Conflict At The Barn
I can hear the collective gasp, “Oh no. She’s going there?”
Yes. We’re going there. And you’re coming with me. So go get your popcorn, because I’m feeling feisty. And my post is accompanied by a pictorial guide of animal puns, how could you resist?
Anytime you put two or more human beings in close quarters you are going to have conflict. Now, add the dynamic, bold, and strong personalities of horsewomen, and you can have epic battles of personal will. No one is impervious to the possibility of conflict at the barn. Even if you are non-confrontational, you still may end up on the receiving end of someone’s feelings of frustration.
Here are my thoughts on how to navigate the delicate balance of personal preference in a very public space. We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our responses, and thereby can guide the situation into something more cohesive or more explosive.
I’ll share a personal example for reference. I’ll even point out what I could have done better. Fear not, the identities of the innocent (or not-so-innocent, depending on your view) will be protected. Quirky Cathy is a fellow boarder. She has a horse that is what I would consider more of a pet and less of a working horse. We’ll call Quirky Cathy’s horse, Brownie. Brownie doesn’t get ridden very much and spends most of his days turned out in the large gelding pasture. Recently I turned my own horse out in the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall and she asked me if I would let her know when I was ready to retrieve my horse, because they were the only two horses turned out and according to her, her horse would freak out if left alone. I agreed to let her know. We retrieved our horses from the pasture at the same time. Once back in the barn, she disclosed to me that she was worried about how she would get Brownie exercised during the winter, when the large pasture would be dismantled. I told her she would have to spend a lot of time lunging. Quirky Cathy then let me know she was stressed about the availability of round pens, as they might be unavailable during shows and events.
Fast forward to the next day, when I’m going about my usual routine of barn chores. I again turned Gangster out into the gelding pasture while I cleaned his stall. Then I went to retrieve him. When I got out to the field I saw that it was only my horse and Brownie turned out. Anticipating some issues getting out the gate with what Quirky Cathy had told me the day before about Brownie, I held Gangster by the halter and took off his lead rope, swinging it in my left hand to communicate to Brownie to give us some space. Unfortunately, this tactic was insufficient and Brownie pushed between Gangster and the gate twice, pushing Gangster into me and me slipping in the mud and cussing. I then tried smacking Brownie in the chest with the lead rope and yelling at him to get back. This only caused him to pop up a little. He then turned his rump around to us, and so I gave him a pretty good smack with the lead rope. To that, he kicked out a little. Realizing I was not getting my horse out of the pasture without issue, I turned to go out the gate on my own and retrieve Brownie’s owner. She was already headed our way. Extremely frustrated by my interaction with her horse, when she got to the pasture, I advised her that one of two things was going to eventually happen with her horse, either someone was going to get kicked, or her horse was going to push his way out of the pasture. Quirky Cathy advised me that all the horses were like that and that’s why she always brings a whip to the pasture. I then tried to exit the pasture and Quirky Cathy asked me to wait because she wasn’t finished putting on Brownie’s halter. She apparently thought he would disregard her as well and still charge out the gate.
I was quite livid at this point. Quirky Cathy had told me the day before that Brownie would freak out if left alone, I was witness to this when I was unable to get my horse safely out of the pasture. She admitted that she could not control his behavior by asking me to wait to open the gate. Her admission that she needed a round pen in which to lunge him, also indicated she was unable to control Brownie. A horse with no respect for people, and in particular his owner, is dangerous.
I took a fellow boarder aside and we went for a quick walk as I briefed her on what happened and how furious I was. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it was not any other boarder’s responsibility to let her know they were ready to retrieve their horse. Brownie shouldn’t be left in the pasture with only one other horse. I strode into the barn and told Quirky Cathy this. She immediately interrupted me and said that’s why I needed to bring a whip to the pasture and that all the horses crowd the gate. I told her no, all the horses do not do that, and Brownie was the worst one. And then I turned and walked out. She told me I should work on being a nicer person. I then called the barn office. And then I wrote a letter.
What I could have done better:
- I should not have processed the argument with a fellow boarder. It puts her in a weird spot, because she may feel she has to take sides. And then if she takes my side, that’s unfair to the other individual, who may feel ganged up on.
- I should have taken more than five minutes to process the situation. I should have gone home, talked to my husband, talked to a friend, had a glass of wine, and then planned a response. Instead, I reacted.
- While I did not raise my voice or swear at Quirky Cathy, we are both adults. I don’t have a right to tell another adult how to conduct themselves in a public space that doesn’t belong to me. You may disagree with me on this, but I’m not the boss of anyone but myself. I can’t tell someone how to act. I should have invited discussion about what I think would be a good resolution to the situation
What I did great:
- I didn’t yell or swear or cause a scene. Although I thought my head was going to explode, I remained focused on the issues.
- I didn’t respond to being told to be a nicer person. I just focused on the real issue: her horse’s unsafe behavior and her lack of responsibility for it.
- I haven’t complained to the barn manager incessantly about every little nit-picky detail of daily barn life. I can’t tell you how many people complain about the most benign of issues. Is it annoying that someone always sets baling twine on your hay? Sure. Is it worth complaining to the office about? No. I beg you, don’t do this. Complaining about the silly things undermines your credibility when you really do have a legitimate issue.
- I didn’t post on social media to get people on my side! Soooo important! Even though it seems to be our go-to move when something exciting/fun/infuriating/depressing happens, it can create an irreparable wedge to publicly chastise someone’s behavior and rouse the social media angry villagers. Regardless of if you’re friends with the person or not, the message will inevitably make it back to the person you’re socially roasting.
So why am I sharing this? Because maybe you can take some pointers from this and make sure that despite all of the competing interests, preferences and personalities at the barn, peace can be maintained. No one wants to go to the barn with a rock in their stomach worrying about that bad interaction they had with a fellow boarder. We have a responsibility to our fellow boarders to see that we treat them with as much respect as we expect. And if you find yourself dealing with a nit-picky complainer or someone who is unreasonable, I would encourage you to ask the barn manager to mediate a conversation between the two disagreeing parties. Having a third party to help keep people focused on the issue should deter attacks of character or brining up petty frustrations.
When people ask me for barn recommendations, they ask for barns with “no drama.” While I don’t think zero drama is possible, I do think we all have the ability to keep little flares from blowing up into 5 alarm fires.
What have been some issues you’ve experienced and how did you handle them? Anything you wish you would have done differently?
Come follow me on Facebook, I’m low drama… most of the time.