Cedarhill Farm’s longtime assistant trainer discusses how she evolved from student to teacher and addresses one of the biggest challenges facing equine professionals today.

Caroline Foto The Carolinas Equestrian 01I started riding in 1986, when helmets were a suggestion and we spent more time in a field or on a trail than in the ring. Weekends were for swapping ponies with your friends, jumping on foot, and climbing in the back of a pickup truck for lunch in town with the barn crew. I rode because my big sister rode, and it was convenient for my parents to have us in the same activity. In the beginning, I didn’t love it. I spent most of my lessons on a pony named Shadow who bucked me off twice a week for months. I wanted to quit but was told to see it through with the promise I could pick any lesson pony to ride when I succeeded. Well, I conquered Shadow and have been addicted ever since!

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I have been at Cedarhill Farm with Andrea Guzinski as my trainer, and now boss, for 33 years. I moved from the lesson ponies to a medium pony named Touch A Gray that I owned for 6 years. My parents then purchased a Thoroughbred named Gillespie for the Children’s and Adult Hunters. Finally I purchased Portabella, a 3 year old Selle Francais mare that took me from the Adult’s to Indoors in the amateur owner division. I went to nearby Davidson College so I could keep my horses at Cedarhill and continue riding with Andrea. I spent summers in high school and college teaching summer camp and horse showing. After graduation, Andrea asked if I could step in as her assistant while she looked for someone more permanent to fill the position. It has been 15 years, and she hasn’t found anyone yet!

The role of trainer requires you to wear many hats – coach, therapist, mentor, friend, role model, confidant, disciplinarian, and the list goes on. Our duty is never solely trainer and our job description crosses into a somewhat grey area. It is an honor and a huge responsibility to fill the role we have as trainers in the lives of our young students. I have helped kids through first boyfriends, divorced parents, alcohol and drug issues in the home, bullying at school, the list goes on. I have had students in college show up on my doorstep when they are home to just hang out. I love that my students feel I am a safe haven for them.

However, now I worry that the new rules and regulations coming into our sport (see editor’s note), and many other sports, will make it difficult to uphold these responsibilities and positions in the lives of our students.Our mission is to shape our students into strong, independent, confident young adults, but that is difficult to do without crossing into the grey area where a trainer is more than just a trainer. Our program works to eliminate the parental crutch and place the responsibilities of horse care, show prep, and time management on the student.New regulations on text communication, social media contact, and travel arrangements make that task all the more difficult.

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In a sport that has been made so special by the connection between coach and student, I feel like we as trainers are now expected to take on a robotic role where we stand and teach and move on to the next rider. Will this be easier for us? No longer investing in the emotional connection to our students and families? I don’t think so.

I pride myself on the strong relationships I have with the students at Cedarhill Farm and take the responsibility of role model and mentor very seriously, but these responsibilities rely on my entering into a grey area. I truly believe in the concept of ‘it takes a village’ when molding these young humans. So much of this sport is about what happens outside the ring. I fear we will be less effective as trainers in the ring because we are being ruled to avoid the grey areas. The grey is what makes this sport special.

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Editor’s Note:

The U.S. Center for SafesSport is an independent agency that fields and investigates allegations of sexual misconduct in Olympic Sports. In 2018 The United States Equestrian Federation announced that, effective January 1, 2019 all USEF Members 18-years-old and older, with competing membership, must complete SafeSport Training in order to be eligible to participate in USEF activities, including competitions. In June of 2019, the USEF SafeSport policy was updated to include Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAP). The USEF SafeSport Policy, including jurisdiction, investigative process, and penalty, is available in its entirety online through the website www.usef.org.

The following information, related to the article above, has been paraphrased from the USEF SafeSport Policy.

  • The USEF SafeSport Policy prohibits private electronic communication between a trainer and a minor athlete. A parent, guardian or other applicable adult must be copied on all correspondence between a trainer and a minor athlete. If a minor athlete initiates private correspondence with a trainer, the trainer must copy an applicable adult or the minor’s legal guardian on their response.
  • Trainers are prohibited from riding in a vehicle alone with a minor athlete for local travel to competitions, training or practices, unless otherwise agreed upon in writing by the minor athlete’s parent or guardian in advance of each trip.
  • One-on-one interactions between a trainer and a minor athlete at a USEF licensed event are permitted if they occur at an observable and interruptible distance by another adult.
  • The USEF SafeSport Policy recommends that trainers should discontinue social media connections with minor athletes and should not accept any new personal page requests on social media with minor athletes.
  • The USEF Safesport Policy recommends that trainers refrain from interacting one-on-one with unrelated minor athletes in settings outside of the program that are not observable and interruptible (including but not limited to one’s home and individual transportation), unless parent/legal guardian consent is provided for each out-of-program contact. Such arrangements are strongly discouraged.