Firing my first client....?

I’m a newer trainer, I’ve only been doing this part time for 3 or so years. The people who really pushed me to teach are the ones getting under my skin. I teach the mother and the daughter. Daughter is very talented with a beautiful mount. The mother is green and has a very forgiving green horse that I absolutely LOVE. Over the years the daughter cut back riding, only lessons once in a blue moon, sometimes is a no show. The mother went from 2 lessons a week to one. THEN they decided they’d rather have me do “training rides”. after realizing they only ride their horses a max of 4 times a month I got annoyed. I’m not “training” anyone or anything at this point and it’s just a waste of energy on my part.
BUT WAIT…
They then asked me about a12 year old UNBROKE broodmare. For what you may ask? The mother says “I figured you and I could break her.”
NO. THAT IS NOT WHAT I DO. YOU ARE A GREEN RIDER WHO DOESN’T EVEN CANTER. NO.
What do they do? Go get the horse behind my back, I found out through a friend. They then asked me to ride her… I made it very clear for a second time that I value my life and I don’t break horses. The last lesson I did with the mother, she canceled when I was 10 mins away/ 20 mins from lesson time. She still paid me for my time but wanted to complain about her husband for a solid hour. Her reason for not riding? SHE COULDN’T CATCH HER HORSE.

I decided to raise my training ride rates because they abuse it. Now all of a sudden they are riding their own horses. At this point I am tired. Neither person has not progressed in over 3 years and it’s not on me. what would you do? How do I fire a client? I knew I’d have to do this one day but I need to stay professional. tips? pointers?

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I guess this is where you decide what type of business you want to have. This is totally up to you, the only right answer is what you decide.

I say this because there are lots of people who just want to ride, pay a trainer to instruct them even, but are OK with making little to no obvious progress.
If you do not want to work with this type of client then no harm in moving on and making your business work around a different type of client.

I am not sure I understand the part about them taking advantage of your training rides. Though I suppose this falls back on whatever choice you make to the above question. The way I look at it, if Dobbin is a sane ride (that is not putting you in danger) then if the owner wants you to do a training ride instead of a lesson, it is almost an easier thing for you. You get to ride the horse, do not have to deal with the owner’s riding and you get paid the same (or now, you get paid more). Seems like a win win.

Not wanting to back an untrained horse is a very reasonable stance for someone who does not want to do that.

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I would let it die a natural death. Raise your rates, and give them the name of a good colt starter in your area for the mare. Institute a pay in advance for blocks of four lessons and a 48 hour cancel period. If they book a lesson and are a no show then you still get the fee.

Mostly let go of them. Accept they are on their own journey with horses and and that journey is no longer at your side. It’s a very common scenario for a daughter to lose interest and a completely horse ignorant mom to putter on either with the horses as pasture pets or lead and feed, etc. Stop caring about their progress. Stop being invested.

Do you have other clients?

As the poster above mentioned, if they want to hire you as an exercise rider at training rates for their horses that’s pleasant easy money. But if you are finding them overall irritating, revamp your fees and cancelation policy and push them towards a colt starter for the new horse.

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This is great advice. If you do decide that you are done working with them, I think you just need to have a straightforward conversation with the mother - “X, I’ve really enjoyed working with you and your daughter over the past few years. However, I’ve realized lately that you and daughter’s goals have changed since I first began working with you, and I think we’re no longer a good fit. I am not going to be able to continue giving you lessons or doing training rides on your horses.”

Don’t complain that they’re not serious about riding. Don’t get bogged down in details. Don’t give explanations. Don’t even focus on the cancellations/no-shows. Just find a sentence you’re comfortable with that basically says you’re not going to work with them anymore, and repeat as needed.

Unfortunately, no matter how professional you are, you will have to be prepared for her to be upset. If you have suggestions of a colt starter or another trainer who might be good for the occasional/casual lesson, then doesn’t hurt to suggest them.

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All valid points!

I’m not against people learning just for themselves to enjoy their horses but they aren’t even trying at this point which is what I find frustrating.

