Recently my barn owner asked me why I keep coming to the barn, he wasn’t asking in a manner of my not being welcome there, but out of general curiosity. I’ve honestly never put much thought into why I keep coming here, I just do. It’s a normal part of my life now, school Monday through Thursday and then barn time Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, each week, every week for the past year now. I thought for about a minute, and answered, “Because I like it out here” to which he replied, “Why, what is it that you like?”
Before I continue, I have to say I’m surprised more barn owners don’t ask their work bees and clients this question. Look at it from a marketing perspective(I’m taking business and marketing classes and now I try to look at everything from a marketing perspective, bear with me)-if you’re trying to maintain a successful barn service/business, then wouldn’t it make sense to ask the one who stick with you, why they stick with you and what about your business keeps them coming? This way you’ll be able to figure out exactly what it is that keeps people coming, so that you could use that to your advantage to increase your clientele. There are quite a few companies who’ll send out surveys to both their employees and to their customers asking them what it is about their product or service that keeps them coming back; using the data collected they will then find ways to keep doing whatever it is that they’re doing, except better so as to increase the numbers of people who want to use their product or service. I think barns should do the same thing, they might find it helps to increase how many people want to board and/or train with them… …. …. just food for thought.
I first came out to this barn four years ago on a vet call(I shadowed a vet from a local clinic I really like)-we were there to treat a buckskin Paint for Potomac Fever-he was dehydrated, liquid diarrhea, the works. I met Bill and Lisa, not Doug and the then employee Chris, all three were friendly and greeted the vet and I with big smiles and a cheerful “Hello!”-before taking us to go see the patient. I was looking to attend Findlay University at the time and Bill graduated from there, so he gave me loads of information about the school and its program and things he did when he was there. It was a lovely visit, the horse was treated and the doc and I moved on to the next barn. I told the vet I was with that I liked the barn, but after seeing an interaction between the trainer and employee, there’s no way I’d ever work there….. ….and yet here I am.
I have been to three other barns before this one, Wyn Farm, Sandalwood Farm and Beekman. Of those three, if there was one I’d ever go back to to ride at again it’d probably be Wyn Farm. My time at Sandalwood was short, I was there for a month, the barn was lovely, the horses were nice, the clients were friendly, the management not so much. The barn just wasn’t a good fit for what I was looking for in a barn.
Beekman, back when I first started there four years ago-was a rather rough environment. The horses weren’t given the best care, volunteers weren’t treated well and old-management was nearly non-existent. It has since improved in certain areas, but it still isn’t a barn I’d ever call “home”.
Wyn Farm is a beautiful barn in Williamston where I rode at for almost a year. The barn manager was always very pleasant and proved to be very helpful with my riding(I probably wouldn’t still be riding if not for her honestly), most of the boarders were friendly and fun to ride with and the horses there were nice too(most of them anyway). Wyn Farm was the closest barn I’d consider a potential “home”.
When looking for a barn to ride at and work at, I wanted a barn with a relaxed family feel to it. Nothing like past English and high-end Western barns I’d visited where both Dressage Queens and Cowgirls and Cowboys looked down their noses at you just because you didn’t own your own horse or you were a beginner trying to figure out the simplest of tasks–somewhere everyone was treated equally, no one person was given special treatment over the other. I had no problem riding with advanced riders or English riders so long as they weren’t going to be snobs about it(my one barn if you were a newbie or if you were having a difficult time, you stayed out of the way or got ran over. I have a hard time riding in arenas with other riders and in general after having not so great experiences because of that). I wasn’t going to ride under a trainer who did everything by the clock and was going to push me to do things when I wasn’t ready, and wasn’t going to take the time to explain things in ways that made sense(been there, had that all happen-hence why there’s only a small, small handful of riders I’ll take help from). I wanted a barn where everyone would help each other out, support one another in their riding endeavors and just be happy for every little victory each rider achieved. An environment that would help me to grow beyond where I was, not a barn where I’d remain stuck in the same spot or pushed back a few steps. Most importantly above all—a barn that acknowledged their worker bees were more than shovelers of crap and a barn where the horses received the best care possible and where the horses looked like they wanted to do their jobs and weren’t being(to quote a ridiculous post on facebook because I can think of nothing else) “forced to work”.
