Horse Illustrated: Dealing with unwanted advice

HN contributor Huxley Greer knows enough about the horse world to be helpful and enough about Photoshop to be dangerous. Really, really dangerous. Take it away, Huxley.

From Huxley:

One of the most wonderful aspects of being a horse person is that our involvement in this altogether different lifestyle yields an endless stream of odd experiences, and it’s so deeply embedded in our lives that there are endless stories to share… funny stories, training tips, controversial topics, and a handful of other thought provoking and enjoyable topics. It’s similar to surfing the channels on TV: history, movie, comedy, cartoon, cooking, reality, and finally, the soap opera channel. As horse people, we all know that any time there are a few of us around long enough, drama will occur. When a large amount of horse crazies congregate for a long period of time, the environment might as well be that of a soap opera.

The truth is that while showing and riding may be our professed highlight, I often find that what goes on behind the scenes can be more entertaining than the actual show. In addition to sharing the joy and rewards that my lifestyle exposes me to, my goal is to provide behind the scenes stories from my day-to-day life including controversies, communication mishaps, mistakes, and hardships.

On that note, I’d like to acknowledge a position that nearly all horse people have found themselves in at some time or another… handling the fellow horse person who gives uninvited and unwanted advice.

I’m not talking about the well respected trainer and rider who graciously offers you a tip. When that occurs, the only proper response is to try and turn your brain into sponge and beg for more. I’m referring to these delightful people who want to convince eavesdroppers and conversationalists alike that they are quite knowledgeable and capable, despite the fact that in most cases they’re in no position to be giving advice. Now, occasionally there is a gem in the rough who may in fact have a piece of advice that would actually help you out. The problem, it seems, is that so many unproven folks fancy themselves a “gem in the rough” and they want to make sure you do, too. However, unfortunately for us, the biggest symptom of actually having this coveted knowledge seems to be a tight lipped confidence and professionalism.

Pro tips

From experience, I’ve found that unwanted advice givers come in predominantly two forms and, unless you’ve incubated yourself and wear earplugs, I am sure you too have encountered them regularly. Why, Karen O’Conner had them at WEG. If you attend a Grand Prix of the Dressage or Jumper variety, you’ll hear them to your back and to your left and right.

1) The “Just Somebody”

The “Just Somebody” can be anyone that is just “so and so”. Their relevance is truly vague. They are perhaps “so and so from the barn” or “so and so that stalks me on Facebook.” You get the picture. Regardless of who they are, this person will interject themselves into your personal riding business. Maybe they’re standing at the rail making comments to other spectators as you go around, or maybe they go to the owner of the horse you’re riding and imply that they know exactly what you need to be doing to give your horse a better ride. The rarest “Just Somebody” will even be so bold as to offer you their advice face-to-face. While this is presumptuous, it is more respectable and often well-intended than the ringside loudmouth or the goat who wants to convince your trainer of its intelligence.

We all know the unspoken rules of the horse world. Giving unwanted advice is near the top of the list. The thing is, the unspoken law deems it inappropriate to say a word, and yet, the “Just Somebody” feels the need to break the law. When it happens, you’ll probably be shocked; don’t be, there’s a way to handle it that is both diplomatic and assertive.

Unless your “Just Somebody” is a real jerk, they’re probably just trying to garner the respect of other people in the horse world. In the case of the bold someone, they may even sincerely believe they have a tip to offer. True, “Just Somebody” has overstepped a serious boundary, but they probably have good intentions. Unless you want to come off as a total know-it-all, the best response is to smile and nod. Of course, that isn’t soap opera worthy; if you really want to create some drama around the barn, let your “Just Somebody” know what an atrocious crime they’ve committed; tell them like it is.

The “Just Somebody”

2) The Position Holder

The “Position Holder” is anyone who may hold some sort of position that makes them slightly more important than the average “Just Somebody.” Unfortunately, it also means that it’s much trickier when the “Position Holder” offers unwanted advice. For example, let’s say you’re headed to a local schooling show with a horse that you’re riding for a client. You know the judge; the two of you are polite acquaintances who have had a business interaction in the past. After your ride, you find out that the judge has been talking to your client and or friends to confer about matters like the horse’s training and which other trainers you should and shouldn’t take lessons with. This creates an interesting dilemma. While you don’t want to come off as unprofessional or rude, you certainly want to set the record straight. In cases like this, it’s important to address the issue in a polite manner. A simple, “Yes, we’re working on that, thanks for the suggestion” will do. Of course, the key to making sure this type of situation doesn’t get out of hand is to have an open line of communication with the friend, client, or whomever the “position holder” was talking to; be sure that the individual is on the same page that you are.

If looking for drama, all you have to do in this situation is call out the position holder on how utterly unprofessional they’re being. Take my word for it, if you utter the words, “How unprofessional of you,” you will have invited so much drama that you’ll seen be receiving a casting call for a role on Survivor.

The Position Holder

Even if you have to grit your teeth, bite your nails, and think happy far away thoughts to avoid losing your temper, it’s always better than starting unnecessary drama in the barn. When it comes down to it, we’re all in this together. Give your horsey friends a healthy dose of forgiveness and move on to the next biggest issue like finally nailing those flying lead changes.

About Huxley:

My name is Huxley Greer. In 1991, I was born to a Dutch import. Sired by an Irish import, I like to think that makes me an Irish sport person. I’m one of those kids who was fortunate enough to grow up riding; nearly all of my younger years were spent galloping around bareback through fields with my pony. I was lucky to have parents who thought that horses were more important than bedazzled cars, horseshoes were more important than Air Nikes, and hay was more worthy than eating out. It was one of those dreams awake childhoods during which you don’t even know how lucky you are. I admit I did have a short lapse in judgment. For one brief period of time, I nearly decided to give up riding to pursue figure skating. What can I say? My eight year old brain had a moment of failure, or perhaps I had read the biography of Tara Lipinski one too many times. Whatever the case may be, the thought was short lived.

For my tenth birthday, I unwrapped a video of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I wonder if my parents knew then that the movie they picked that day contained a highly contagious madness that would hijack my brain and body day in and day out for the rest of my life. Needless to say, the video started with dressage and I think I even asked when it would end! The next thing I knew, Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers were effortlessly storming their way around the cross country course and I was captivated. From that moment on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and since then, eventing has been the driving force behind every day I’ve lived thus far. After graduating from high school and suffering through a brief semester of college, during which I frequently found myself at the barn long after nightfall and at my desk doing homework as the sun was just about to rise, I made the decision that there was no way I could do anything but pursue my one true passion. Since that time, I’ve thrown myself at making my own horses and taking them up through the levels.

In 2009, I was a member of the Area II NAJYRC gold medal team. The experience was amazing. I learned a ton, and it added fuel to my fire.  In addition to giving me a taste of international competition and the experience of riding on a team, it showed me what being completely immersed in the sport could feel like. After NAJYRC, I was sure that I wanted to go forward with trying to make a career out of it. Currently, I compete two horses, both of whom I’ve started. One horse, a Hanoverian mare named Por Ti Volare, or “Emmy,” I have started from scratch and the other, Vesuvian, came off the track. They’re presently competing at novice and training and while it’s not always the smoothest journey and I’m constantly racking up crazy stories, I’m enjoying the process while riding anything I can get my hands on, scraping up pennies, and scheming for the future.

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