I’ve written at length about changing barns, barn drama, and dealing with a nasty trainer. I’ll also be addressing how to deal with the emotions you may feel when changing barns. In all of those posts, I’ve used my own experience in the horse world to generate tips and advice for all of you. However, I don’t think I’ve ever really addressed head on what happened to me this past summer. Confessions of An Aspiring Amateur is my series dedicated to my own experiences in the horse world – rather than making the posts into how-to articles, advice pieces, or product reviews, I simply talk about myself, my riding career, and whatever happens to go on, which many of you have requested when I’ve asked why kinds of posts you like to read. I know that this post may not be well-received as it is drumming up old drama, but I am the type of person that needs to express thoughts in order to get them out of my head. Writing is my go-to medium because confronting the party that has perceivably wronged me isn’t always an option (well – in this case it is, but it isn’t a wise or professional option).
I have “broken up” with a lot of barn managers throughout my life, but my hardest break-up to date has been the one that occurred last September when I decided to leave a facility at which I had been for almost two years. The difference between that break-up and the others? I had a close friendship with the barn managers, and I was extremely involved in barn life. Note the past tense. Several things occurred that set into play a series of unfortunate events that eventually led to my leaving.
As my friendship with my barn managers broke down, and my involvement in the barn began to cease because of how I was treated by other boarders and riders, I suddenly had a bullseye on my back. This bullseye was the one that appeared on any boarder or rider’s back when they decided they didn’t agree with the barn manager and head trainer and began to cut their ties with her for one reason or another. For me personally, I arrived at that barn with no confidence in my riding. I was highly dependent on my trainer and on my barn manager to get me back into the saddle, up my confidence again, and to help me train the green Arab I had just bought (hey, we all make mistakes with horses, even when we are in our 20s).
I progressed in working with both my trainer and my barn manager, and I began to realize a few things. My confidence was coming back. This translated into my riding and into my time working with my green horse. I also noticed that my barn manager had no idea what she was doing when it came to riding or training. I guess saying “no idea” is a bit harsh, but I began noticing errors she was making that true professionals do not make. She did not have the experience true professionals had. Her background was subpar in terms of my training goals (how are you going to train my Arab to jump anything over 2′ if you don’t do so yourself?) I also began to notice that the more confident I got, the more my old barn manager wanted to take away from that. It was almost as if rather than wanting me to grow and improve, she wanted to keep me below her knowledge level so that I never outgrew her or stopped needing her. I also began to notice her lies – both little and big – and some of them put me into very awkward positions.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, I decided to leave. I actually had decided to leave before I ever vocalized to anyone that I was leaving. I started looking for barns pretty early on last year. I was in a completely different place in my riding and my goals, and those goals would never be met where I was nor were they respected. I stayed through the summer because I was studying for two bar exams, and I had promised I would help out with the camps (only because my trainer was doing them). There were two major things that happened that were the nail in the coffin, and shortly after I packed up my things, got my horses on a trailer, and moved to a place that was more my taste, less drama, and less me worrying about whether my horses were being fed and/or watered properly.
My initial leaving was on good terms, and thankfully, when my Arab got sent back from the people who bought him, I was able to bring him back to my old barn. However, I sold him to a boarder at my old barn that had been interested in him for a long time, and I never really talked to anyone at the barn after that. After what I will call my final exit, I was unfriended on Facebook and other forms of social media by two boarders at my old barn who also are riding instructors there. One of them I was actually close friends with for a long time until my friendship with my barn manager disintegrated, and she saw an opportunity to get what she was always jealous I had: approval and attention from my barn manager. Before this happened, though, I was invited to her bridal and bachelorette party and her wedding. She and I rode together, texted often, went horse shopping together when she picked out a new horse, and were there for each other in tough times (I when her horse was diagnosed as permanently lame, snd she had to send him back, and she when my beloved Rascal died). I noticed that aside from two people, no one from there would speak to me. I knew deep down that I was being vilified by my old barn managers as they had done to the many others that had moved on from their farm for they called “crazy reasons,” but I never knew exactly what was being said.
I want to rewind a bit and talk about just how involved I was with my previous barn. Here is a non-exhaustive list of my involvement to make a point:
- I did barn work for free, sometimes on last minute notice;
- I would come on holidays and help my barn manager get the horses in and fed so he could go home early and spend the holiday with his wife and kids (his wife happened to be the other barn manager);
- I rebuilt their website (for free);
- I built up their Facebook page (for free). When I took it over, it had less than 200 fans. When I was removed as an admin, it had almost 1,000;
- I spent personal money on Rascal when he was still a lesson horse;
- I helped doctor horses;
- My parents spent personal money on buying the barn things it couldn’t afford, like two $200 hoses for each barn;
- Schooled my barn manager’s son’s pony for free because she bought it for him, and he didn’t want to ride it ever;
- Tried out horses for my barn manager for free;
- I defended my barn managers to other boarders and riders when they would complain to me about things that the barn managers did that, in hindsight, were not necessarily right, such as not answering texts, constantly canceling lessons, and not doing scheduled training rides
I recently found out exactly what was being said about me. After I left, both my barn managers told most of the boarders, and some riders who took lessons, that I was a trouble maker and a snot, that I caused a lot of problems there. I was obviously upset when I heard this, especially because it was far from the truth. Do you see why I felt the need to mention all the things I did do for the barn and my barn managers?
