Many of us have experienced that knot-in-your-stomach, lump-in-your-throat, face-turning-red, feeling you get when someone has made a comment that catches you off guard and makes you feel incredibly uncomfortable. What makes the situation worse is when the comment comes from someone who you know and trust, like your trainer.
When we’re met with comments like these, you may feel the internal pressure to hold your tongue for the sake of your relationship with this person. However, there are effective ways you can be assertive and set boundaries that help send a clear message to your trainer and/or anyone else at the barn who has made you feel uncomfortable.
Why is it harder to set boundaries with my trainer?
You may be thinking, “If someone ever said this to me in public, I would have no issue telling them off. Why is it so hard to feel the same towards my trainer?” The fact is, there’s a lot more to your relationship with you and your trainer, than with you and the random stranger who decided to make an inappropriate comment in your local grocery store. However, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to let things “slide” with your trainer. In all successful and healthy relationships, there must be boundaries. Preferably, boundaries should be set early on.
Your trainer is supposed to help you learn, grow and succeed in this sport. It can feel tricky when you have to have an uncomfortable conversation and possibly lose the “easy going” relationship you had from the beginning. However, having these harder conversations with people, especially our trainers, can be a reparative experience. Working through these uncomfortable situations in a healthy way can actually make your relationship with your trainer stronger because you’ve vocalized your feelings and expectations and put boundaries into place.
Ways of Communicating Effectively
Remember, you absolutely have the right to say no to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter who it’s coming from. After your trainer has either done something or said something that made you uncomfortable, you may not be feeling empowered to respond in those moments. That is okay. Sometimes we do need to take some time to gather ourselves and our thoughts before circling back. It is, however, important that you revisit what has made you uncomfortable with your trainer if you plan on continuing the trainer-rider relationship. Allowing these behaviors and comments to be “brushed under the rug” may send the wrong message to your trainer that these statements and/or actions are allowed. While it can feel difficult and anxiety-inducing to address the issue, there are ways of approaching the situation.
Use “I” Statements
By using “I” statements, you can speak about how you’re feeling due to certain situations.
Example without the “I”: “You made a comment about how good I look in my new breeches.”
Example with the “I”: “I felt uncomfortable when a comment was made about how I looked in my new breeches.”
This helps the conversation focus on how you were feeling without criticizing your trainer. If your trainer feels attacked, the likelihood of them responding in an appropriate and helpful way is slim. If you have attempted to have an open and honest conversation regarding your feelings and you’re still being shut down, perhaps your trainer is not the best match for you as they are not being respectful of your feelings.
Set Boundaries Early
Setting boundaries and making it clear to your trainer about what’s acceptable versus what’s not acceptable will help guide your relationship moving forward. The trainer-rider relationship should be built on mutual respect and trust that your trainer has your best interest in mind. Again, if you’re finding that you’ve set the boundary and remained assertive, yet the boundary is still being overstepped, it may be time to evaluate if your trainer is the best match for you. Learning and growing as an equestrian is not possible if you're continuously being made to feel uncomfortable.
Written by Lisa Weiss, MSW, LCSW
Lisa is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Brave Minds Psychological Services in NJ. Lisa provides her clients with the skills to overcome traumatic events such as equestrian-related injuries, pregnancy loss and sexual assault. In session, Lisa incorporates her training in EMDR, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as mindfulness.