I had my first experience training an unfamiliar horse today. Now, I'm not going to lie. I felt wildly unqualified. I have hacked horses in exchange for money or even done basic training on my trainer's dressage horses, employer's reiners, and family friends' horses. I have retrained problem horses I have either bought or have been given temporarily to fix. However, I find this to be a whole different experience than showing up at a stranger's house, have them tell you what they would like to improve with their partner, then hand over the horse. Not only that, but this was groundwork. While I feel that I am more qualified than most to handle lunging, ground driving, and general obedience training, I am still in a bit over my head with this project.
I felt like an impostor, taking the payment she provided me after the session with a guilty conscience. I put on an air of confidence, pretending that this wasn't my first time ground driving a horse, that I totally knew how to fix a pony who jigged her young rider right off of her back.
Despite my distaste for the "fake it 'till you make it" mentality, that is all I had left. Luckily, I was able to pick up on the pony's issues and begin to correct them in the first session, but it truly concerns me that I believe some of it had to do with luck.
I am not trying to put myself down here; I have many years of experience and do believe myself to be a competent trainer on the ground and under saddle in many different disciplines. However, the fact that I am grouped with trainers who have been training for 30 years or young riders who lost their amateur status to work in exchange for daily lessons with an Olympic-level trainer bothers me. Why are there no intermediate levels between amateur and professional? Does training the occasional horse and exercising ones who are not even in my chosen discipline mean I am qualified to label myself and compete with those who are frankly way out of my league?
I originally lost my amateur status exercising reining horses for a whopping five hours a week at less than minimum wage. Then, I became a working student for several trainers, further solidifying my classification despite being generally put on low level horses once or twice a week in exchange. Even cleaning stalls on the weekends for extra cash means I am a professional. It is simply circumstantial that I had so much experience training and retraining horses as a junior, which makes me even remotely qualified to train and receive compensation.
However, today really opened my eyes at the meaningless term constantly used in our sport: "professional." When looked at cryptically, this title means nothing. An 18-year-old beginner rider could be paid by a friend to walk a horse under saddle around a round pen. And guess what? She is a professional. While I am careful not to call myself a professional trainer due to the fact that I do not feel experienced enough to qualify, I would not be lying if I did. While it is up to potential clients to vet the person training their horses thoroughly, that does not stop clueless adults from passing themselves off as the next Beezie Madden.
This is an issue the FEI and underlying organizations need to address in order to maintain the integrity of the professional horse community. The success and growth of young professionals should not be inhibited by being lumped into this category, ranging from anyone who gets $10 a week for hacking a friend's horse to those who make a living off of lessons, training, sales, and competition. The less competent individuals who pass themselves off as equals only chip away at the trust between riders and trainers everywhere.
In addition, many of these young professionals either have young horses, lower-level mounts, or not enough experience to compete at the levels which are often offered at competitions for non-amateur riders. In fact, I am not eligible to compete in anything other than schooling classes or open equitation at my local shows. Even when I find a class I am eligible to compete in, I end up in the ring with seasoned professionals developing their young horses or schooling their clients' mounts.
For these reasons, the development of an intermediate level between amateur riders and professionals would benefit every area in our sport, allowing competition among peers and a means of which to uphold the integrity of our sport's instructors and mentors.