Danger. Talent. Competition. No, it's not a new reality TV show, just your average day at the barn.
[top image: flickr user Jetuma]
Horse people are a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. Everyone's got an opinion, and there's nothing worse than when drama stinks up the barn. It's distracting, it's toxic and often, it's unnecessary. But how can you avoid barn drama when horses tend to attract people with such strong personalities?
As an introverted person, my strategy for a long time was simply to avoid human interaction at the barn as much as possible. Horses are the whole point, right? But even though I eventually found a great group of barn friends, some aspects of that hands-off strategy still serve me well. Here are my six top tips for staying out of the fray.
Listen before you speak. Unsolicited opinions are anything but rare at the barn. Horse people are generous that way. But even if something someone says seems totally stupid, wrong or just not helpful…take a moment to consider if it really is. Just take a deep breath, politely acknowledge that you're not ignoring them (“Hmm. I never thought of that” is a good one) and just do whatever you've gotta do, whether that means trying a different tactic, or doing things your way.
If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything (to anyone). Drama happens. And it's human nature to want to share the latest gossip. But if it's hurtful, you have no way of knowing who may repeat what you say…or if the trail will lead back to you.
Keep it professional. If you do see something that is just wrong, or unsafe, and you need to say something, take some tips from the business world to keep feelings from getting hurt. Praise in public, chastise in private. Point to procedure, rather than getting personal. Use the “sandwich” (constructive criticism nestled in between two positive comments). Sometimes you do have to be direct, but try to be tactful at the same time.
Ask questions, rather than making assumptions. The best way to find out why someone is doing something that seems totally crazy is to ask–not to incredulously ask “What was s/he doing?!” behind the person's back.
If it's none of your business, don't seek it out. Just because the group is trashing someone doesn't mean you need to participate. It's perfectly OK to wander away to your horse, to get something from your car…or even better, to say, “Hey, we probably shouldn't be talking that way about so-and-so!”
Don't trash people on the Internet. Believe me. I know. There are some things that are so ridiculous you just have to tell someone, and it feels so anonymous to write a blog post, or a Facebook status, or whatever about it. But it's not anonymous. If there is anyone even slightly in-the-know about your barn situation, they'll probably know exactly who and what you're talking about.
Write it, but then delete it if you need to get something off your chest–or if it's a real problem, bring it up in person with whoever's in charge at your barn.
It's not easy to keep from getting burned when you mix together huge amounts of money, a risky sport, and hordes of people convinced that it's their way or the highway. How do you avoid barn drama?
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