Before I start with this blog, I want to make clear that the greatest gift you can give a horse professional is your ongoing business. But this is the time of year where the questions start popping up on the Forums and Facebook: What should I get my trainer/farrier/vet/barn staff for Christmas? Something that they'll use and appreciate, with a bit of a horsey twist. If you're thinking of holiday gifts for the folks who care for your four-legged friend, here's a handful of suggestions, in lots of different price ranges.
There are a few universal truths about horse professionals, but one of them is that they are fairly terrible at taking care of themselves. Consider a gift certificate for a massage or a nice haircut. With a little recon you can figure out whether they have a massage, chiropractic or acupuncture professional they already use - ask them for a recommendation.
Working students in particular tend to be tight on splurging on themselves. Something my working students have really appreciated are lessons with the clinicians I bring in. This can even be a little gift for you as a horse owner - if you volunteer the use of your horse for the lesson, you get a little training for your four-legged friend while helping out your barn staff.
A clever one for not a lot of money - get a group of clients together to purchase a membership to USEF, USDF, USEA, etc. Most of these organizations offer a multi-year membership that a group of people contributing $10-$15 can easily afford. With a larger group or larger contributions, you could even get a lifetime membership. You can check your trainer or working student's membership status at USEF, USDF and USHJA by entering their information into www.eqverification.com, or by calling the organization directly.
Speaking of memberships, I was given a USRider membership, and it has SAVED MY BUTT this year. If your trainer hauls horses, this can be a GREAT gift, and it is not crazy expensive.
Something every horse professional - rider, vet, farrier, hay delivery guy, you name it - uses are gloves. A little more recon for this one - see what brand they're wearing while they're working with your horse. A gift certificate to your local tack shop (or feed store, or Tractor Supply, or…) is always appreciated, too.
Lastly, the holidays are often a time where clients tip the grooms, working students, etc. with an annual cash gift. There's no hard-or-fast rule on what an expected tip is - I know some clients who've tipped staff $500, though I think that's certainly the high end - but it is always, of course, appreciated.
Here's something your trainer doesn't need: soap in the shape of horses, blankets with pictures of horses, t-shirts with pictures of horses, stuffed toy horses, socks with "I Love Horses" printed on them… you get the idea. Because horses are our occupations doesn't necessarily mean we don't all appreciate a little time away from them.
And here's a word on food - before you give your barn staff buckets of chocolate or caramel-covered goodies, think about whether they have mentioned struggling with their weight. While my employees are metabolically blessed, not everyone is so, and for some, it's really hard to stay away from the decadence of holiday yummies anyway. Food is always appreciated, and there are lots of stable workers out there who LOVE the delicious holiday baked goods, but consider your audience. If you want to bring noshes for your barn staff but don't want to go the sweets route, consider a nice lunch spread, or some fun popcorn flavors as alternatives to the Holiday Cookie And Cake Bonanza.
At the end of the day, every horse professional in the world wants to keep working for the horses they love. (Or retire to Fiji, but that's neither here nor there.) A kind note expressing your gratitude for the work they do is an incredibly valuable gift, with or without a price tag.