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Farewell, Sierra | How & Why I Chose My Trainer

I've mentioned several times now that Sierra is going down to my trainers, Carol Ann's (often referred to as "CA" because #lazy), and I thought it fitting to make a post solely related to my decision and the process I took to find her.  I have never used a trainer before and it's been several years since I had the pleasure of having a regular coach (IE: a clinician who came here 6x a year), and it wasn't a decision I made lightly.  Perhaps I feel the need to explain myself and work through my decision to clarify things in my own brain, or perhaps I thought my situation may help others who find their way to my blog. Either way, as I write this future-scheduled post, Sierra is currently on the road and I am a total nervous-nelly about the entire situation.

Trying on Liners to prepare to pack

Late last summer, I was driving 'round and 'round dragging a square baler for hours on end while I contemplated all life's biggest questions.  As I found myself stumble upon the topic of my struggles with Sierra (at this point - mid August - our troubles were front and center in all aspects of our relationship), and I continued to analyze the situation at great length.  Farming is good for things like this; apart from occasionally jumping out to replace a sheer bolt or to unplug the baler, there is literally tens of hours available to get lost in your own head.

and more liners... Sierra says "does this make me look fat? Yes... yes it does.

I waffled for several rounds if I should cut my losses and sell her and buy something old, dead-broke and hopefully less easy to influence, or invest in Sierra.  I considered how much I loved her and how far I was willing to stretch myself should I choose to invest in her development and ultimately, our combined improvement.  I still hadn't made up my mind completely, but as the notion of the desire to find a coach crossed my mind regardless of the decision I chose, I decided to at least see if I could find a coach/trainer that interested me - there's no harm in window shopping, after all.

Before beginning my search I knew I needed to get my ducks in a row to avoid wasting anyones time.  I have never in my life sent a horse to a trainer, so this was entirely new to me.  Short of having a coach get on for 15 or 20 minutes in a lesson, my experience was limited to friends who had utilized a trainer in the past.  To start, I mentally jotted down the things I saw as the 'big issues' or most important things to sort out.  They included:

  • Behavior: Her anxiety and lack of confidence, especially at shows and on trails - this is a HUGE issue for me.  Sierra used to hack out alone on the buckle with confidence, and I presume she showed well, so where did I go wrong?  I understand shows and trails are very different, but I genuinely feel as though the root of the issue is one in the same.  I feel like I have tried everything to figure it out to no avail, and I really needed help.

  • Coach > Rider:  I wanted someone that I can build a relationship with and trust.  I didn't want to be just another client with a cheque book.  I recognize and respect that a lot of people are great riders, but not great coaches, and vice versa.  Provided the chosen trainer got along with Sierra and could ride half decently, a great coach who believed in me and Sierra was equally, or more, important to being a decorated rider.  I feel like it's a foreign concept to many, but there is literally no suitable coaches in my general vicinity so I do not take regular lessons.  The nearest is about an hour and a half away and would require me to haul there for lessons, which is costly and far from ideal given the time frame, road condition and so on.  I wanted a coach who was also a trainer so that I could send Sierra to them for a bit of a 'tune up' and to get to know her so that they can coach me more effectively, especially because we would be doing the majority of our lessons either via Online Live Videos, or Pre-Recorded Video, neither of which are ideal.  I also wanted a coach who was within 6 hours of driving distance; close enough to spend the odd weekend under their thumb.
  • Personality & Understanding: I wanted to find someone who met my laid back (yet easily anxious) personality, yet had ample experience with Thoroughbreds.  Everyone knows I am very passionate and well-versed with Thoroughbreds, however I truly believe them to be very 'different' than many breeds and therefor require a special touch to find success. I knew if I found a trainer who wanted to muscle her around a ring, things would only go worse. I needed someone who understood the Thoroughbred brain.  I also wanted my chosen coach to be down-to-earth and relatively 'human' who respects my preferences, goals and financial restraints.

