing.

Basically, whatever it is you want to do, it’s here. It’s horse heaven.

Tori Colvin checking her course at Upperville.
Tori Colvin checking her course at Upperville.

 

Other Notes:

There is no shortage of trainers in this area. There’s a huge variety of trainers for every discipline/skill level. It’s easy (although perhaps not cheap) to get into exactly the kind of program that fits what you want to do, simply because there’s so many choices. If your preference was to take a lesson at 11pm every full moon, there’s likely a trainer that would be happy to accommodate that. And if they didn’t, there’s so many other actually talented trainers to check out. There will definitely be one that works out perfectly. (Downside, lots of people call themselves trainers and they’re terrible, but that’s true anywhere.)

There’s tons of well know trainers in this area, and we regularly have big name trainers(if they don’t already live here) pass through for clinics. If you want to watch the big names compete, they are here regularly.

I am biased, but this is the best place possible to advance your riding.

There’s tons of shows around. It wouldn’t be hard to show every weekend, if that was your preference.

If you don’t mind traveling, there’s a many parks with trails. I’m just grumpy and wish I could get to them without trailering.

barn
Middleburg Barn

Frustrating Things: 

It’s expensive. I feel like this is obvious, but everything is at a premium, because there’s high demand for everything.

Trails are disappearing because land is being developed. Sometimes horse people move in, sometimes people from the suburbs move in and don’t want horses riding on their property, or even livestock within their sight. I guess they moved out to the country just to spend all weekend mowing their acres with their lawn tractors. (I’ll stand at the edge of their property, a single tear rolling down my cheek as I watch them mow all the potential pasture).

People from the city come out on the weekends and ride their bikes on our roads. I get it, we have scenic country roads. We also have people interested in getting from point A to point B without being stuck being a flock of bikers going 10 mph taking up the entire lane of the two lane road.

Traffic in general stinks. I hate my commute, but I do it because I love where I live. I know I’m not alone in this thought because our roads are super crowded, and it’s not uncommon for a 20 mile commute to take an hour or more. I live way more than 20 miles out. The traffic is getting worse each year, metro can’t figure out how to operate, and there’s too many people everywhere! Now get off my lawn!

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Katie Price’s Pony Club

Katie Price is a British reality show celebrity, with a ready for TV drama filled life. I’m not a fan of reality TV shows, but throw in horses, and yes, I absolutely am a fan! I don’t care if it’s good, or terrible, I want to watch this so badly! What do we need to do to get this to the U.S.?!

This is the best video to describe exactly what this is. You can actually see Katie Price riding a bit. Plus, kids falling off. I wonder if one episode will feature a trip to the emergency room.

And then all the promo videos:

I don’t know the history of this woman, so I’m not sure if I should love her or hate her, but I kind of love her for doing her own work on her farm.

AND she has chickens!

Seems she’s a bit immature, and loves pink. And of course, embarrasses her children.

Please TLC, bring this to the U.S.!!!

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