|Certificates:||Riding Master VI|
|Advice:||Be detail oriented. BE HONEST--if you make a mistake, admit it. Don’t gossip. Your reputation is one of the only things you have in the horse industry. Keep it polished.|
August 2006 - “I feel very lucky to have gone to Meredith Manor,” says Jana Armstrong who, until recently, managed Applewood Farm, a 20-horse dressage facility located on the fringe of the Atlanta metro area. “You can’t get experience like that at any other colleges,” she says. She appreciates that during her last few quarters she rode 5 or 6 horses daily and gained valuable experience with many types, ages, and temperaments. She also appreciates the in-depth theory she learned studying the riding tree, the training tree, and how the two fit together. “Other trainers only teach the way they’ve been taught and that’s not always very productive. They only know one way to ride and some concepts they have are good, some not so good.”
It’s natural, Jana says, for clients to question how someone in their 20s can know as much as another trainer in their 30s or 40s. She has found that her understanding of the progression of skills that both horses and riders must master gives her the confidence to work with clients at all levels. “I have a lot of very valuable knowledge that I know I can use to help people. The average 21-year-old doesn’t have a system, doesn’t have a solid background. Other than the saddle time you spend at Meredith Manor, having that system is probably the most valuable thing you learn. You can always go back to it.”
In spring of 2006, Applewood hosted a clinic with Christoph Hess, director of training for the German Olympic committee for equestrian sports. It was a highly participatory clinic, Jana says, even for auditors, as Hess worked through several ideas including discussions of the new Dutch form of riding. “Everyone was so blown away by the concepts he brought,” Jana says. “I felt very validated. Most of the things he was saying were things I had already learned at Meredith Manor. It was review for me."
“Many times people don’t have a program to follow, don’t know where they’re at in their training progression and where they’re going. My concepts of theory and how it gets me to where I want to be are real and really work. To hear them supported by someone who teaches the German team how to train was very gratifying.”
Besides being responsible for the daily care of both the horses (mostly warmbloods and Thoroughbreds) and the facility, Jana’s hours were filled with tuning up horses for boarders, teaching 10 to 12 riding lessons a week, bringing along a few sales projects for Applewood, and training her personal horses for sale.
The thing she enjoys most is teaching, she says. “I like to see people progress. It’s fun! I work with a lot of kids and they progress so fast. A couple of students have their own horses and I enjoy seeing the enjoyment they get from their personal animals.”
Jana missed the job at Applewood the first time around. The farm had listed its requirements for a barn manager in the Meredith Manor job book so she sent her portfolio, resume and a riding video. Initially, Applewood chose someone else to fill the position. When that situation didn’t work out, they called her back.
While she felt well prepared to deal with horses, Jana says, she has had to learn to deal with clients on the job. “You don’t learn to deal with clients at Meredith Manor,” she says, “and different barns have different expectations. At Applewood, they are very demanding, they expect the highest level of care for their horses, and they can bring up things that you would never even think would be ‘deal’.” As an example, one client wanted to know if her horse was getting the hay with the blue strings or orange strings. “This is their very expensive horse,” Jana says, “and they want to know. They want him to get what he likes. And you can’t offend them or make them feel stupid.”
Another thing that is important, Jana says, even though it isn’t taught directly in school, is that appearances count. “The appearance of a facility really affects people in a subconscious way,” she says. “If a plant doesn’t look taken care of, clients may wonder what kind of care they can expect for their horse that requires more than water and sunlight.” Get rid of things that don’t look taken care of, replace things that are worn out, make sure pastures are mowed, that stalls look nice, and get rid of all the old wagon wheels. They’re not decoration, she says. They’re junk.
Probably the most important thing, she says, is to be completely honest with clients at all times. “If you’ve made a mistake, admit it,” she says. Don’t argue with someone to cover a mistake, don’t talk about how badly someone else treats their staff or clients, and don’t gossip. Horse trainer and “horse trader” sometimes have the same negative connotations, she says. Build and protect a reputation for honesty because that is your most valuable asset in the horse industry.
Jana’s attention to detail and client service have helped her make a new move along her equine career track. She was recently offered and accepted a new job as head dressage trainer at Black Sterling Friesians in Sonoma, California.