The taking advantage part is more so I tried to structure my pricing in a way that would be cheap enough for people who don’t have a lot of extra money to spend, to learn. This isn’t my primary source of income so lessons and training rides were the same price. arguably this is my fault too. BUT when they change their mind last min. as in when I get there to have me ride instead… now it’s too much. Having his 2, plus the 2 I planned for, plus my own horse, it becomes too much. If I knew ahead of time I would have broken the schedule up.

I did recommend them to the local cowboy who does a GREAT job but “they don’t like his property” along with other excuses. I do like what the second poster said about just letting it die out, I feel like that’s essentially what I’m doing slowly…

Anyway, thank you for responding. It helps to hear different points.

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Thank you, yes I like that. I don’t want to come off as rude but did want to point out we are on totally different paths here. I appreciate your feedback! :slight_smile:

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Absent being in a hardcore show barn, I don’t understand the mindset that the client was in the wrong for buying the project horse they wanted to. It’s their barn and their money.

You don’t need to ride the horse if you don’t want to. That’s a perfectly reasonable line to draw, just as it is perfectly reasonable for people who are not in a showbarn program to go and buy their own horse without their trainer’s “blessing”.

I think @trubandloki gave some very sound advice. It seems as if they may not be a good fit for the program you envision establishing. Do you have other clients that can support you while you reformat and restructure your rates? Are there specific clientele you are looking for?

If you are a trainer who does this part time and travels to people (versus a trainer at a showbarn that people come to) you may find the people you’ve described are your demographic. This is my demographic and, generalizing here, there are many adults out there who are perfectly fine having a lesson once or twice a month with no clear show goals or objectives… and that is okay. If that’s not who you want to train, you may want to consider becoming an assistant trainer at a show barn to get your feet in the door and a name for yourself.

From experience, the trainer that travels to their clients without their own string/program has to be much more flexible to the average amateur quirks than someone who has the luxury of operating a program inside their own barn. There is certainly merits to both programs, but the care and horses tend to “homogenize” more when there is a trainer that is responsible for cultivating those horses, training them, showing them, looking over their keep, etc… While trainers who travel tend to pick and choose their clients and are exposed to a much wider array of clientele and horsekeeping from Suzie Q and her perfect little farmette to the Gen-U-Wine More-Talent-Than-Money Pony Club kid who keeps her horse in her parent’s front yard.

That is not to say I don’t understand your frustration with being paid for training rides and making little progress. I’ve cut the cord on clients like that myself, because without the horse being in a consistent program, I didn’t think it was worth my time to ride them. You could certainly broach this topic if you wanted to salvage, but it sounds like you are looking to cut ties here. If the latter is the case, I think letting it die a natural death with a perfunctory explanation if they ask, is reasonable.

P.S I had to laugh at the comment about the lady canceling last minute because her horse refused to be caught. I’ve certainly been there, but it was a clinic! At least she paid you! I wouldn’t consider that a slight, but next time I probably would have offered to work with her to catch her horse if I valued her as a client.

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all very good points that make sense! I would love to just let them go without being rude because I do care about them as people but they are just too draining at this point.

I do have other students, two of which are at the same barn (I travel the area) and don’t want to stir up drama between everyone. Mother and daughter will be moving their horses to a property they recently bought and I think that’s when I can make a clean cut.

I will still revamp fees and I did recommend the local cowboy who does a GREAT job, they of course find an excuse as to why they won’t use them. Which, no, it’s not my problem but it’s frustrating.

Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it!

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I’m part time traveling just for people in my area who want to learn but can’t afford a big trainer or to board at a show barn. I work a full time job in IT that’s my primary source of income so that part doesn’t bother me. (I know, I’m the oddball in this industry) I have a woman who has me out 3 times a week for her two horses to keep them going, she lunges them on days I’m not out so at least that’s progress. (She can’t ride for the next year so that I knew)
another client rides western but more so wanted to be comfortable and learn to trust her horse, has no desire to show at all (nor do I do western anything) BUT she’s consistent with weekly lessons and riding in between lessons so we can build every week.
A few others I have do smaller hunters/ eq or are walk trotters. In general I love working with people who put in effort, not excuses :smiley:

P.S. I had to laugh too but she just straight up was NOT riding because her horse was being “an a**hole” and she refused to ride even if I did catch him. I think she was looking for excuses.

