One of the hardest things we go through as beginner horse moms is understanding if and when to change something - barns, trainers, ponies, sports (there are many sports within the equine genre), vets, farriers.
There were two pieces of advice more experienced horse people shared with me a year ago when my daughter wasn't as happy as a girl with her first pony should be and I wondered if it was time to change barns. The first is that if you are thinking about it, and thinking about it seriously enough to call strangers for advice, then it is time to make the change. The second is that once you’ve decided to make a move, the sooner the better. They were absolutely right and I’m surprised I couldn’t see it then.
In life, it is usually best to look forward, not back. The time we spent in limbo was awkward. Even if no one else knows you plan to move, you will feel strange every day until you do it! Change is hard. We don’t want to hurt people we’ve grown close to. In some cases you may be afraid of the trainer you are leaving or concerned about backlash down the road. Thank God those were not on my list of issues. But whatever your situation, if it isn’t working for you, find one that will. We spend a crazy amount of time and money on this sport and we have to feel good about the services we receive.
BUT before you jump the gun and decide your feelings of frustration require a drastic change of barn, trainer, pony, whatever, talk to your people. I don’t know why we are shy about speaking up and voicing our concerns! When my daughter looked as though she wasn’t thriving, I sat down with the two instructors at our barn and talked about how Elizabeth was feeling. They were awesome and jumped right in to help us make some changes. I have other friends who feared the conversation only to find their trainer could totally solve the problem and go with them to the more competitive barn they were interested in. Remember, it never hurts to ask.
Looking back I realize something pretty obvious. Though we are grateful to the people who teach our children to ride and we often feel some strong sense of loyalty, there will be few who stay in one place from the day they ride their first pony until the time they leave for college. The instructors all know this. Some are more sensitive about it, some more mature and understanding. Some barns really specialize in teaching little kids to ride and I often wish these barns would embrace that role and initiate the conversation about a rider’s goals and future, helping the parents choose a path to the next step even if it takes them to another barn.
So, if you have decided to make the change, how do you go about it? That’s probably a whole other post but here are a few suggestions.
- If you know ANYONE, no matter how distant the relation or friendship, who has had a child go through the sport you are interested in, call them up and ask questions. I cannot stress enough how wonderful and willing to share most parents of horse kids are. Of course there are exceptions but I’ve always shared what I know and I got most of it from other moms! My first call was to the sister-in-law of an acquaintance. She had raised two hunter daughters and gave us a long list of hunter barns and IEA teams. Just before we hung up I mentioned my daughter’s interest in eventing and she thought there was an eventing barn very close by and gave us the name. I will be forever grateful to her.
- Go to your local tack shop and ask the manager about local barns. They may have a list. Also ask about what magazines cover equestrian sports in your area. Now that I read Equine Journal and Massachusetts Horse regularly I’m wondering where these wonderful publications were during my time of need. They have listings for barns by discipline, including our beloved barn!
- Contact the DC (District Commissioner) of your local pony club. There is a national pony club website that lets you search for clubs by zip code. Whether you have any interest in joining pony club or not (though I strongly encourage you to do so if you can fit it in and will go into great detail as to why in another post), these people are extremely well connected in the horse world within your geographical area. If they can’t tell you what you need to know they will know someone who can. And on average, pony club people are very generous with their knowledge.
- If all else fails, google for barns in your area and start dialing! This was probably the least productive of all the things I did but it was kind of fun and I learned a few things including the fact that the biggest and most stunning new barn I’ve ever seen, and which was only a few miles from my house, was for the private use of the family that built it! The woman was very nice but they were not taking any boarders though their barn had at least 20 stalls and their facility boasted a huge indoor and fabulous outdoor arenas. And so that set me to daydreaming…
If you are making a move, it could be for one of many reasons. Your child may have big goals they cannot attain at the current barn. Maybe there are no stalls available for you to bring in your own horse. In our case it was a change of discipline as well as a desire for a different program where we had more control and more choices. Too often it is because a trainer is excessively harsh or shows too high a degree of favoritism. Sometimes these are things we have to live with. Then again, when we are talking about little girls with a fragile sense of themselves, these can be very damaging. Whatever your reason, you are the parent and you make the choice. Don't be bullied by your experts. There are plenty of other people out there willing to take you under their wing and give you a different experience. Remember, you are paying these people a significant amount of money!
And as for how you'll know when you've found the right place, you'll just know. Like looking for a house or choosing a school, the right place feels right. The people are people like you. The trainers share your values. Your child wants to be there every minute of every day and you don't mind being there either.
Best of luck and happy barn hunting!