I wrote this post several times because I wanted it to be educational without seeming like I was you-know-what-ing on my former barn managers.
Many of you know that I had been having issues with my barn managers for a long time. What made it more difficult is that I had a good relationship with my barn managers, and there seemed to be a huge breakdown that occurred for a variety of reasons. Being close friends with my barn managers and having issues begin to arise made it a lot more difficult for me to address those issues and for me to be at my barn. I was very stressed out whenever I was at the barn. Riding was no longer fun for me. I was constantly being talked about to other boarders and my trainer by my barn managers. I also was getting treated differently by other boarders that used to be my friends because I had made complaints about the care to my barn managers, and I can only assume that something was said to the other boarders.
The above is an extremely shortened version of what happened during the breakdown of my friendship with my barn managers. Over all of this time, I’ve come to the conclusion: It may not be the best idea to be close friends with the people who are also running your barn and taking care of your horses. Why?
It may become harder to voice issues you have with your horses’ care. When I started having problems with how my barn managers were taking care of my horses, my issues were met with them telling me I was wrong. One of the most ridiculous things that happened was when I discovered they weren’t feeding my SmartPaks properly. I tried to explain to my barn managers how they should be fed, and they turned around and complained about me to another boarder that promptly came and told me. I felt like I couldn’t voice my opinion to them about my horses without them talking about me or turning it around on me. Essential things – like how my horses were fed or how they were turned out – were things I could not have an opinion on without them getting offended.
Every decision you make will be taken personally. This might not always be true, but for the most part, if you are friends with your barn managers, any decision you make that adversely affects them will be taken personally. For example, I decided I did not want my one barn manager – who was also a trainer – to be involved in my search for a new horse because she and I had fundamental disagreements about the horses we liked and styles of riding. I did not say this is why I didn’t take my barn manager horse shopping with me, but she was very offended when I decided to horse shop with my trainer rather than with her, even though she did not teach me in lessons or really know what I liked or how I rode. There were a few weekends where my trainer was on vacation, and my barn manager was upset that I did not want to take a lesson with her in place of my trainer not being there. I also made the decision to take my green horse out of my barn manager’s training program and put him in a training program with my trainer. I did this because my green horse was developing bad habits due to how my barn manager rides, and she also was not doing the things I asked like working on teaching him flying lead changes and getting him used to cantering jump courses. I still wanted to continue my relationship with my barn manager, just not necessarily the part where she trains my horse. Instead of accepting that my way of riding meshes more with my trainer’s way of riding, my barn manager was upset and offended that I asked for my trainer to do more of his training rides.
You will feel as if you are involved in running the business instead of a client. I knew a lot about my barn managers’ business including when they were having financial difficulties. This is very stressful considering I am trusting them to feed my horses! They would often tell me about problems they had with other boarders, and I was often pulled into the barn drama even when I wasn’t involved at all. I knew what boarders weren’t paying and what boarders were getting discounts (even if they weren’t working it off). I was paying full price and not accepting any discounts for the work I did, so you can imagine how it sounded when my barn manager told me one day that one boarder “pays what she can when she can because she doesn’t have a lot of money.” I would stress out about things that I shouldn’t have because of the amount of information I knew about everyone there!
You will be put in an awkward position if your barn managers make decisions that result in ripping off other people. My barn manager has, several times, purchased ponies or horses that were not suitable for the individuals for whom she bought them. Unfortunately, I knew details about the ponies or horses that the purchasers did not know, and I was put in the very awkward position of wondering about whether I should say something. If I said something, it would be a betrayal of the trust of my friend, the barn manager. If I didn’t say something, someone could get hurt or was getting ripped off. Thankfully, in the instance where someone could’ve gotten hurt, I was given an opportunity to out my barn manager to the owners, and I took that opportunity. But, my main point is that when you are friends with a professional who makes decisions that are not in the best interest of her clients, and you know about it, it can put you in a very troubling position. While someone getting ripped off is not necessarily my business, someone potentially getting injured is, especially when they trusted my barn manager to purchase an animal suitable for young children that was not in any way, shape, or form suitable for young children.
Your friendship may be taken advantage of. This can actually work both ways, but it only happened one way in my experience. You may be taken advantage of, or you may take advantage of the relationship. Additionally, you may be given higher priority because you’re a friend, or you may be given less priority because you’re a friend, and your barn manager figures you will be more understanding than a client with whom they do not have a friendship.
You will second guess making critical decisions because of the emotional ties you may have. When I started seriously thinking about leaving, I felt bad. Why did I feel bad? For several reasons. The first was that I knew way too much about my barn managers’ personal lives. Second, I knew that if I left, it would cause a huge problem with the barn owners, from whom they leased the property, because the barn owners really liked me and felt like I was their best customer. Third, I kept getting caught up in the notion that I was going to “ruin” their business because me leaving meant they would be losing a chunk of steady income every month, and they were already having trouble paying their bills. None of this should have mattered to me. I was to the point where I was unhappy, stressed about riding, going home crying somedays, having anxiety about my horses. I wanted to quit at one point because I hated being there. That wasn’t good, and I should’ve never let my emotional ties and empathy for them influence my decision in any way. Me leaving was not going to ruin their business – their decision to treat me the way they did caused me to leave which in turn caused them to lose my business.
Obviously this does not apply to all situations. And, in full disclosure, I am actually really good friends with my trainer. It is possible to be friends with someone with whom you do business. In fact, many of you stated that your barn manager(s) are like your second family! But I personally feel that mixing business with friendship depends on the people involved. I know that I could make a business decision without offending my trainer, and she could do the same with me. If you are able to keep the business and the friendship separate, it will work a whole lot better. It takes practice, and it helps if the other person involved is able to keep them separate too.
I just think that if you are going to mix horse business with horse pleasure, you should tread carefully and look for warning signs that the business aspect will be tainted if the friendship goes sour. It may save your sanity in the long run.
What did you think of this post? Do you believe that you shouldn’t be friends with the people taking care of your horses, or are my thoughts a bunch of you-know-what? Let me know in the comments below!