The "Terrible Teens"

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Author unknown but message clear: “Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent (now, make that ‘trainer’) ages as much as 20 years.”

Teenagers can be financially lucrative, but emotionally draining thanks to drama, cliques, moods, snobbery, bullying and more. A trainer we know recently discovered drinking and “making out” in the hayloft, truck-tire tracks in the indoor arena after returning from vacation, along with evidence of a really fun party at his house. What would you do?

Put Your Hoof Down

“Simple: Don’t tolerate it at all,” says Andrea Whiting, trainer/manager of Arbordale Riding Academy in Odessa, Fla., who specializes in Morgans and Saddlebreds and teaches saddle seat, hunter seat, Western and harness.

“When you [clients] are at the barn, you are on your best behavior,” she says. “If you are not, you are shown the door. I have girls that no longer ride with me and are no longer welcome that I can use as examples. With so many youth at my barn, I know the parents look up to me to keep the peace and not let any bad influences into the facility.”

Most of Whiting’s 28 horses are youth-owned. “I’m close to most all the parents and the youngsters and I know the parents are happy to have a place where they can feel safe leaving their children and not worrying about boys, booze or drugs.” She maintains an unwavering zero tolerance on the last two. “Boyfriends are welcome to watch rides and help the girls with chores, but then they leave. No hanging out all day and no going off to the far corners of the property together.”

“I make the rules and I do the discipline,” says Beth Thomas, who trains and teaches at Stone Hollow Sport Horses in Johnstown, Pa. She does hunters, jumpers and dabbles in eventing, she says, while specializing in Arabian sport horses.

“There is a time and place for everything and if there is a problem, I will address it immediately. We are a small facility and our teenagers have been here since they were about eight years old. They’ve grown up with the rules and follow them. They also know my justice is sure and swift! Teens must be civil towards one another while on my turf,” she says.

A former trainer of anything “English-oriented” with a British Horse Society certification, Craig Miron says “I’m a guy and tend to look at barns almost as a sociologist, and with a bit of protectiveness of my fellow boarders.” He rides at Riverside Equestrian in Bluemont, Va., owned by Terry Smith. He’d institute barn parameters this way:

“No boyfriends at the barn. No dating of underage girls at the barn, which means, if you have older male barn workers, you owe the girls’ parents to keep both groups under control. Look at a racetrack back area to see what happens when controls aren’t present. Smoking and any sort of drugs are instant ‘You’re gone’ offenses. Boarders and horses don’t need that behavior.”

“Don’t tolerate it [bad behavior]. Barn owners make the rules and expect everyone to follow them,” says amateur Kathleen Mahaney of Maryland. “Don’t make an exception to the rules for one teenager because of personal feelings: one set of rules for adults and teenagers.”

A Teen’s Perspective

“I rode at a barn as a teen with cliques, bad behavior and more,” says Ryan Lefkowitz of New Rochelle, N.Y. Lefkowitz, age 20, is proud to be on the SUNY Geneseo Equestrian Team and currently rides out of Leg Up Stables in Geneseo. She wasn’t one of the troublesome kids, she says honestly.

“I was shy and quiet and terrified of doing something wrong,” she says. “I worked hard, rode hard, and helped out whenever I could. And I know other teens that did the same. I hate the stereotype of ‘bratty teenager equestrians’ because I know so many junior riders who work so hard and are very responsible. There are definitely difficult teenaged clients, but then there are also difficult adult clients and difficult child clients.”

Jan Weaver is a teenager who lives near Charlotte, N. C. and rides, shows and trains at Willowood Equestrian Center. Her current focus is hunters, jumpers and equitation.

“Treat them [teenagers] the same way as you would treat an adult doing the same thing,” she says. “Seriously, teens (and I say this being one) are old enough to be accountable for their own actions and have some knowledge of what is and isn't appropriate to do.”

Ultimately, You’re the Boss

Like it or not, your clients reflect you and your business, not only on your grounds, but when they’re away. Many trainers believe minors should simply never be left alone at home—that doesn’t necessitate the presence of a youngster’s parent, but rather an “adult” at all times.

Have your rules signed by the minor and the parent, in your presence. In this new year, if your barn rules aren’t up to par, schedule a refresher with your attorney. No nonsense and spelled out, rules can alleviate trouble later, especially when parents refuse to acknowledge their teens’ unacceptable behavior.

Rules in place also afford an opportunity to request compliance or modification in behavior before showing a client the door—you’ve worked hard to earn business and you don’t want to lose it. A parent-teen conference, if parents care enough, is a pro-active way to deal with the situation and shows you’re open to compromise.

Everyone we spoke with agreed that when it came to the drama, open communication is key. While you can’t force everyone to get along, especially teens, you can encourage a certain amount of respect for one another at your barn. You certainly don’t want negative conversations transpiring among teen boarders, behind your back, when you’re not aware of a simmering situation about to explode. Make sure that you stay on top of potential “situations” before they become huge problems. Use your barn managers and other employees to report any potential problems and nip them in the bud by talking it out. If there is a conflict between two teenagers, pull them aside and have a chat—acknowledge their issue as you would an adult’s and ask them to resolve it as an adult would. Teenagers are eager to grow up, they just need a little guidance.

Your barn is a place to learn, to grow, to share and to form lasting bonds of friendship with animals and humans. A convivial barn atmosphere fosters no “special” treatment, but an overall positive vibe assuring that everyone can enjoy their time there—including you.