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Trainer Gifts 101: What they wish you knew

Once again, it’s December, which means gifting season! It's that time when you make a list, check it twice and look for gifts that reflect your holiday cheer, appreciation, gratitude and recognition for loved ones and those who make a difference in your life.

If you're one of those people who include your trainer or instructor in your holiday list, we've created something incredibly special to help you choose a gift that will be meaningful and adored, rather than something that might sit gathering dust.

We sent out a call to trainers/instructors on Facebook, and received feedback from 17 brave individuals (15 by survey, two by message) who let us know how they feel about receiving holiday gifts.

An overall theme was that gifts are appreciated, but not expected; approximately three quarters of respondents would not be disappointed if they did not receive a gift.

But if you do choose to get them something, what should you get? Well, that's a complicated question. To get to the bottom of it, we asked what some of their best, and worst gifts, have been.

Some of the worst gifts included the standard standby gifts: decorative items with horses on them, chocolates, perfume samples, hand lotion and kitchen towels. Some of the more personalized gifts included a blurry photo of the client, a gift card to somewhere the recipient doesn't go, and even receiving the packaging of a gift card without the actual gift card.

Three survey respondents said they couldn't think of a bad gift; one said not even receiving a card.

But, for every so-so gift out there, there were some stellar, memorable gifts given by clients.

Personalized gifts were the clear winners – a painting done by a child rider, favorite television show memorabilia, a brick at the American Saddlebred Museum, a portrait of the trainer/instructor's personal deceased horse, special photos ready to display of the rider and their horse and a wine glass with a heartfelt saying on it about being a great instructor. 

Some of the more practical well-received gifts included new tack for the barn, dinner with the client, a duffel bag, paying off lesson horses' veterinary bills, a Radon gift certificate, an Amazon gift card, four silver horse head hooks (that are so useful they get used at every show) and new curtains from Appointments USA.

Cash, of course, was also appreciated.

And then, there was the (much more costly) Taylor Swift VIP concert package with 14th row tickets and the Tiffany & Co. cuff links. 

This brings us to the question of budget, and how that budget is determined.

About half of our respondents chose $50-100 as a reasonable amount to spend on a gift for a trainer or instructor. Twenty percent said less than $50, about 25 percent said between $100-200, and just under 10 percent said between $200-300.

Some of the biggest factors taken into consideration when deciding on that budget were: how long there has been a relationship, how long the rider/horse has been at the barn, how much special attention the rider needs and how many lessons a month they take. Other factors considered were how many horses the recipient trains for them, how much special attention the horse needs, how many people work at the barn, the level of care given to clients, if the barn is a small scale operation, and finally how well the client did that year.

For some, it's not about the investment in the gift, but the expression of appreciation. Others specifically did not want clients to get preoccupied with cost – especially for those with funds that are more limited. 

Now that we have covered estimated budgets, and best and worst gifts, what does your trainer or instructor really want this holiday season? 

It was close to an even split between preferring a gift for themselves or a gift for the barn – we’ve attributed that to the fact that smaller barns have more needs, and therefore the trainers/instructors would rather help build out the barns gear and accessories. For larger barns, that’s all been taken care of, so it was a non-issue.

Now, to get into the what… based on feedback, trainers and instructors noted a variety of gifts they desired for themselves, ranging from a spa day, a vacation (preferably all-inclusive), clothing (not a gift card for clothing; the actual clothing itself), equestrian attire such as a new riding suit from DeRegnaucourt or something heartfelt, to a never-ending Starbucks card or cash. For the barn, they suggested: a premade wish list for gift givers to pick from that would benefit the lesson horses or the trainer/instructor’s personal horse, financial support for the lesson horses, a group gift from all the customers for something the entire barn family can enjoy, a Radon gift certificate, new wheelbarrows, a new set of tack, new leather lead shanks (they’re one of those things that always seems to be missing when you’re looking for them) and new stable curtains. Some noted that a tip or monetary gift for the holidays can really help, because show season (and its added income) is over, but all of the standard/normal barn expenses remain.

Many trainers/instructors told us this was a difficult subject. Others noted that not many families seem to consider giving instructors gifts, and to some trainers it is actually more important that their staff be recognized than that they receive a gift themselves. It was also noted that when it comes to gifts for the entire barn staff, to avoid awkwardness, individual gifts are preferred over group gifts designed to be split among all parties, especially when a wish list for all the staff members is available.

Please keep in mind that each barn has its own rules and customs. If you’re new to a barn, ask around. In the grand scheme of things, this was a small sample – it’s a complicated topic, and this is the first time we’ve asked for candid responses. You know your barn, your trainer/instructor and the staff. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide, but it is a look inside the minds of some of the incredibly kind and gracious trainers/instructors who were kind enough to share their thoughts with us.

The biggest takeaway? It isn’t expected, but as they are in all other aspects of life, gifts to trainers, instructors and their staff are almost always appreciated, and choosing just the right gift is a great way to show your appreciation for the person or team that took care of you and your horse all season long.

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