I was working one day, taking photos are a client’s barn when it dawned on me that the client’s barn had children’s toys by the arena. There were tables set up for children to eat. In fact, that barn had literal children scattered on the property, an entire children’s riding program. My current barn had none of these things.
Getting out to the barn when you have kids can be hard. You either have to coordinate childcare, or spend the whole time watching them, entertaining them, and keeping them safe, making for a very distracted ride. Plus, for me personally, I was trying to squeeze in my ride during the boys’ nap. I had broken down my schedule to the minute in order to get out there and ride, and any variation caused chaos. I was desperate to make children and horses work together to get that fulfilment.
Was it enough to actually leave my barn though? I was having issues but there was no promise that the grass would be greener at another barn. Plus, I liked my barn. It had nice people, trails, and a huge arena.
But the other barn also had these things, plus an entire setup for children. It seemed like an obvious choice, minus the impending sense of betrayal I was getting from leaving.
How do you know if it’s time to leave? There’s so many different situations that could come up and factor into your decision. If you’re considering leaving your barn, here are some thoughts that might help you make your decision.
1. You Are Unfulfilled
Does this sound familiar? You took your weekly lesson, but everything you did was either met with no comment or no instruction on how to make it better. You jumped the same jump you always jumped, and the highlight of the lesson was just socializing with the other students.
If you are leaving lessons feeling like you didn’t learn anything, or you don’t feel challenged you may need a different trainer. I rode at a hunter barn when I was young, and at one point decided to try western. I’d already been canter courses at this point, but when I went to the western barn, the instructor wouldn’t let me canter because she said I wasn’t ready for it. For the pre-teen I was, this is a huge deal! I wanted to canter! And she never provided any explanation of what I need to do to be able to canter! I did stay for a while because I really loved the people there, but the cantering thing, plus some other things, did eventually drive me to leave. I have no proof of any reason she wouldn’t let me canter, but it felt like she was purposely holding me back due to her own lack of knowledge. If I advanced in my ability, what would be she able to teach me? Not much at all. Her students stayed at walk/trot for a very long time. It’s also interesting how things like this end up effecting your life for a while, because after that, every time I wanted to canter became a big deal in my head and it became a “thing.” I think that’s a discussion for another day though
But, if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and getting no where, it could be time for a new trainer. It’s not just what you’re “allowed” to do, it could be that you need a new perspective on your riding. Sometimes another trainer will explain something in a way that just clicks, and suddenly your life comes together, all your problems are solved, peace comes to your world, etc. Additionally, sometimes different trainers are good for different levels of your riding. For instance, one trainer might be really good at getting people started with horses. Once you understand the basics, maybe you need another trainer to teach you to do courses really well. Or a different trainer to teach you how to ride 100 miles in three days, or climb Mt Everest. Different trainers can help with different parts of your horse journey. There might be absolutely nothing wrong with your trainer, you might have just reached the end of your journey with them.
2. You Feel Unwelcome
There’s a couple of different angles to feeling unwelcome. One example, you’ve noticed other students get extra rides, or the best horses, or extra attention outside of lessons. You might be right in your observations, but it also might not be a big deal. Sometimes there are reasons for the perceived unfairness. If you are a trailer in student (which I frequently am) it makes sense that the trainer is going to be closer with the students that board with them. If they pay for two lessons a month, the trainer might be trying to ensure they feel like they are getting the full value of their lesson costs. Basically, the student who pays for the most attention, is going to get the most attention. It might sting that someone else is getting more, but if they are literally paying for more, that’s what they should be getting. If the trainer is giving you the appropriate amount of attention for the duration of when you are paying her, that’s technically what you are allotted. Any additional tips or information is a kindness. So “unfairness,” in itself, really isn’t a good reason to leave.
If unfairness is combined with another issue, let’s say both students are working students and one is clearly being favored to the detriment of the other, it could be a reason to leave.
In another situation, you might feel like there’s an established clique of boarders and students and they are not welcoming to you. I feel like this might be a gray area, because a lot of this feeling depends on you. Yes, I hate to say it, but sometimes if you feel unwelcome it’s because you aren’t being the friendly one. Maybe you feel like you’re shy and scared, but consider that the people at the barn might also feel shy and uncomfortable. Don’t push the weight of your friend expectations onto them. If you want a friend there, act like a friend, and hopefully they respond. People respond to how you act, and if it’s you, you’re going to have similar experiences everywhere you go in life. For instance, do you feel like your life is filled with drama? It might be time to consider that you are the drama, and even if you move barns, you’re probably going to have a similar experience at the new barn.
