Through the years, I’ve had potential clients come into my barn and they have war stories. How the last barn manager/trainer/instructor did them wrong. Usually I consider this a warning sign. First, the person may have a chip on their shoulder. Second, she may honestly have a difficult horse that each new trainer or barn was expected to magically fix. Third, she may be the owner-expert who has never been in the trenches, trying to do their best dealing with clients, long difficult days, and the unpredictability of horses. Horses get sick or injured and sometimes, God forbid, even die, no matter how well they were managed. Most of the horse professionals I know really try to do a good job.
This is also an industry that attracts people with large egos who like to control everyone and everything. Also, many people are simply unqualified. They don’t have the experience with horses, or teaching people, or managing a business, and they are simply bad at it. A horse professional not only manages horses, but also their owners, and in many cases are also the go between for the vet and for the farrier. As a well-meaning horse owner, how can you protect yourself and find the right professional?
- Visit the barn. If you want to board, look around. What does the environment seem like? How do the horses behave? Does the barn owner have references of current or past clients? I run a good barn and I try hard. I am never offended by an owner “digging” deep. I understand how important the care of your horse is, and how much trust you put into the hands of the people managing the horses. Be suspicious if the owner seems aggravated by this.
- Watch lessons. How does the instructor address his/her students? Is the trainer respectful when coaching? Does he act like he remembers who writes the checks? Is she positive? Is the necessary criticism constructive or demeaning? Is she the horse’s advocate?
- If you are looking for training for your horse, watch a training session. Talk to current and past clients to get a feel for the way this person handles horses.
- Prize experience. How long has this person run a barn? How long has she trained? Who has he worked with? By experience, I don’t mean fancy organization degrees. I have met many a person who has graduated from a horse college or a has received an “instructor’s certificate” that I would not let teach me or touch my horse. Above all, go with your gut. Sometimes it’s not the fanciest barn or the biggest name that can give you and your horse exactly what you need.