By Rob Jacobs
Happy New Year to everyone in the equestrian community. I hope the holidays have given you a chance to relax, spend time with the ones you love and also spend time reflecting on how much progress we’ve made over the past year. This month’s column is focused on equestrian parents and the team it takes to produce well-rounded equestrians.
Equestrian parents have an infinite number of responsibilities both in the barn and outside of the barn. Parents somehow make magic happen when it comes to juggling multiple tasks, perhaps even with multiple children in the family. As a nonparent, I can’t pretend to know that skill well at all, and the endless tasks must become tiring. My hope is to add perspective as a horse trainer to help parents support the riders in their family.
Parental involvement within sports proves to be challenging as each parent does their best to find ways to support their child. The equestrian sport requiring large amounts of physical, mental and emotional energy adds an element of difficulty. I think it’s important for each barn to prioritize what’s best for that program. In my program, we’re competitive and work hard so that we’re more likely to win, but we prioritize learning and getting better. It’s not only healthy for the riders to be on board with this priority, but in order for parents to support their kids, it’s important for the parents to agree with how I’ve chosen to prioritize things.
Based on many factors, each rider will generally require something different from their parents when it comes to supporting their equestrian journey. It’s unfamiliar to me when parents know enough about the sport to train their kids and spend more time training their kids than they do supporting them. More often than not, I see the heightened emotion involved when a parent that is not a horse trainer by profession spends most of their barn interactions with their child training them on the side. In my opinion, that should be left to the trainer who was hired to help that rider improve. Equestrians are usually hard on themselves, and trainers should certainly have moments of challenging their students; ideally, the parents in my program support their riders best through continued encouragement, affirmations and positivity, whether the child had the best ride of their life or a less-than-stellar performance.
Professional horse trainers who teach their own kids to ride have the toughest job. There is more to balance and navigate. Many of my friends in the industry that have kids often have other professionals train their kids for many of the above-mentioned reasons. Over the years, I’ve trained many riders whose parents are horse trainers. Oftentimes, when I talk to others in the industry that grew up with parents that spent more time coaching them in a particular sport than being “Mom” or “Dad,” I consistently hear them wishing they had an upbringing that had more “Mom” and “Dad” time and less parental training.
I believe parents sincerely want the best for their children, and also want their children to be the best. I hope this serves as a gentle reminder for our community as we enter the new year. Whether you’re a parent that knows a lot about the equestrian sport or not, give your child space to make mistakes. Support and encourage them along the way. Assuming your child rides with a trainer you know and trust, let the trainer do the training and experiment with how this may change the trajectory of your relationship with your child.
Effective trainers are able to discern when and how much to challenge a rider. For example, when a rider gets a new horse, that’s probably not the time to challenge the horse and rider in areas that may be a weakness for them. My approach is to give riders confidence with the new horse first and increase the level of difficulty over time. The saying is true: it does take a village to raise an equestrian—and if there’s a team in place, that rider will go far and reach their goals.
Every member of the team needs encouragement.
Photo by GrandPix