But, if you know you’re being a friendly person and no one is responding, well, this may not be a good fit for you. Or if you’re going to the barn and no one is there when you are, which is what I was experiencing recently, that’s not fun either. For most people, horses are a huge social outlet – we ride together, talk about horses, share horse experiences, and it’s not fun to never see anyone or have anyone to ride with.
3. You Aren’t Getting What You’re Paying For
If you’re keeping your horse at a barn, and you’re paying for two training rides a week, you should be getting two training rides a week. If you are paying for a service and not receiving it, that is a problem. It’s dishonest to take your money and not receive a service.
This feels almost like a forbidden topic since trainers are so revered, but some trainers are just straight up dishonest. Trainers are treated like gold because of the wisdom they bestow upon us mere mortals, and some dishonest ones take advantage of that. They know that clients worship them, and they feel empowered to take advantage of it. They’ll tell you they rode your horse three times last week when they actually just lunged him once and then left him tied to a tree for an hour. Or maybe didn’t even touch him at all. How would you know, unless you were there to actually verify it? If he’s super fresh next time you ride him, it’s just him being excited, not him not being ridden for the last month. Or they might do something right in front of your face, like sign you up for a private lesson, but two other people will just happen to be riding at the same time, and they are getting instructions as well. (Although your first action step should be to flat out ask why your private lesson became a group lesson.)
I hope that this is rare, as I truly believe most people are honest. But it does happen, and trainers get away with it because no one says anything. Clients will just pay the bill, stewing silently inside because they know they are being scammed, but don’t feel like they can do anything about it.
This should absolutely be a reason to leave. If you know for sure this is happening to you, don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. You can pay someone else for actual services, don’t support someone who really doesn’t care about you.
4. You Aren’t Having Fun
The most overlooked of the reasons to leave: You’re just not having fun. This should be fun. The reason we spend so much time, money and energy on this is because at the end of the day, it’s fun. I guess if you aren’t riding because it’s fun (maybe you are actually a robot and cannot feel such a thing), you can skip this reason, but for the rest of us, we should be looking forward to going to the barn. If you are dreading it, there might be a mismatch going on.
There might not even be something wrong with your barn. It might be a lovely, well functioning barn, full of wonderful people, but you still dread going. There could be a mismatch of the experience that the barn offers, and the kind of experience you want to have with your horse. For instance, maybe you’re a jumper, but everyone else does western pleasure – maybe the arena is too small for a jump course to be set up, and you find it dull to just walk, trot, canter. Maybe you just want to trail ride, but there are no trails anywhere near the property. Maybe an obnoxious rooster tries to fight with you while you tack up your horse. Maybe there’s a pack of dogs held back by a flimsy fence and you feel like they could break through any moment. Unless your barn can fix these things, they can be deal breakers.
You could also be a mismatch with the trainer. Their teaching style might not be helpful to you at all. They might be very aggressive in their teaching method and you find it off-putting. Or they might be too gentle or passive, and you don’t feel challenged.
It doesn’t always have to seem logical, but if you are losing the will to ride, it’s time to leave and find a better fit. You might love the trainer or the people there, but if you dread going, you don’t need to stay to keep them happy. You don’t need to be a people pleaser, you need to take care of yourself.
For my recent move, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to move to the child-friendly barn. If the child is happy and entertaining herself, I would be able to ride. The child would be happy, and I would be happy. I realized there could be other benefits, too. I was frequently riding alone at that barn, and this can be a bit unnerving on a green horse. I need someone nearby to call for help if I fall off. Literally just having someone in the arena with me makes me a more confident rider. There was even what felt like a silly reason – there was no gate on the arena, and it made me feel unsafe.
But, I was friends with my original barn. They were and are good people. There’s nothing wrong with them at all. I did want to stay, to keep seeing people I liked, but in the end, I had to find happiness elsewhere. Sometimes you do need to let go, in order to rekindle the love of riding elsewhere. That’s not something that should be thrown away trying to make someone else happy.
I hope these thoughts helped if you’re thinking about moving. In the end, it’s a personal decision of what factors are most important to you. Some people are more flexible on what they are okay with, or some people are forced into accepting a situation due to costs. If it is a cost issue, I urge you to look around or seek out private barns to find an alternate solution. Some places are advertised but others can be found by making a facebook post in a local horse group.
In the end, do what you need to do to make yourself happy. Leaving a barn can be painful and awkward, but if it helps you find your happiness again, it’s worth it. Good luck!