Sunday, April 5, 2009

Barn drama: Burning bridges, bad!

Confuscious say: The flaming bridge you leave behind could burn you in the butt.

Changing service providers?
Have you ever decided to change doctors, auto mechanics, or cellphone providers? In the "real" world there's a certain civility observed when one changes service providers. After all, one has one's reasons, right? Business is business.

Not so in the horse world!
Trainers: It's slightly less stressful to change your religion or dissolve a marriage than it is to switch trainers. I once boarded in a barn with three trainers, and there was constant paranoia about "poaching" of clients. One boarder confided that she was afraid she would get in trouble for being too friendly with anyone outside her trainer's circle of trust.

Barn managers/boarding barns: Changing boarding barns is THE WORST. Usually there is a month's notice, and for that time period you're dependent on the good will you've created with the manager. It is often quite uneventful, but not always. Read any horse bulletin board to find out how ugly the last few weeks can be when bridges are burned or burning. It seems no one can resist the classic fingerpointing and parting shots.

Farriers: Actually farriers probably don't sweat losing individual clients that much. But most of us worry anyway. I recently changed farriers, for reasons that could be called logistical. Still, I agonized about "rocking the boat" and dreaded calling my farrier to explain I was going to go elsewhere for services. It was tough -- I had to consider that if I regretted my decision he might not take me back as a client.

If you burn bridges, there is often some sort of awful karmic payback. Fire your farrier in a rage, and he will be the horseshoer on call at the horse show when your daughter's horse loses a shoe just before her equitation class.

Practical advice
I admit I like to read the barn drama horror stories on COTH -- as posters often remark, "pop some popcorn, sit down, and start reading." But when you're experiencing the drama it's a whole 'nuther matter. There are ways to minimize tension among the various parties. Here are a few ideas, mostly advice I've heard on bulletin boards, that may help...

  • Say it in person, and follow up in writing if tying up loose ends gets complicated. Don't break the news via email, voicemail, or a note.
  • Be cordial/civil and express appreciation if the situation warrants.
  • No Internet rants (added 4/6 per a commenter's suggestion).
  • No airing of grievances or passive agressive behavior.
  • Sometimes folks -- barn owners, trainers, or their clients -- might try to provoke you. What to do? As my husband's brother in law says, "Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut."
STILL tempted to adopt a scorched earth policy when you depart? Think about all the times you'll run into your former trainer at shows; how your former barn manager will be at horse council meetings; and you'll run into your equine dentist in the express checkout at the grocery; and most importantly, when gossip circulates, it'll just look like a big nasty mess that reflects badly on all parties. Better to take the high road, don't you think?


  1. I've always made it a rule to not bad mouth former barn managers/trainers/farriers - you're right about the karma thing. If it's something important (such as a trainer or barn manager who is abusive to people and/or horses), I usually find some way to warn people off without actually saying anything directly negative. A little like former employers! The horse world is often a small place - like living in a small town!

  2. Excellent post! How many of us have known someone who has moved from barn to barn and caused discord in their wake, yet never sees it as of their own doing?

    I had to part ways with a farrier last year and left a very civil message stating I needed to use another provider since it was "just not working out". The guy just would never get there to shoe my horse and I once waited 12 weeks before he showed up after numerous frustrated calls. To this day, I still genuinely compliment his work but it was his poor scheduling that caused me to leave.

  3. Good post.

    We have made it a point to never burn bridges when switching boarding barns or farriers. A polite (and vague if necessary) explanation tends to suffice.

    It's nice to know that, in an emergency, previous contacts are unlikely to turn us away because of a nasty end to a business relationship.

  4. well put. regardless of karma, you don't want to be the barn gossip, anyway. keep your reputation up by speaking politely of others.

  5. At a boarding stable, you should give your thirty days notice in writing, just like breaking any other contract. I agree that you should tell your soon-to-be-former barn owner in person, but occasionally you'll get the dingbat who you gave notice and they, uh, claimed you didn't. >.< Getting something in writing goes a long way towards clearing that up.

    To be honest, I've never given notice and left my horse there. Call me paranoid, but I've always just paid for an extra month and moved out, usually on the same day that I gave notice. It saves me from having to worry about if they'll really take care of her and having to deal with the drama, which, in my opinion, is worth paying twice for a month's board.

  6. Yes, no matter what one may think of a trainer, farrier, or barn owner, it's probably best not to talk ill of them. Keep the reasons for leaving out of conversations whenever possible. After all, it's a small horse world and word definitely gets around. Even if that trainer, farrier, or barn owner doesn't suit my needs, the next person may be quite happy with their methods.

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  8. I've had the complete nightmare of a departure where the trainers made it miserable for me to move on, And I've had the refreshingly amicable departure that eventually brought me back "home". I don't know why trainers make it so stressful, if they are civil about it the client may return (like me). It is the best when your old trainer, that made it miserable to move on, is at the rail when you lay down a perfect trip! Hopefully it makes them realize the move was the best thing for everyone!

  9. This was a very nice post, and a thing people need to think about.

    There is another thing to this that could have been included in this post: No matter how irritated you are, or how much the situation sucks, Do Not Vent On The Internet. The people you are mad about will see it/hear about it eventually, and then the situation can get really bad in a second.