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OP use your insurance as an excuse: “per my policy I need to have updated waivers and signed lesson policies on file for every rider by x date”. Write the rules that will make you feel like it is a good use of your time. Be consistent, clear, and frame everything around respecting your clients. They want to be respected and valued so it is fair to ask them to interact with you in a way that allows you do extend this same mindset to your other students. You are under no obligation to ride or train a horse that does not align with your expertise. Who cares if the owner bought a broodmare. When they try to schedule a lesson just rearticulate your focus, which does not include starting/restarting and move on. If they show up to a lesson with the horse and the owner wants to ride, okay. If they want you to ride, no thank you. It’s not even worth getting flustered about. Don’t lose sleep over it because they won’t. If you get paid to stand there, it’s the same amount of money for the same amount of time. If you need, set an alarm for the end of the lesson “I’m working on respecting everyone’s time by honoring my schedule. It was great to see you. Hope that it works out next time to ride” and you turn and you walk away.

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I guess I have a slightly different view, and really have to side with the OP and commend her with being so honest in her viewpoint of her clients.

I see so many people with two (or three) horses they barely ride, sometimes with kids who also have a similarly inconsistent relationship with their (additional) horse, and they only occasionally take lessons. Often these horses are somewhat difficult, for a variety of reasons. My first thought is usually, “well, I understand they’re busy.” Then I learn they’ve just bought ANOTHER very green horse. Or a foal in utero. Or a just-retired racehorse (who might be great, but will certainly need some adjusting to a new life as a pleasure horse).

I absolutely don’t say anything out loud, because it is none of my business. But I can’t help thinking, “perhaps you should try getting into a routine with the horses you do have, before acquiring another that requires a significant time investment.” This is very different from someone with a retired, old, or unsound horses they rarely ride, and even though I totally agree that it’s not necessary for someone to linearly “progress” with their horse, just keeping the current horses working, mannerly, and useful seems like…a better goal than getting a new horse?

Since the OP does have a relationship with the clients, and been paid in the past for her expertise, I don’t think its wrong to sit down and respectfully and politely articulate concerns about getting a horse that isn’t broke, the clients’ time management, and riding schedules. It’s not like a busybody just nosing in, or someone gossiping behind their backs. I know it might go over their heads, but how many times do we all wish we’d had a conversation about horses or riding that was direct, kind, and honest?

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This is your side gig. I’m guessing you do it for fun and the money is a bonus. If it’s not fun it’s time for them to move along.

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OP, I fired a client once in a sort-of similar situation. The relationship began with me doing training rides after she fell and was injured, and then progressed to a training ride or two a week plus a weekly lesson when she was riding again. The problem was that she never rode outside of lessons, aside from the occasional trail ride- the only time she actually practiced was during our lessons. She was actively competing the horse, who was a saint, but was very frustrated at their lack of progress, and blamed it on the horse. I finally told her that she was wasting her money, and wasting my time. I (politely) told her that she needed to either RIDE the horse and do her homework between lessons, or settle for the quality of work she was currently getting- and do so without my help.

I would have a frank conversation with them- tell them you have limited availability and need to prioritize the students who are consistent and committed. Their frequent cancellations drop them to the bottom of the priority list. As for the unbroke horse, I would politely say no, I don’t break horses, but here are some numbers of people who do. I have also ended a relationship with a client over a safety concern due to an unsuitable horse- that may be applicable here.

Going forward, I would consider what sort of students you want to teach, and only agree to take on clients who fit the mold. Far too many pros, IMO, keep dogging along with students that are a bad fit, and it’s not good for anyone. Since this is a side job and you’re not overly concerned with the financials, being picky in the future may help avoid situations like this.

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That was my thought, too. Standard operating procedure locally. My most recent trainer had a system where things were planned out a week in advance. If you couldn’t make your lesson, it became a training ride. Granted, these are horses that require a thoughtful schedule to stay fit and sane. But that’s most horses, imo.

