If you’re a trainer, having your own place to do business is paramount. However, many have to share facilities with other trainers, and that can be difficult—even with trainers in your discipline. In the spirit of sharing and happiness for all, some of your colleagues share their tips for peaceful barn co-existence here.
Short story: it’s all about communication, as barn co-owners Chris Armstrong, Mary Brust and Andrea Waldo (Triple Combination Farm, www.triplecombinationfarm.com) well know. These three women are a successful combo, with Chris as barn manager, and Mary and Andrea as professionals focused on eventing. They oversee 23 horses and teach 25 to 45 lessons a week, including Pony Clubbers, in Ferrisburgh, Vt., near Burlington.
Horse training can pit egos, but these dynamos don’t let that bog them down. “People often remark on how well our partnership works,” Waldo says. “We’re really proud of it, and we’ve put in a lot of time and effort to keep it running smoothly.”
But how does it work?
First, ring time is split by days. “Mary and I teach three each; one day is free for boarders not to have to work around lessons,” Waldo says.
The trainer for the day has first call for the rings—one indoor, one outdoor. On Waldo’s days, her lessons get priority, but if Brust needs to fit in a client, she does so around Waldo’s schedule. It’s teamwork at its best.
Second step: Post lesson schedules, suggests kid’s specialist Super Jen Dallis of Punk Pony Riding School in Chatsworth, Calif. (Misty Hollow Ranch, www.punkpony.com). “That way, you don’t feel like you’re stepping on other trainers’ toes. It’s important to be flexible with time.”
Two trainers yelling instructions can confuse clients, Dallis says. “Take just a minute, or a breath, and wait for your colleague to finish the thought. All clients want to feel they’re getting what they pay for.”
Third, set rules and live by them. “We all have very similar training philosophies, and the rules are the same across the board,” Waldo adds. “The barn owner’s own set of policies and rules should apply to everyone, so no confusion or conflict occurs.”
Fourth, communicate, especially on difficult issues. For instance, can trainers (safely) trade students when a rider’s schedule mandates it, or the client’s own preference is to ride with one or the other trainer?
“This gets tricky from time to time, but it all works out in the end with good communication,” says Waldo. “We never let someone switch without talking to their current instructor first, so there’s no feeling of going behind someone’s back. Getting people to do this is hard, but we really enforce it. Because we’re open to these kinds of switches, clients feel really comfortable expressing their needs, and thus end up happier with their experience.”
THEORY VERSUS PRACTICE
How do these principles play out in real life? Sarah Phaklides (SP Training Stables, www.sptrainingstables.com) has been through a few different scenarios. Centered on hunter/ equitation/jumpers and a little bit of dressage, Phaklides once worked at a barn with 15 trainers. She’s now based at Rockin’ W. Ranch in Shadow Hills, Calif., with four other colleagues who practice her disciplines, while the fifth trains Paso Finos.
“As far as arena time, we all work out of one jumping and one dressage ring. Luckily we all run different schedules, so there isn’t much conflict. If there are two lessons going on, we’ll just split the ring and share the jumps.”
Each trainer was required to sign a “do not compete” clause stating they wouldn’t solicit another trainer’s clients, says Phaklides. “If the client wanted to switch, he or she would have to talk to his or her own trainer first.” That doesn’t mean all changes will be handled smoothly, but it improves the odds.
Trainer-switching is easily the biggest issue when trainers share a barn. “In the past, I have seen some pretty bad things happen at barns with multiple trainers. If the equestrian community was not so small, I’m sure [the trainers would have] gotten into some legal battles,” says Hilary Moore (www.MooreDressage.com). Moore is an FEI competitor and USDF Associate Instructor in Gaithersburg, Md., and now a (happy) resident trainer at Potomac Riverside Stables in Dickerson, owned and managed by Kent and Anna Slaysman. Moore also trains at several other local private facilities.
Moore says the barn owner’s respect for trainers is what makes her situation work.
From experience, she’s hesitant to work out of a barn where the owners encourage clients to take lessons with multiple trainers. “In most cases, a boarder will place less value on a trainer’s unique skills when barn owners suggest that instructors are interchangeable,” she says.
Moore recalls that her former fellow trainers began accusing colleagues of soliciting their clients because it was the norm to swap trainers. Soon trainers were understandably paranoid.
Moore also stresses the importance of having enough elbow room. “A barn of 20 horses and boarders is not a smart place to bring in six fulltime trainers,” Moore points out. The constrictions of one indoor ring in winter or too few horses for lessons will only lead to tensions among trainers and the entire barn community.
At Moore’s current facility “there’s enough space, even for bad weather.” It includes one huge indoor and three lighted outdoor arenas, with one for flatwork, for six trainers—three of whom teach dressage. Scheduling of clinics or other events is done judiciously, since boarders who don’t participate may become disgruntled and leave due to interference.
STAYING THE COURSES
Although it’s important to deal with issues when they come up, having formal review time set aside is a great idea, says Christina Tabacco-Weber. Tabacco-Weber has 16 years of refining hunter/jumper and dressage curriculums at Stanhope Stables (www.stanhopestables.com) on Long Island, N.Y. Once a year, the 15 trainers attend a meeting on barn and ring rules to air grievances while collaborating on creative barn promotion.
“In our group, everyone is polite to one another,” says Tabacco-Weber. With 100 horses, “stealing clients is a major no-no.” Thankfully, the system works. “We all try to get along because we are professionals. It is a small island, and word gets around.”
Typically, rainy days or days when outside rings are unusable can make things “crazy.” Trainers are encouraged to schedule lessons during less-congested times, but that is not always possible.
“If a client needs to ride during peak times, like weekends, they know it may not be the most productive lesson and just accept it,” says Tabacco-Weber. “All riders learn about sharing the ring. No one ‘owns’ a circle or a jump. We all know how to steer in traffic very well.”
As for different philosophies, all trainers think the way they teach is correct, she says. “But at Stanhope, ‘Vive la différence!’ As long as there is no abuse, and none is tolerated, the deal is, we agree to disagree.”
In fact, Tabacco-Weber feels that competition between professionals is a good thing, and motivates each to work a little harder to be a better trainer, ultimately benefiting horse and student.
No, it’s not all happy-go-lucky all the time. Cliques and gossip are a part of human nature, and of barn sociology. Tabacco-Weber’s barn owner, Nancy Henderson, sets a great example by being supportive of her trainers, and discouraging arguments in front of clients. She addresses the drama post-lesson, away from clients.
“I have found that a smile and asking nicely goes a long way to smooth these things over,” says Tabacco-Weber. “I know my clients can ask for help from another trainer if they really need it and my clients won’t be solicited. Other trainers know they can ask the same of me.”
All for one and one for all: working together really can make shared space work.