    I recently left my boarding barn because of several reasons, some of them being gossip, abuse from boarders, and discrepancies from the promised to the provided horse care. I announced that I would leave, and within a few days the situation had become unbearable for both of us so 4 days after my announcement I left. I was very nice through all of this, and even when the BO, forced by the other boarders, confronted me with lies, I never even thought about lashing out. As a result I got to borrow a trailer for free, did not pay any board for April, and he helped me load the horse plus other things. I feel confident that even though that bridge is probably burned because of one boarder in particular, I would be able to return there if said boarder were to leave. It could have turned really ugly really fast, but being nice and not badmouthing anything goes a long way.

  10. I always make an effort to be respectful and I know that pays off. My reputation preceedes me these days, which cracks me up! Even when people are doing things that are not so great you just have to try and see why they are acting the way they are. The last horse I leased before my fat Appy was a great horse, but his owner and I did not agree about care at all. It drove me crazy because I think that horses are more like pets, and she thinks of them more like a car. It caused a lot of fights towards the end, but with maturity we were able to work things out and are still friendly to this day. It was harder to be nice then to just walk away, but I am so glad I put the effort in!

    And FYI I have my horses win photo from the track up on my blog today with the story of how I got it so feel free to use it.

  11. Well, I have to admit I'm a bit of a gossip, but more of the "who has a new horse" variety than truly malicious stuff. I don't wish anybody ill.

    I have also left two boarding barns early, paying for my month and clearing out. The second time, the barn workers (kind a shady crowd with substance abuse issues) stopped taking the poop out of Harvey's stall -- just piled it in a corner. I contemplated talking to the barn manager/owner (and indulged in a fantasy about piling the poo in the aisle) but ultimately just hired a hauler and left.

  12. Wow. I'm rather shocked to hear this sort of vindictiveness goes on. I must either be very unobservant or very lucky. Horses are a privilege and a relaxing pastime. It is too bad anyone would want to focus energy on making it unpleasant for others. Even more appalling that someone might take it out on an innocent horse, by being lax with care or worse!

    I've never changed barns or trainers as an adult (my parents did for me as a child for financial reasons). I consider my current BO/trainer a friend. So perhaps I'm fortunate.

  13. Kind of lucked out in all my moves except one. And in that case, someone else moved too and took the heat.

    I am so glad I have my Boys at home, now. Solves the problem. When I want to complain to the barn owner, I am talking to myself. *G*

  14. Wow. I need to write something like this for the dog world. And maybe the fanfic-writing world, too. In fact, the world in general could use a short dose of this lesson.

    Congratulations on writing a universal truth with good tips for a side dish!

  15. Horse owners are definitely NOT stable people! I've had nothing but trouble at every barn. I don't like gossip and won't participate in it. But it seems that is all anyone does. I always try to help in any way and will volunteer for things. Then I usually get taken advantage of and taken for granted. It seems that I am always the one that ends up being the "bad guy", and everyone turns against me. Then they make my life miserable until I finally leave. What is the problem? What am I doing wrong? I am a good hearted person, and love horses. I wouldn't hurt a fly! Why do I always end up the bottom of the "pecking order" then get booted out? I just don't understand this. My reputation is ruined, and it keeps following me! All I want to do is enjoy my horse and ride and live in harmony with others.

  16. Arrgh, anonymous. I think barns can be tough places to be, my only advice is to analyze what you might be doing to inadverdently contribute to the situation. Sometimes being too nice can encourage people to take advantage of you, make sure you stick up for yourself. You say you aren't a gossip (one of my downfalls), might there be other things? I know that once at a barn I overheard someone say (in a mean way) that I talked too much and she couldn't get anything done. I was shocked, and hurt, esp. since she seemed so enthused and talkative herself. I resolved not to engage her in conversation again, and you know, she sought me out! It's a funny world but there is usually something to learn. Don't obsess too much but try to learn from past experience. If you have a trusted friend at the barn, ask him or her for a frank talk about what they think. Good luck, horse people are a tough crowd!

  17. HI! I also am experiencing the barn drama thing. This is my third barn! I recently got back into horses about three years ago and it has always been my dream since I was a little girl. I finally did it and I learn day by day new things and that I love. What I don't love is all of the mean and weird people I have had to deal with in the past three years and now. I really try to be a quiet person, I pay my board on time, I clean my stalls, I make sure my horses are well cared for. However, the barn drama just follows me like a bad disease. Is there no way to avoid it? I am the mom of five great kids. I looked so forward to showing them the wonderful privelages of horse ownership. Unfortunatley, they have experienced a lot of unprofessional and down right rotten things. I am just fustrated. If you had told me three years ago that this is what barn life is like, I never would have believed it, NEVER! Just wish it didn't happen so much.

  18. The barn drama that I experience comes from 15-25 year old girls who are no longer being watched by their parents. They sit at the barn in their talk groups and say hurtful things about people who are not there. There is always one person who takes what they have heard to the missing person and embellishes/twists and changes the information to make it worse. Can't seem to catch this person and don't know how to convince these insecure girls to ignore the messenger.

  19. Ive never boarded before but life changed and i now have to board. This is the worst experience ive ever had. I want to move desperately but i hear its the same wherever you go. I HATE my barn manager. He goes out of his way to pick on me till i snap back. Then he calls me names and repeats the names and how much he hates me to all the other boarders. The basics...he wants my horse. He thinks she is his. I cannot do one thing right in his eyes and hes a know it all. His opinions are forced and if you dont follow your a *unt. Even if the vet says what to do he says im lying. I have a big fat target on my back and i cant get him to stop. If i fight back i will be evicted and ive checked..almost all places are full. This man is driving me insane. I cant even enjoy my horse without being picked at. Lets add by the end of everyday hes drunk. I feel helpless


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