It’s almost 2020 – can you believe it? Another year has just flown by. Looking back on our experiences with horses in 2019, there are two lessons we learned that were harsh but also valuable – both for life around horses, and for life in general.
1. Give People a Chance, But Don’t Get Taken Advantage Of
The longer we’ve been involved in the horse world the more I’ve realized how many people lie. This is especially true if you are looking to buy/lease a horse or looking for someone to help you with an issue your horse is having. Everyone swears they have the perfect horse. Every trainer knows exactly how to fix the problem. Rarely are these claims even remotely close to the truth.
And yet, I try to not let our many past experiences with dishonest horse folks color my dealings with new people. I assume everyone is honest, but I keep my eyes open. This is probably a good lesson for life in general.
Keeping your eyes open applies to people you already know, too. This lesson was driven home hard in 2019. After being at a horse barn in Milton, Vermont for just over a year, I discovered that the owner had been using the horse we were full leasing for lessons and birthday parties when she knew I would not be there. I’d had an inkling something was fishy early on. One time I showed up to ride and Mo had a girth sweat stain, even though I hadn’t been there in days. The barn owner said it was from the last time I was there and I believed her, but I shouldn’t have.
Confirmation of her dishonesty finally came a year later, this past November. She posted a picture on Facebook of several women (without helmets!) riding horses at her barn as part of a birthday party. In the front row was a horse whose face wasn’t visible, but on his neck I recognized a small white mark that Mo had. The mane looked familiar, and the front knees were a bit over extended, all features I knew belonged to only one horse at the barn: Mo.
I asked her if she had used him for a party. “Of course not,” she replied, “I would have asked.” She then proceeded to tell me it was her niece’s gelding. When I pointed out the neck/legs/color were different she then said it must have been her stallion. “I use him for parties sometimes,” she said. “He’s very quiet.” But I knew this was not the case because a) it’s crazy to put a random person on a stallion without a helmet, and b) because the stallion had a muscular body and neck that Mo did not have. Finally I asked another woman I knew had been at the party. She confirmed that yes, it was Mo. It was only upon being caught that the barn owner admitted she had used him for the party.
You can imagine how much this experience shook us up. Not only had we discovered that our trainer was breaking our full lease contract, but we learned that she would lie to us. I saved the Facebook conversation and decided that we should cancel our lease. No matter how much we loved Mo, it didn’t make sense to keep paying all the fees associated with the full lease if we couldn’t even trust that it was actually a full lease. Plus, why would we stay at a barn where the owner had lied to us so blatantly? Suddenly that time I saw the alfalfa feeding schedule and Mo’s name wasn’t on it flashed into my mind. I had been paying extra for him to have alfalfa. Had he been getting it? And more than that, we also had our own horse at this barn. Was she doing any of the things we were paying for with this horse? You can’t relax and enjoy your time at the barn when the foundation of trust has been shattered.
We had just renewed our lease and the barn owner did refund us for that, as well as unused board and lessons. Our own horse has been moved to another barn and is being sold for all the reasons I mentioned a couple months ago. (Nothing ever got better and this trainer was the only one who could ride him without some serious lunging time, as well as the only one who could lunge him.)
Discovering her blatant dishonesty and losing Mo was a harsh blow. We really love Mo and always will. We had misgivings about our own horse from the start, so finding a home that fits his needs feels like a relief. We can’t ride him and there’s no sense keeping a horse who doesn’t like people if what we are after is a family horse.
This entire situation has really rocked our world. I feel sorry for other folks who may fall under this horse trainer’s spell, and I know there have been and will be many.
Always keep your eyes open. Watch what happens at the barn. How are the horses treated? Are horses for sale represented honestly? How does your trainer talk about other clients when she thinks no one is listening? All of this is valuable information. And if you discover dishonesty, don’t let yourself continue being taken advantage of. It’s like the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. If I had listened to the early warning signs sooner, we would have saved a lot of heartache – and money.
2. Never Give Up On What Brings You Joy
So now, after lesson #1 above, many friends have asked: Are you giving up on horses?
Of course not.
No matter how difficult things are, if something brings you joy you can’t give up on it. And odds are, if that thing involves people and/or money, there will be challenges. Learn the lessons that need to be learned, then continuing pursuing your dream.
Whenever I’m tempted to just step away from the horse world I think about a future me, on my death bed. I know that sounds morbid but, for me at least, that’s a good way to check-in and determine what is truly important.
I ask: When I am on my deathbed looking back upon my life, will I regret having let this thing go?
If the answer is yes, I don’t give up on it.
We are at a new barn now, taking lessons and just focusing on improving our horsemanship. We did go to look at one horse, but it hadn’t been honestly represented so we passed on it.
Sometimes keeping your eyes open means enjoying things as they are and being open to new opportunities when they arise. So for now, we plan to enjoy our time riding an incredible lesson horse and learning everything we can. When the right horse comes into our lives, we’ll be better horse people than we are today.