Q: I need to tell my trainer of eight years that I’m leaving her for another trainer and I’m terrified. What do I say?
Only leaving your hairdresser is harder than this, Nicole.
Eight years is a long time to partner with someone, so any feelings you’re going to have about leaving are likely to be mixed and intense. There are several challenges here, not the least of which is finding a way to confidently own your decision to leave while simultaneously honoring the investment and care you and your trainer each has contributed to the relationship over the course of nearly a decade.
Terrified is a big word, but ending (or even changing) a relationship of eight years is a big deal, so I get it. The anxiety brought on by the idea of actually telling your trainer you’re moving to a different barn can become paralyzing, and sometimes keeps riders from leaving trainers or barns that aren’t a good fit. I think it’s safe for me to assume that you’ve worked very closely with this trainer, have traveled with her, been up at 4:00 in the morning with her, shared stale donuts and cold coffee with her. Maybe she found you that special horse, built up your confidence, extended a friendship beyond your working relationship. How do you say goodbye to all that? What if everything you wanted to say comes out wrong? What if she tries to talk you out of your decision? What if she responds with cold hard silence?
I’m also going to assume that you have, on several occasions, tried to work things out with your trainer. Many problems can be deconstructed to show where there were breakdowns in communication or, alternatively, how unspoken differences were interfering with teaching or learning. With genuine good will on both sides, and a shared commitment to generating solutions rather than proving oneself to be right, these problems need not become deal breakers. Sometimes, however, it’s just best to move on.
So, What Do You Say? And When Do You Say It?
Nicole, what follows are suggestions for talking to your trainer that cover a few different scenarios. That’s the what. As far as the when, just settle for a “good enough” time. Waiting for the “perfect” time or the “right” time means you’ll probably still be waiting six months from now. A “good enough” time is one where your trainer is by herself, not rushing off to teach or ride, and, as far as you can tell, in generally good spirits.
“Corey, do you have a few minutes? I need to talk with you about something…”
…This is hard for me to say, but I think it’s time for me to move my horse to another barn. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help us, but I think I’m better off with a fresh start somewhere else.
… I’d really like to try some different things with my riding so I think I’m going to go ahead and move my horse to another barn. I know we’ve talked about this a bunch of times and I really hope you understand that it’s not because I haven’t enjoyed being here. Eight years is a long time and this isn’t easy for me … I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done.
… I’ve really liked working with you here at the farm but I think we just have very different ideas about my horse / my riding / my program and no matter how much we talk about it we never really end up on the same page. I wanted this to work out but I think it’s time for me to make a change to a different barn.
… I thought I’d be able to get past my accident / my horse’s injury / our disagreement but I’m still having trouble and it’s affecting my riding and also how I feel when I come to the barn. I know you’ve really tried to help me move forward, but it’s not working and I think we’ve taken the conversation as far as it can go. I think at this point it’s best for me to move on.
Know What You Can and Cannot Control
One of the best lessons I got from George Morris was, naturally, not only about horses but about life as well. It was this: Always know what it is you do have control over, and what you don’t, and don’t confuse the two. In your situation, Nicole, you don’t have control over how your trainer is going to react to your telling her you’re leaving, but you do have control over a) what you say and how you choose to say it, and b) how you respond in turn to her reaction. And that’s all the control you need in order to move forward successfully.
I go back to you being terrified. I think it would be easy for you to get caught up trying to guess how your trainer will react to what you have to tell her. That’s because when people feel anxious, they try to predict what will happen so they can feel prepared for it. But what your trainer does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you show up when you go to tell her your news, what choices you make regarding its delivery and timing, and how you handle yourself in the face of her disappointment, or anger, or dismissal, or relief, or quiet acceptance. Show up with respect, and leave with grace. That’s where your power is, that’s where your terror will retreat.
Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette is a clinical and sport psychologist who has pioneered the application of modern performance enhancement principles to the equestrian industry. She is also the author of two books: “Heads Up!: Practical Sports Psychology for Riders, Their Families, and Their Trainers” and “The Rider’s Edge: Overcoming the Psychological Challenges of Riding.“
Feature photo by Bret St. Clair.