For those unfamiliar with this acronym, BNT = Big Name Trainer. OMG, you didn’t know that? I would be ROFLMAO if it weren’t for the fact that I never use that “phrase” — even though it now takes up only 7 characters instead of 33.
I have a lot of respect for BNTs. It’s not easy to earn the moniker. It takes ability and talent — even if, in some cases, the talent is greater for self-promotion than anything else.
If I have the opportunity, I seek out BNTs of all disciplines wherever they may be. I read their books, watch their videos, go to their clinics and take lessons from them if I can.
Some have lived up to their esteemed reputations, and are as good at teaching as they are at riding — Ingrid Klimke and Jimmy Wofford come to mind (is it purely coincidence that they are both eventers, or is it something about teaching horses many different things that makes them so good at teaching people?).
Some BNTs have surprised me. I had heard that Tina Konyot could be “brutal,” but I place her at the top of the heap for her honesty and her devotion to putting the horse first. If you really want to learn how to ride better, go to Tina if you have the chance. Just remember to check your ego at the door.
If you want to learn clicker training and have the chance to work with Alexandra Kurland, you’ll find her a sensitive and intelligent trainer with a unique ability to put into words what she does without any words at all.
There are many more whom I admire, and some fallen idols.
Some have fallen because they simply gave up. And I’m not sure I can really blame them. It takes the rare individual to be able to keep an upbeat tone after saying “Give with your hands!” more than thirty times per lesson, to hundreds of students, for dozens of years. It’s even harder if some of those students were upper level dressage riders.
But some have fallen because promoting their system has become more important than how well their system works, ribbons have become more important than progressive training, and celebrity has become more important than humility.
That’s all part of BNT syndrome. I define it as what happens when being a BNT is more important than what it allows you to do. Which is to have lots of people listen to what you have to say — and make a difference in the lives of riders and horses.
BNT syndrome happens when trainers are as burned out as teachers who count the days to retirement, when even the most talented students fail to inspire and when there is no desire left to teach, much less to learn.
And everyone needs a teacher. Instructors, regardless of their level, need to take lessons. And if they can no longer ride, for one reason or another, they still need to remain students of horsemanship. Everyone needs “eyes on the ground” from time to time, and honest, constructive feedback. Even BNTs.
Steffen Peters is proof of that — and proof that it works. Steffen and his wife Shannon were the featured clinicians at the NEDA (New England Dressage Association) Fall Symposium last year. And Steffen showed himself to be a better trainer, more effective and more devoted, than he was years ago. If you doubt me, catch him (or better yet, the pair) teaching now…and then compare it to the footage of him at the 1997 USDF National Symposium.
Right now, Steffen is arguably our country’s best rider. He is certainly our most successful. Is Shannon the reason he edges out the competition? During the symposium, Steffen proudly told the NEDA audience how Shannon is his “eyes on the ground,” how she helps him and gives him feedback and how much he relies on her.
We can’t all have a Shannon Peters in our ring, but we can all seek out instructors and trainers and allow ourselves to be taught and guided, evaluated and critiqued, and supported in our efforts. No matter how big or small our names are.