Sometimes life changes necessitate that we find a new barn for taking lessons, putting our horses in training or boarding.
Other times, we want to explore a different discipline. Maybe join a training program that our current barn doesn’t offer.
Whether you board your horse or participate in a lesson program without boarding, you may at some point find yourself the new kid on the block.
While I currently keep my horses at home, I boarded in the past. I volunteered at a horse rescue. I worked at one therapeutic riding center and volunteered at two others. I have also moved across the country with my horses. I still frequently seek instruction outside my own backyard and also enjoy experimenting with new disciplines from time to time.
All those instances have led me to entering new barns. Many times over. I have experience walking into new places, trying to figure out how to fit in and get the most of the opportunity.
Starting off or starting over can be difficult. You may even decide this new barn you chose is ultimately not for you. Even so, there is real value is trying to learn as much as you can while you are there. Even from folks who are quite different from you. Even from folks who care for their horses, ride and otherwise conduct themselves in a way that you decide you don’t like.
Here are three tips for giving each experience a good go while you are there:
1)Consider yourself a guest and conduct yourself accordingly
Practice basic manners. Say hello and smile. Ask before you borrow something. Inquire about barn rules.
If you have previously spent time at only one barn, you may be surprised at significant differences in rules and horsemanship philosophies. It’s something that can really catch people off guard, especially if they are new to horses.
For example, have you ever thought there might be more than one way to escort a horse from the riding arena and back into their stall?
At one barn I visited, I was corrected for walking into the stall with a horse. I was told that was unsafe. Never mind that I had walked horses into stalls all my horse life. I was instead instructed to stand at the stall door, send the horse ahead of me into the stall, have the horse face me and then take off the halter with my feet still outside the stall door. I then became accustomed to that practice.
Later, while visiting a different barn and observed sending a horse into a stall, I was told that what I did was unsafe. I was instead instructed to walk ahead of the horse into the stall.
It’s those types of situations that can really grate on the nerves. But as a barn new-comer, I feel it is my job to learn and practice the rules of the barn. Even if they seem odd to me.
Remember that horses thrive on routine. Barns tend to function like well-oiled machines when there is consistency in how the horses are handled.
So even if you disagree with the new barn’s ideas, remember that adjusting your techniques to fit in with the barn has the larger purpose of contributing to barn harmony.
2) Keep a “learn and grow” mindset
While this attitude applies to barn rules too, it is especially important when it comes to training and lessons. Remember that presumably the instructor or clinician has been successful at doing something in some way that you have not yet been. That means you have something to learn from them.
True, there may be times where you feel you need to decline to participate or object to something for safety reasons. For example, maybe you feel the instructor is truly over facing you, the clinician’s training technique is abusive to your horse or the barn manager is acting inappropriately towards you. Otherwise, try to keep a beginner’s mindset. Be open to seeing things from the instructor’s viewpoint.
You may ultimately decide that you don’t agree or don’t like their philosophy/techniques. Even so, there is probably something in the experience that you can take with you and apply to your horsemanship or horse care in a new environment. Sometimes learning what you don’t want to do is a good thing. A negative experience is not wasted if you can take something positive away from it.
3)Have an exit plan that reflects an “it’s a small horse-world” view
Sometimes, despite the best of hopes and intentions, we just don’t find the new barn a good fit. I know this can be disappointing and upsetting. You may even feel the urge to get out as fast as you can.
No matter your exit timeframe, consider taking the time to contemplate the best way to leave. Echo that phrase “begin with the end in mind.” I say this because the horse world is a small one.
You may think that someone who specializes in one breed/discipline doesn’t even talk to someone else in another. But often those people use the same services like farrier, vet, body workers and feed stores who often serve folks from multiple disciplines and breeds.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to gab with the farrier or vet while you are standing around holding horses for them? Or how easy it is to overhear folks conversing in the barn aisle or on the rail at a horse show?
Even removing social media from the equation, know that word gets around fast in the horse community. Especially concerning negative experiences and comments.
While there ARE times you need to draw a line in the sand if you feel your safety is at stake or a horse is being neglected/abused, most of barn drama is not life or death.
Most of the conflicts I have been a part of or witnessed could have been avoided if everyone involved (me included!) practiced more restraint and discretion in passing on opinions and judgments.
For additional thoughts on leaving a barn on a good note, I recommend this article from Horse Illustrated magazine:
Ideally, the new barn or lesson program you picked fits most of your needs and you decide to stay. No barn is perfect, but some places just feel more like home than others. A supportive barn environment can provide years of good care for your horse, allow you to tackle new riding challenges or meet fellow equestrians that can become life-long friends. But, if you ever have to move on, keeping these tips and hints in mind can help you land softly at your next barn.