Following your passion and taking opportunities as they are presented in life is rare. There’s so much uncertainty that taking risks is never easy. But for Sam VanFleet it was something she just went for. Sam is a professional trainer who’s not only built a name and business for herself at the young of 23, but has an amazing gift with horses.
She’s open and honest and willing to keep learning. Those are traits that we all need more of in life. The one thing I’ve always noticed about her, though, is the hours and work she puts in. She’s proof that hard work, dedication, and saying yes to opportunities really pays off. You don’t have to know everything or have tons of experience. Sometimes it’s enough to put yourself out there and see who will give you a chance. I hope you enjoy this interview and Sam’s story inspires you as much as it does me.
Can you share a little about how you became a trainer professionally?
Sam: It just fell into place, I don’t know if I ever really had the goal of that becoming my career! When I did my third Mustang Makeover, my last youth year, I was approached and asked to train someone’s mustang. I found a barn I could keep it at on Craigslist, and I had them haul him in and leave him for a few months. It was just a few minutes from my high school so I could walk there after school and work with the horse. That was my first paid training deal!
I started to do a little bit of exercise riding on horses, and then when I started my adult mustang makeovers I figured out that I can really grow my education by starting horses under saddle. When I moved to Florida, I couldn’t stand not working… I had worked barn jobs feeding and cleaning for quite a few years and after the move, I had no work. I got on Facebook and emailed every barn nearby to see if they were hiring, and then found one that was willing to let me start the horses under saddle. From there, it just grew!
You are most known for your work with wild mustangs. Why is it important to re-home mustangs?
Sam: There’s a huge number of Mustangs in holding and population control has always been a hot topic regarding Mustangs. I enjoy having that blank slate to work with and watching their personality develop as they begin to trust humans. In order to help keep the numbers of mustangs in holding from spiraling out of control, the Mustang Heritage Foundation developed a program that helps mustangs connect with the general public through trainers. I enjoy helping and watching these mustangs get into wonderful homes where they can excel in life!
Would it be harder for you professionally if you didn’t have the connections you’ve made through the EMM’s you’ve done?
Sam: Absolutely. Although I have to credit a lot of my business to YouTube. I feel as if my style of editing, and having the wonderful platform to use, has excelled in the growth of my business. The Mustang makeovers are a wonderful environment for trainers to not only grow their skill but also make lifelong connections, I absolutely recommend activities within the Mustang family for any trainer wanting to grow their knowledge or and do the same!
What are some of your entrepreneurial goals for your training business?
Sam: This is a great question that I don’t have an answer to! Although a lot of people have goals, I don’t have too many specific ones. I am very much a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person and I take every opportunity I’m presented with. The world will take me wherever I am supposed to go.
You talk about getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. How has working on yourself improved your horsemanship as well?
Sam: I never really had an issue with being open-minded and training different techniques or methods regarding horsemanship. I was always very willing to learn and open ears to everything. However, it helped me a lot in the presentation of my business and myself. By getting out of my comfort zone, I was able to teach clinics and lessons and take opportunities I normally wouldn’t have because fear would have been holding me back.
In your opinion, what makes a really great trainer?
Sam: A really great trainer is someone who is going out of their way to learn, is honest with their clients, is honest with themselves, and treats the horse with respect and a gentle heart. They have to be willing to try new and scary things. Listening to the horse and responding accordingly is essential too!
What is one of the biggest horse training myths in your opinion?
Sam: One of the myths could be that you have to put pressure on the wrong thing and reward the right thing… I would say you have to apply the correct kind of pressure to reward the right thing. Slowing down to actually listen to what the horse is telling you it’s more necessary than what people realize. You also have to search for the relaxation in the horse before stating that they are confident. Trainers need to consider why a horse is reacting the way they are reacting instead of punishing them for it. If we go down and look at the smaller details, usually there are subtle cues they tell us before it gets to a bigger reaction.
How important is it that we be honest on where we are at on our horsemanship journey?
Sam: I suppose it is pretty important, but everyone is constantly learning and hopefully striving to improve every day!
What is one thing you yourself want to improve on as a rider and trainer?
Sam: One thing I feel like I have improved over time, but still would love to improve more is developing an even more sensitive ‘feel’. I would like to think I have a pretty good ‘feel’ when it comes to horses, but this is something that you can only improve by putting in the hours every day. I would love to be able to see even more subtle cues for my horse.
What is the most important lesson horses have taught you?
Sam: Aside from having patience with everything in life, I would say it’s more my overall journey with horses that have taught me things than horses specifically. Just be yourself and take every opportunity you can get. And, like I just said, horses have taught me that being patient pays off!
A huge thank you to Sam for agreeing to this interview. If you’d like to learn more about Sam or follow along with her, then please use the links listed below. She frequently does clinics around the country, so if you’d like to host a clinic, please reach out to her. She also hosts virtual clinics a few times a year that are liberty focused, so be sure to follow along with her to see when those are.
VanFleet Mustangs on YouTube
VanFleet Mustangs on Facebook
VanFleet Mustangs on Instagram
VanFleet Mustangs Website
*All photos credited to Sam VanFleet
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