  • Affordable: I am not made of money, and I needed to find a trainer that worked within my budget.  This didn't just include the cost of training or lessons, but I also needed to consider that the further the distance, the more expensive the haul, and I also had to factor in board costs when in training.  My board is fairly low in comparison to central/south barns, so it was going to be a jump in expenses.  There was a fantastic Dressage trainer I would have loved to send her to, however her training fees were $1200 CAD/Month and board was $1000 CAD/Month.  That was far, far, far more than I was capable of spending.  I had a measley budget in comparison, and if I couldn't find what I was looking for within it, I wouldn't be sending her out.
I also had several "additional benefits" pop up on my list of important things which included the capability and availability to take Sierra to a show should a suitable one be scheduled during her time in training, be willing to travel up to our area for clinics, and was socially available.  The last one seemed like a bit of an odd request, but communication is key, especially when working long distance and it was crucial to me to find someone who was honest and available to answer questions, provide feedback or suggestions, and send me copious amounts of photos and videos while Sierra was in their care.  I also wanted her to go somewhere she could be on outdoor board given that she is on outdoor board at home, and would be coming home to the same.  Finally, I wanted someone with references, for obvious reasons. 

First I began scouring the internet and asking friends for suggestions.  At this point, my search-zone included areas up to 8 hours away to ensure I had ample options despite it not being ideal, and it I posted an ISO ad on Facebook.  I didn't want to choose someone simply because they were the only trainer in my budget within my 6 hour preference.   Much to my surprise, it wasn't long before I had several suggestions and people reaching out to me.  I began to sleuth through the pile of applications while several more trickled in.  I was still stuck in my own head a little about training vs. selling, but I decided it was wise to continue my search to truthfully weigh all my options. After all, it had only been about 8 hours by this point, and there was no sense in writing off the idea just yet.  I pondered the idea that perhaps if I didn't get any viable responses to my search I would have my decision, but only time would tell.

Looking slightly less hoodrat-esque
I received word from several interested, highly qualified parties but none felt 'just right'.  I feel like i'm a very instinctual person and due to no fault of their own many just didn't quite vibe.  Some felt almost too professional in that I got the impression they didn't have time for my questions, some were quite far away, and some were out of my budget.  Some were western trainers which I don't judge, but I knew it wouldn't be a long-term solution in terms of being a coach.  I knew if I was going to make this investment, I needed to do it right, and that included finding a situation that I felt comfortable in.

The following day, as I continued to drive laps around the field with the baler in tow, my phone binged and I saw I had a message from someone responding to my ISO ad. Spoiler alert, it was Carol Ann.  Right away, I felt like this could be "the one", and we dived into a very lengthy, detailed conversation.  She asked about my goals, how I foresee a relationship with a trainer/coach, my level of dedication, and all about Sierra. She was quick to respond to my questions, checked all the boxes as best I could tell, and provided 3 references.  I advised her that I was weighing my options, thanked her for her time and told her that I would be in touch after I spoke to her references.  I also spoke to a few other of our mutual friends on Facebook for their opinions, and naturally, tried to do some digging online.  I creeped her personal Facebook, her business page, did a google search, and so on.  During that time, she also obviously did similarly because she liked and commented on several of my pictures.

I let a few days pass before I reached out to Carol Ann again. Her references were excellent, and everything seemed to check out, but I still had more questions.  I thought reaching out a second time would be a good opportunity to see if she retained the information (IE: does she even remember who I am or what I told her?), ensure she was still quick to respond to my questions, and learn more about her.  Once again, she responded almost immediately but advised me she was just taking a break between horses so didn't have long to chat.  Regardless, the conversation lasted about 20 minutes and by this point I was pretty certain I wanted to pursue a relationship with Carol Ann. I wasn't prepared to send Sierra out for training until the new year, so this still gave me several months to 'test the waters' so to speak.  In the coming weeks, we would spent hours talking about myself and Sierra, and I sent her several videos of which she provided some feedback on.  On occasion she had discussed coming up for a clinic prior to sending Sierra down to her, but I brushed it off until finally, I decided to throw it together for November.