Leaving was very hard for me, especially because I knew a lot of things I shouldn’t have about the business. I let my emotions get caught up in my feeling bad for my barn managers’ business’ financial situation rather than what was best for me and my horses. I felt guilty leaving, especially because the amount I paid for board, training, and lessons alone was over $3,000 a month. My leaving took a huge chunk of income out of their business, and they desperately needed it.
So, in an effort to keep myself from writing a horrible review for their business on one of the many barn review websites given what I recently found out was being said, I am going to list all the reasons I was a troublemaker. After all, that is what they were saying, and their words are the gospel, right?
- I went out and searched for my own horse after Rascal died because my barn manager was not searching for a new lesson horse to “replace” him, and I wanted to start jumping higher and transitioning to horses, rather than ride their one lesson pony that was able to jump and not too easy for me;
- I offered to allow a rider at the barn lease my Arab because she wanted to also move on from ponies, and my barn manager still hadn’t done anything to get a new lesson horse in that could jump and wasn’t paying her or her goals any attention;
- I took my Arab out of my barn manager’s training program after finding out that I had been paying for training, in full, for four months, and she had ridden him maybe 3 times in those four months when she was supposed to ride him 12x a month;
- I refused to take lessons with my barn manager when my trainer was on vacation because my barn manager was not a competent instructor. The one lesson I did take from her, she spent the whole time insulting my lease horse – a seasoned showing veteran – and saying he was more dangerous than my 4 year old green Arab;
- I continued to help out at the barn, sometimes on short notice, despite the fact that my barn managers were saying nasty things about me to my friends at the barn;
- I leased my Arab out to someone because I did not have the time to ride two horses over the summer, and my lease agreement said that she was only allowed to take lessons with my trainer;
- When I came to my barn two days in a row and found my horse in his stall with no water on both those days, which were hot because it was summer, I confronted the person on duty about it and said that my horse could colic and die from lack of water and was later told that I should not have done that because it was “offensive” to the barn managers and the girl on duty;
- When my horse was not being fed his SmartPaks correctly, I again confronted the barn manager, who proceeded to insult me to another boarder, and throw the SmartPaks I had left in my drawer on my car (I left shortly after this incident)
I guess the point I want to make is that you should never feel guilty for leaving a barn, especially when you have good reason to. If your horses are in danger, if your goals do not mesh with what the facility can give you, if you have found yourself hating riding because of where you’re riding and the type of environment in which you’re riding – you have every right to find yourself and your horses a new place to go. I spent a lot of time agonizing about what I should do (until the last two items on the list occurred), and even though my barn managers put my horse’s health at risk, they still – to this day – cannot accept that they were wrong about what they did. No matter what you know about your barn managers – debt, financial situation, family situation – your horses come first, not their need for money, especially if they are treating you as poorly as they did me.
I also may have just wanted to get all of this out there because I am stewing over what I found out a few days ago. Yes, still. I’m only human, what can I say?
It’s hard to deal with a barn manager break-up, or a BMB as I will now call it, especially when the backlash continues months after you’ve left. It’s hard to deal when you lose friends over leaving a facility when you had good reason to. It’s even harder when those friends take your barn managers’ side about serious things, such as your horses not having water or not being fed properly. It’s hard to deal when untrue things are being said about you. That last one is especially hard for me because I hate when I am made out to be wrong when I wasn’t wrong (did I mention I’m a lawyer?)
I have definitely learned a lot from the experience, and I continue to learn a lot, especially because this continues to haunt me, and I left in September! For one, I probably will never have a close friendship with any of my barn managers ever again, and if I do, it will be one where the professional and the friendship are completely separate. If I can’t talk business with a friend and not let the friendship get in the way, then it’s not happening. For two, I will never allow myself to feel guilty for doing what is right for me, my horses, and my riding career, especially when my horses’ health and well-being is at risk. For three, why am I even upset over this? As my trainer told me – we knew they were talking about me for leaving, we just didn’t know the exact words. Now we do, and I shouldn’t be surprised.
Despite what this post may convey, I have moved on, and I only hope that one day they can as well. Is it offensive when someone decides that your way of caring for their animals isn’t good enough for them? Of course – but there is no need to bash that individual to others at the facility, especially when that individual’s concerns were valid.