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I think you’ve had great advice here, all the above. If you have decided that you want “OUT” of the relationship and business dealings, if things are making you miserable, it’s time for them to move on. Nobody can pay you enough money to make you miserable. Be polite, obviously, but firm. Give them notice to find a new situation/trainer/rider/barn. Set a date. Give them some options that you may be able to recommend. Give them the name of a transport company. Some other barn/coach/trainer/rider will be happy to take their money.

You can make some stuff up to tell them, if you wish. Perhaps that with your other job, “you just don’t have the time or energy for their horses” and are exhausted. That you “need to downsize”. (You don’t have to actually downsize). Good luck! And heave a sigh of relief.

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You are burning energy being frustrated they didn’t like your cowboy referral. That’s your choice to be frustrated.

If you enjoy the easy money of pseudo training rides, take the money. If you don’t, then don’t tell them you no longer offer that service OR raise your rates to one you would enjoy.

I’ve also found I can hang up on blathering fools then text them sorry the call dropped, I’m in a bad spot. I’ll see you next time! You don’t have to stay on the phone.

All of this to say you can fire them by telling them you’re shifting your focus to committed riders and they aren’t taking lessons consistently so I wish you well with your horses, but I’m canceling our future sessions. I have names to offer if you’d like my suggestions for other teachers

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Yeah, there is always going to be a bit of an emotional engagement to firing long standing clients. I think you need to first let yourself let go of them truly, without resentment or nagging anxiety you are responsible for them, and these emotions can be mutually reinforcing.

You are not responsible. Daughter is moving on to non horse things. Mom never really learned to ride from you. Mom may not really want to keep actively riding without daughter. Mom might actually at heart want a lead and feed groundwork pet (or a mini). Cut her loose and let her find her own people.

But let go of any anxiety that you are responsible for them, or any resentment their lives are going in a different direction. They probably don’t feel comfortable ending things in a definitive way, they are just letting them trickle out through no shows and evasion. I expect if you can disengage and then sever things cleanly they will be relieved.

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accurate and straight to the point

Thank you all for the great advice, and different points of view. I greatly appreciate every one of you for taking the time to read and respond!

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OP, you’ve gotten some great advice. From one instructor to another, I might add the following:

In addition to deciding what kind of trainer you want to be, I’d start to practice some self compassion and keep in mind the following:

  • Everyone you teach is on their own journey when it comes to horsemanship.
  • You may or may not be able to help everyone you come across in that journey, for any number of reasons.
  • Allow yourself to let go of the idea that someone who is not making progress (at least, progress as you define it) is a waste of time/your responsibility.
  • The biggest gift you as an instructor can give to your clients is the tools to help them get to where they want to be, whatever that is.
  • 80% or better of teaching is figuring out when to let someone struggle, when to step in, when to offer encouragement, when to offer tough love…it really is about managing people. The horse will figure everything out once the human does.
  • Success looks different to everyone. I’ve spent entire lessons standing by the mounting block after a rider gets on and proceeds to unload everything that is going on in their life that’s keeping them from being present for their lesson. I’ve stopped a lesson after 15 minutes because a previously struggling horse was doing so well that the owner wanted to take the win. I’ve been working with a gal I travel over an hour to go see who rarely gets to work with her horses except when I’m there, but who is so incredibly happy and content to “make progress” at a trickling pace. I’m thrilled to death to be on the journey with her.

Lastly, I’ve never gone wrong with just asking someone where they are at and what their goals are. If I get the sense that the tides are turning, interest is waning, life is getting in the way of riding, etc, I’ll just start off an interaction with something like “I want to check in about where you see things headed for you and Dobbin in the near future. Are you feeling fulfilled by what we’re doing in your lessons/the frequency of your lessons/where you’re at with your horse? Is there something I can do to help you make some changes to get to where you want to be if you aren’t?” You’d be surprised how opening that door will provide a world of relief to someone who might not have it in them to bring up what they are really feeling.

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