On the days leading up to the clinic, I was really nervous.  What if Carol Ann came up and I absolutely hated her? What if she wasn't at all how she presented herself? What if we didn't see eye-to-eye at all, or what if she rode Sierra and it went horrifically? After all - we know how particular Sierra can be about people.  Luckily though, as many of you likely read in my recap posts from the clinic, it was absolutely incredible and I was really confident in my decision.

Carol Ann was teaching another clinic at a barn 45 minutes away so instead of arranging with commercial haulers, she brought her trailer with the intention of taking Sierra down herself on her way home.  Naturally, the clinic fell during an arctic air outflow and the daytime highs are currently hovering around -30C to -35C with temperatures flirting with -50C overnight.  I ventured over to watch some lessons on Saturday and go for supper with Carol Ann afterward and we had an absolute blast but due to these temperatures, I have not been riding despite feeling a little less nauseous lately (thanks bean).  I often think it's more harmful than good to bring horses in, warm them up and kick them back out in the cold.. not to mention the risk if they aren't 110% dry is never worth it.  My last ride on Sierra she was fresh AF but we had fun regardless.  The day before Sierra was slotted to leave, I had a lovely barn day where I spent nearly 5 hours re-clipping and tidying her up and spoiling her with food. Seriously, the girl got 2 apples, about 87 cookies and a hot mash for zero reason (besides looking adorable) and I don't regret it one bit.  

^ This is why she gets so many cookies. She's fricken adorable.

It makes me sad i'm sending her off unfit and fresh AF, but she will be in great hands and I am anxiously awaiting the millions of updates that I have been promised!  I feel like this has been such a slow process because I didn't want to send Sierra out until January, but I never really took the time to reflect on how this would effect me mentally.  The past week or so has been really draining on my emotions in ways that I didn't expect.  In hindsight, I haven't been away from Sierra for more than 2 weeks and in my absence, she was home under great care of good long-time friends in a location she was familiar with. I know I wanted this and I don't regret my decision, but I still feel grossly unprepared.  This must be what it feels like wen you send your kids off to college.

Banker says this is sum bulllllllshiet

I took a bit of comfort in the fact that CA managed to pick up a second horse for training from the barn she taught the clinic at, so Sierra has a buddy for the 5.5 hour haul to her temporary new home. I still don't have her return trip plotted out, but i'm already counting the days until she can cause me unnecessary frustration and angst again.

Dressed (apart from her hood that I waited to attach til she left) and waiting for her ride

I anticipate updates and Carol Ann is taking Sierra to a show on January 25th for some flats so I will be sure to keep this blog rolling along as well as I can in her absence!  For now, farewell Sierra and for the love of god, don't buck off the Trainer. We like her!
Headed out and hitting the road


  1. I hope Sierra enjoys her bout at boarding school and that you and Carol Ann's relationship flourishes this year :)

    1. Me too! She arrived safe and sound so that's one less thing to worry about! Thanks for reading!

  2. I can understand the difficulty in sending her away. I would have approached it like you did.

  3. Your approach sounds really sound - I'm so glad you found this trainer. She sounds like the real deal. I've heard so many horror stories from friends that didn't do as much research on trainers. The western world is rife with the chequebook chasers, looking for someone that doesn't question them and just keeps writing cheques. :-(

    1. It's so scary! But at the same time, I attribute a lot of my leg work to being #HorsePoor and not being financially able to take any more risk than the bare minimum LOL * insert laugh-crying emoji *

  4. CA sounds perfect! As someone who also lives in an area without coaching, I'm really impressed at your efforts and am excited to follow along in Sierra's training adventure :)

    1. It is such a struggle and honestly, not something a lot of people understand is even a possibility!


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