Keeping it Fun – Secrets to a Happy Barn with Leonard Berryhill

February 15th, 2018 1:29 PM | 2 Comments

LBBy Gabrielle Sasse

Horse trainers must wear a lot of hats nowadays; more than just cowboy hats, hunt caps or even the fancy driving hats. They are accountants, stall cleaners, grain orderers, show clothes advisers, haulers, and even sometimes a mom or dad to their clients, when needed. We spoke to Leonard Berryhill of Talala, Oklahoma about the latter. More specifically, we discussed customer relations in horse training.

Leonard has been in the training business for 27 years. The same number of years he has been married! Having been in the horse industry for 39 years, Leonard has trained World and Congress Champions, Palomino Champions, IBHA World Champions, and horses garnering numerous other awards. He has been a Quarter Horse judge since 1996, a Palomino judge since 1985 and currently trains everything from Roping horses to Pleasure horses. He and his wife focus on the All Around, with a focus on Western Riding. “We’re in a town of about 260 people, out on the prairie just doing our thing!” Leonard laughs. With so many years in the industry and his successes on different fronts, I asked Leonard what is most important when it comes to his clients. “Our absolute, number one thing is that the clients have to enjoy what they do” he emphasizes. “They have to have fun. They have to be looking forward to what they are doing and come with excitement every time they come to our barn. Leigh and I train horses for a living, but we feel like we are in the entertainment business now”

That is a common thread heard from more and more trainers these days, and it really is true. Horse training is a business for trainers, but for many clients it is a lb4hobby just like boating or skiing. Leonard believes that part of making a client feel comfortable in the show pen is making sure they have a good time on their horse. “We focus on keeping our customers happy and excited. It’s not like we have a party every time, but we want to make them feel competitive, confident and comfortable, and we will do anything it takes to make them enjoy coming to our barn and the horse show”  

It’s not all fun and games though. Berryhill Quarter Horses is in it to win, while having fun. “They have to be competitive, because no one has fun being last place every time! We ask our clients to work hard and be prepared”  

The Berryhills ask their clients to be prepared mentally and physically. This includes getting as much practice as possible and traveling to the barn often. “Many of our clients live far away, but we want them to get out to ride their horses as much as they can” Leonard explains. “We also want them to be prepared to compete, style wise. We make sure that their show clothes fit and that their hat is blocked and shaped. People do good when the look good, and when they look good they will feel better about themselves”

lb2Leonard also says that he wants his clients prepared physically for their time in the saddle. “Looking your best and feeling your best is important. If they can’t get out to the farm, reading articles and studying video is good preparation, too. A word that I always use is ‘psychocybernatics’ which is a philosophy that has you practice in your mind. I’ve been using that my whole life, and do it a lot. It allows you to practice without being on a horse and it’s just great”

“Leigh and I both coach in a way that is not derogatory” Leonard explains of his teaching style. “We coach in an uplifting and positive manner. When I was being coached, I didn’t like to be yelled at. We talk softly and don’t embarrass our customers. You’ll hear some trainers yell across the pen, and we just don’t do that. We try to stay very positive about their rides, and try to teach so they grow their confidence with each ride. It all boils down to wanting them to enjoy it.”   Leonard says he’s noticed a lot of client turnaround all over the nation. “People are changing trainers, and we’ve even had a little bit of that ourselves. It’s for a lot of different reasons, and trainers need to address some of these reasons.”

“I’ve found that a customer may go to a different trainer because it’s more convenient and closer to home”  he begins, “or they may not be happy with what is going on and want a change. And even this can be for varying reasons, but the biggest reason I see is the client not getting enjoyment out of the total package where they are. They may be with a successful trainer with a successful horse, and may move because they aren’t personally having a good time. If that’s the case, they may sell their horses and go buy a boat!”

I asked Leonard what some of the favorite shows were for him and his clients. “Scottsdale (Arizona) is my number one by far” he confessed. “The beauty of the place along with the weather and a million things to do … there’s no place like it. There are things to do in Scottsdale, they hire good judges and it’s the place to be. And of course we go to Quarter Horse Congress. Congress is just the circus, and everyone has to see the circus”  he chuckles about the behemoth that takes over in Ohio every year. “Not the most enjoyable venue by my standards, but my customers want to be there, all the same. It’s the number one show, and you’ve just got to be there. Oklahoma City shows have their own draw. The Redbud has little things to sweeten the deal, including a tornado every few years to keep things lively”  he laughs. “It’s a very well run horse show, with the best judges they can have … things like that really keep those shows alive”

Leonard agrees that it’s quality over quantity in today’s world. “People will save their money to go to the larger shows instead of going to more. They save up to go have some fun and get their points at the large venues. That’s the way the dollar has evolved”  Leonard explained that they no longer travel to every weekend show, but instead hit up the “majors” where their clients can get that “bang.”LB3

“There was a time 10 or 15 years ago where we showed every weekend and that was part of horse showing. Today, it’s not that way. Leigh and I have our circuit of shows that we go to every year with a new show or two thrown in, but for the most part we have a trail that we follow. We know the dates and the miles and how much time is involved and all the details. Of course, we’ll travel an hour or two once in a while to take young horses to a show to get them used to things, but not as often as we used to”

Because this is such a change from how Leonard used to run his business, I was curious if it changes the way they prepare for horse shows. After a pause, Leonard said, “I think it allows the horses to stay a little fresher, which may be good or bad. I like it because they don’t have to be under the gun all the time. I think in our situation, we all like preparing to go to the bigger venues rather than just go-go-going all the time. It makes the shows more important and when we aren’t showing, it gives us time to prepare and relax in between. We’ve become accustomed to showing like this, and have found that we really enjoy it”

I asked Leonard if he has any advice for up and coming trainers when dealing with clients. You can learn how to ride a horse, but it is much more difficult to learn how to talk to and work with clients. “First of all, listen to the client. To listen to, and communicate with, the client is the best advice I can give anybody. We are the ones who are supposed to have the knowledge, but also have to listen to the desires of our clients. You need to communicate with them about how far they want to go, what they expect from us, and what we can expect from them. There was a time people would drop their horse off at the trainer’s, and they may not see their horse or talk to the trainer for months. But we have technology at home that allows us to be much more involved with the client, and for the client to see their horse more often.”

“We will send videos once a month or so, send the client a progress report. That really, really makes them happy. We use our technology a lot; iPads and phones to video lessons and let the customers criticize themselves. Always be honest and forthright and upfront. I’ve never heard anyone complain that they felt like they were being treated fairly and honestly”

“Lastly, a piece of advice I have for any up and coming trainer is to always work hard. That’s all you can do. None of this is easy, it’s not an easy way of living, and you always have to work hard.“

After learning what the trainer does for their customer, we asked what the customer can do for the trainer to make a great relationship. “It goes back to communication. I like to hear from my customers” Leonard shared. “Don’t be afraid to ask a question, even if you think it’s a dumb question”

Many thanks, Leonard, for sharing your thoughts with us on customer relations. It’s an imperative, but not often talked about, part of any training business. The horse show world is all about relationships, and as we know and Leonard confirmed, communication is key!

2 Responses to “Keeping it Fun – Secrets to a Happy Barn with Leonard Berryhill”

  1. i have had horses in training with the berryhills they are very good with communication and helping us prepare for the shows. wish i lived closer to them. it would be a no brainer for me to travel with them.

  2. Wonderful article! Fabulous family! They live up to everything he said!

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