Girl Talk: Top Female Trainers Discuss Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Open Western Classes
There is a trend in the top echelons of the pleasure horse industry: females tend to dominate the entries in the amateur divisions, but males tend to dominate the entries in the open western division classes.
We spoke with top female trainers, including Barbara Fletcher (Barbara Fletcher Performance Horses), Torey Roderick (Torey Roderick Performance Horses), and Katy Jo Zuidema (Zuidema Pleasure Horses), about breaking the gender trends in the open western classes and their experiences in the industry.
Fletcher believes that, while females may have a disadvantage in strength compared to their male counterparts, they are better positioned to prepare their mounts for an amateur leg.
Specifically, she says that being a petite woman has set her up to train on her horses in a manner that would feel more similar to their amateur owners. Therefore, the horses are more prepared for the feel of their owners, but she is better able to coach the rider in riding the horse, because their strength won’t be so mismatched from her own.
Fletcher relies on consistency and more frequent rides (sometimes multiple rides per day) to compensate for the strength disparity. This allows her to work horses through training issues and still match the progress of male trainers who may work through it in a power session.
Fletcher advises all trainers, especially females, to be approachable to clients and other trainers. She finds that simple things like saying hello, being available to chat, and giving compliments to others has opened the door to business opportunities and positive professional relationships with other trainers. In addition, she encourages trainers to “be the type of person people want to cheer for.”
According to Roderick, making it in the horse business is an exceedingly difficult endeavor, regardless of gender. However, Roderick says, “I feel like there is equal opportunity for men and women alike, and so many great female trainers have helped pave the way for the next generation.”
Roderick believes to become the best, one must learn from the best. She advises, “Work for somebody at the highest level. Whether you want to do pleasure, trail, hunter under saddle, or any other discipline, work for them for several years, not just a few months.” She believes it is essential for young trainers to experience multiple seasons and show up every day, even on the days they don’t feel like it. “It’s imperative to develop a failsafe work ethic that won’t tire when you do.”
There is no substitute for hard work in Roderick’s mind. “Find a way to create value in what you do. Whatever task you’re doing, do it well from the ladder’s bottom rung up to the top. Work hard, stay humble, and your attitude and work ethic can create opportunities your life otherwise might not afford you. We have lots of hurdles to overcome to make it in this industry, but I’m thankful gender doesn’t have to be one of them.”
Katie Jo Zuidema
Zuidema believes that the disparity between the amount of male and female trainers at the top levels of the industry is due to the physicality of the job and the difficulties women face with how they are perceived in business.
Specifically, Zuidema says that training horses to be successful in the western pleasure is one of the most physical jobs she’s ever performed – especially when it comes to training young horses. The leg and arm strength necessary to move a horse’s body into the proper position can be a struggle for many women. Therefore, she finds men are more naturally-suited for the purely physical nature of the job.
Zuidema also believes that women struggle with perception management more than many men. “It can be hard for women to walk the tightrope of being kind enough to be likable without becoming a doormat, while also being firm enough to be a good business-person without being viewed as a jerk.”
Overall, Zuidema is grateful for all her experiences in the industry, both good and bad, that brought her to the place she is today. She credits female trainers like Karen Hornick, Carol Metcalf, and Tina Kaven for paving the way for women like her to succeed in the western division.
Zuidema also reminds young female trainers that there is no substitute for hard work. Respect amongst trainers is earned by hard work and long hours in the saddle with the tough horses. She credits her success to her work ethic and using the chip on her shoulder to motivate her to keep working when times get tough.
“Our industry tends to reward talent and hard work, and I only see more opportunities for women as time goes on. So, I’m genuinely excited to cheer on other talented women as they move up the ranks. And I’m thankful for the place I’m at in my career. It’s a great ride, isn’t it?”
The industry continues to evolve through breeding, training techniques, and trainers hungry to make their mark. All the women we spoke with were grateful for the amazing women who paved the way for their careers and look forward to seeing other young women continue to thrive through hard work and dedication to the sport.