When our horses are involved, sometimes tensions can run high — whether you’re in a boarding barn situation, or working independently from home with a trainer. Here are some tips to keep honest, open communication for the happiness of everyone involved!
For most of us, our horses are one of the greatest loves of our life, and the barn is a sanctuary where we can spend some time away from the chaos of the rest of the world. So when we feel our horses’ health or happiness is at stake and conflict is starting to poison that place of escape, the barn can get pretty tense — whether the problem is arising between fellow boarders, with barn management, or with your trainer.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to resolve conflicts at the barn and avoid them altogether. Here are a few tips for keeping your barn life harmonious and happy for everyone involved — horses included!
Honesty is the best policy. Yes, I learned this one the hard way — it is always, always better to be honest, whether it’s admitting that you made a mistake or giving feedback to your trainer. Did you forget to tear your jumps down in the indoor? Own up to it, and resolve to try to do better next time. Are you feeling overfaced in your lesson and want to take a few steps back? Let your trainer know. My personal biggest stumbling block? Answering “yes” when my trainer used to say “There! Did you feel that?” Saying “no, I don’t know what you mean” is a totally acceptable answer.
Speak up if something bothers you. We’ve all vented to a barn friend at times when something drives us nuts — and sometimes, just getting something off your chest makes you feel a whole lot better! But if something really is bothering you, especially regarding barn management and the way things might be done, speak up and let your concerns be known (remember what we just said about honesty being the best policy?). Barn owners or management only know if something is a problem if it’s brought to their attention, even though you might all be venting to each other about it in the tack room. Not sure how to bring up something that’s bothering you? See the next tip.
Practice conflict resolution and “I” statements. Building on the previous tip — speaking up if something bothers you — practice using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. This is a common step in classic conflict resolution: an example might be saying “I feel that my horse isn’t getting enough hay with her morning feed” rather than “You’re not giving my horse enough hay in the morning,” or perhaps “I’m disappointed that all of my fly spray is gone even though I just bought a new bottle last week” rather than “Did you use all of my fly spray?” An “I” statement allows the speaker to assert themselves without making accusations; accusations tend to make the other party feel defensive.
Good conflict resolution is usually broken down into five steps, and it can be helpful to work with a mediator. Conflict resolution works to get to the root of a problem and find a lasting solution, rather than looking only at one incident.
Ask for help when you’re looking for a good solution. In keeping with the theme of speaking up, phrasing a request or concern in the context of a problem you’d like to solve can help foster more teamwork and show that you’re taking responsibility for an issue as well. As an example, for discussion with your feed manager: “I feel like my gelding looks like he’s lost weight. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?” We all generally believe we know best for our horses, but we also know in the back of our minds that horses are a lifelong experiment in continuing education. Demonstrate that willingness to learn and consider new ideas!
Be a good listener, but stay out of other people’s drama. Remember what I said earlier about venting? Sometimes a good vent is all a friend needs — but if your friend wants to pull you into a conflict that doesn’t involve you, encourage them to settle their differences with the other party on their own. You can do this in a productive way that still lets your friend know you’re listening and support them, without getting yourself drawn into more barn drama.
If it’s not a good match, don’t be afraid to leave. Sometimes, no matter how many positive steps you take to settle conflict or resolve differences, some combinations just weren’t meant to be. Whether you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with a barn manager about horse care or your trainer isn’t giving you the kind of honest support you were hoping to find, it may be time to move on to find a setting that’s a better fit for you and your horse. It’s a hard decision to come to, but your happiness and security is just as important as your horse’s health and happiness.
The bottom line? Be honest, be open-minded and don’t be afraid to speak up when conflict arises in your barn.
Thanks to Kirsten Green and Allison Howell for their tips and ideas!