Dana Hart Callanan is a successful hunter, jumper and equitation coach, an ‘R’ judge, and a sales broker. Here she answers common questions about A level sport.
A: As a trainer that cares solely about what is best for horse and rider, it is truly an easy decision.
When a client has successfully lessoned at home and shown in a specific height/division—and has many times been able to do exactly what the courses and trainer have asked of you at that level—it is time to move up!
But only when both horse and rider and parents are ready and willing. It should never happen for any other reason than it is that time!
As trainers, we know it’s rarely ever that easy and simple, though.
Usually, we will have a client whose enthusiasm exceeds their current ability. Or a parent or client that pushes you hard to move them up. Maybe they bought a horse that can for sure do a higher level and you feel the student isn’t ready. Maybe the student is ready, and the horse isn’t ready or capable.
These are all very real and common situations most trainers will encounter and, unlike the average sport, it’s not just the athlete who will pay the consequences—there’s living animal involved. As a trainer, it’s our job to protect and advocate for the horse and its safety, and not to let confusion fog our decision making—sometimes that can lead to a not very happy client.
To prevent that, I try hard to communicate my concerns and feelings of the capabilities of rider and horse all the time. I believe if trainers set short- and long-term goals, and check in with client and parents frequently on how they are progressing, then it makes it much easier to stay within the realistic capabilities of all.
Having said that, sometimes clients just don’t want to listen and want it their way and some trainers then bend against their better judgment, which is where it can get dicey. Some don’t and loose clients as a result. Everyone has to do what they believe works for them. Just remember safety should be first—for rider and horse!
Now as a judge, why are they in this ring? is truly an everyday thought in my head. I have witnessed bad falls that you could see coming for the lack of capability of horse and or rider and that could have been prevented if they were showing in a lower level.
I can also say I’ve thought that horse is a saint more times than I can count on both hands while I am judging. Very few times do I think, Wow! That rider should be in a higher-class level.
Unfortunately, as a judge there is not much I can do about which classes a horse and rider compete in. But know this, from the judge’s box safety is number one. If the rider has no control or the horse is compromised because of rider’s capability, they are not going to place well in hunter/equitation classes!
In the jumper ring, you can get “lucky” and still win a blue ribbon with a bad ride. But if you are hearing a judge or people ringside gasp, that isn’t a good thing. And sometimes being wildly below all other’s time isn’t always a good thing, either. You should never feel out of control in the show ring, so make sure you are asking yourself that before moving up a level. As a judge, I don’t feel nearly enough people really are honest about that.
For me, as a mom, I always tried to make sure my kid was mounted correctly and felt confident. If at any time she voiced concerns, or asked questions and there was fear in her voice, we would re-evaluate.
Whenever she tried to compare to others, I would steer her far away from that line of thinking. This sport is so different than others. The variables are so vast that it’s impossible to compare what a friend is doing on a completely different horse and one time or another.
I think this is why so many kids move up too fast—they’re comparing themselves to their peers on social media and it’s so devastating. It makes parents and kids do things they know, at heart, they shouldn’t. But the peer pressure is so high, they do.
As a mom, I would say, try really hard to be open with your kid about how they feel and truthful about what you as a parent can do financially and physically for the level they want to ride in. The higher the levels the more the financial and time investment required. If you can’t commit as a whole family to the sport, then lower the expectation.
Bottom line: You can’t expect any horse to carry the burden of capability. Be very open with your trainer and ask as many questions as possible. Be 100% sure you are all on the same page before moving up, then the “team” will move up the levels smoother and more successfully!