In searching for barns Chase Lake Equine Center came to mind and I recalled how, upon rolling up the driveway, the horses all looked happy and content in their paddocks. When you entered the barn you weren’t hit by they smell of ammonia or manure because the stalls were cleaned and freshly bedded. I walked a ways down the barn aisle and peaked into some of the stalls(they had two Friesian mares there at the time and a couple other horses in that I wanted to see) and the buckets were clean with fresh water and there was hay in there for them to munch on. The barn owners had seemed friendly, and their only employee(to my knowledge) at the time didn’t come off as miserable or overworked–taking a deep breath I’d figured I’d take the chance and sent the owners a message…. …. …. Upon my visit out here to see if this was the barn I’d want to work at, Bill immediately had me handling horses–but not before explaining why they do things out here the way they do(we were discussing how to properly enter a stall and halter a horse and lead a horse) and how they do the things they do out here. The horse was a two year old colt with a sweet but curious personality. He was fairly well-mannered and led well for me. The next horse we turned out was a recently gelded stud who was quiet as a church mouse and had impeccable manners(coming from a barn where horses had no manners-this was a nice surprise haha). He gave a brief tour of the facility, then we cleaned a couple stalls so I could see how that was done before sitting down to touch base on how this would all work and what days I’d be here if I wanted to have a position here. It all felt right, so I told them my available days and bid them farewell.
I’ll be honest, barn work isn’t the highest paying work, but that didn’t bother me like it would have other people I know. I’d do all this for free if I could more than likely, because it’s not the paycheck that makes all this work so rewarding in the end–it’s when V kept all his attention on me while I worked him in the arena while a mare was in the arena. It’s when the barn owner made it a point to tell me that of all the studs who got their feet trimmed, V(a stud I did some work with) was the only one who didn’t need to be sedated and was the only one who stood quietly(that’s my good boy). It’s when a Palomino Paint mare chose to tip her nose in and stop and give me her eye after working on that for what felt like forever and then came in to the middle when I asker her too. It’s starting to realize that maybe, just maybe-Zo and I might possibly be able to do this riding thing after all. It’s not the monetary reward from working—it’s being able to witness, experience and be part of these horses being successful when cards might be stacked against them depending on why they’re there, and watching as they figure out how to do what we ask them to do, and best yet, seeing that they actually WANT to do what we’re asking them to do–THAT’S what makes doing the work worthwhile.
But one might say you could experience that at any barn, so why oh why do I choose to come back to this barn week after week after week? Because this barn is home. The management doesn’t make you feel like just another person to shovel crap–they take the time to teach and explain and make you feel welcomed here at all times. The clients are friendly and supportive of each other, the horses are well-mannered( I no longer fear for my life when I hear that the farrier is coming out) and look like they’re in good care. It’s a warm environment that you can’t help to miss when you’re sitting in class or the doctor’s office or church. I honestly could not imagine a time where I didn’t come out here.
I come out to this barn, time after time, knowing that more than likely I’ll put in more than what I’ll take out–because the horses come first and the people come second-because time is taken to teach and explain everything in ways that make sense-because I have behind me a group of people who have been cheering Zoey and I on since day one–a trainer who pushes until we reach the edge, and then says “Jump, I promise you won’t fall” and we don’t—a mare who has been the best learning partner ever—and not once since I have been here have I questioned if horses are right for me—not once have I been made to feel inferior or as if I made a mistake like other riders did while I was at other barns—this barn is supportive, caring, welcoming and an environment where you are almost certain to grow beyond where you’re at without even realizing that you’ve been growing.