I have had many people come through our barn over the years and for the most part people are very good to their horse. I have also seen ugly side of the business where a trainer has come in and done things you only hear about and that is something you never forget. Dealing with this kind of issue is something that I never dreamed would be part of my job but it became part of it and I had to decide how I was going to handle it.
I also had to figure out exactly what kind of barn I wanted to have when it came to this kind of treatment or training of horses. What I would allow and not allow became complicated only because I didn't think I would need to be so direct, clear and extremely detailed about such issues. But I did.
You will probably lose a trainer or two and even some boarders
The truth is I have had a trainer leave my barn because I challenged them on their training techniques and told them that I didn't want that kind of training at my barn. I have had a boarder or two leave because they took lessons with this same trainer and they didn't have any issues with the training. If you board horses long enough and have different trainers come through your barn than you will most likely see some things that you will need to address.
Deciding what is appropriate for the treatment of the horses at your barn falls completely on the barn owner. It is your barn and one hundred percent your decision on what type of barn you want. You will hear many different views and some people will argue with you about their "Techniques" but at the end of the day it is your business and you have the final say.
Sure you might lose a trainer or two and even a few boarders to begin with but that's okay. Do you really want to go into your barn everyday and see things that are going to upset you and make you mad. Of course not. Today I encourage you to stand strong and speak your mind as the barn owner. Once you start to get a reputation about the type of barn you run and what you allow everyone will know it. Trainers that use harsh treatment will stay away because they will know that you don't allow it. The same will be true for horse owners.
If you don't do anything
I am going to be honest and tell you that if you don't do anything and look the other way because you are scared or too intimidated to confront the person, you will regret it for the rest of your life. You will lose respect from your boarders and you will lose boarders. You will have clients that won't stay at a barn that allows the mistreatment of horses and your barn will start to gain a bad reputation. Having a strong back bone is something that I believe every equine professional needs to have. It doesn't mean it is easy but it is the right thing to do.
Remember, doing the right thing is never easy under these circumstances but you will never regret it.
Trainer or boarder
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is abusing a horse at your barn, I strongly encourage you to talk with someone who you trust completely and really think about what you are going to say before you say it. Your conversation will most likely be handled differently depending on whether you need to talk with a trainer or a boarder owner. You need to remember that a horse trainer is a professional and they can't use the excuse that they didn't know better. This is how they train and it is as simple as that. If they are using abusive technique than there is no excuse. I have always been very firm with my trainers on what is appropriate and not at my barn. No exceptions.
Talking with the owner of the horse will most likely be handled differently. You will be dealing with children all the way up through retired adults and some will be new horse owners that are doing what their trainer is telling them to do. You will come across many people that don't know any better and were trusting that their trainer was doing the right thing. This happens a lot and young people will follow and copy any training techniques that they see their trainer do only because many of them have not formed an opinion of what is fair treatment for a horse. Each time you need to have a talk with one of your clients, step back and take a moment to think about what you want to say and how you want to word it. Sometimes they just need to see that there is another way to get positive results without hurting the horse. Sometimes they just need some education. Take each situation and treat it individually and many times educating will be a huge part of your job.
The scenarios could be endless when dealing with trainers, clients and horses and resolving these kind of issues but it is a very real part of barn management. I want to tell you that as with anything you do the first time, this kind of conversation will be difficult and extremely stressful. I have had a few and I can even remember feeling sick inside about what I was going to say and how the person was going to respond. The good thing about it was that I learning along the way to a strong leader and barn owner that stood up for what I believed. I wanted to stand up for the horse. Those days seems so long ago. I haven't had any of those difficult conversations in many years. I am here to tell you that is does get easier and you will grow and learn so much with each situation that is thrown at you.
You can't control what happens in other barns but you can control what happens in your barn. You will never regret doing the right thing for the horses in your care.
If you would like to read about real barn management and all these kinds of situations that come up in every barn, please check out my newest book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." It truly will change how you look at yourself as a barn owner or manager and how you deal with your clients.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,