We have a new rider at the barn this week. I thought about all the other times this has happened during my riding and horse ownership journey. I would watch my barn-mates internally brace – followed by a barrage of questions:
“What’s her horse like?”, “Who is she riding with?”, “Why did she leave the other barn?”
Then comes the establishing of boundaries, “Well I don’t want her next to my (special snowflake) horse!”
We have all been that ‘new rider’ at the barn at some point. There is something awkward, almost tribal, about coming into a new space with your horse. It feels like someone came off the street and moved into your house with their large dog in tow. There is definitely an adjustment period; a reswizzling of the pecking order that changes the barn dynamics.
We all want to fit in, and it’s natural to feel uncertain about the other riders, but I have observed that the behavior that people exhibit as the new rider at the barn are shall we say…suboptimal.
Fortunately, my current barn-mates are an excellent bunch. We are not a lion’s den by any stretch. However, this scenario did get me thinking about what I would tell someone who wanted to ease the transition.
Here are some observations and suggestions:
Setting the Framework
- Perception is king – or Queen. You don’t need to tell everyone how nice your horse is, or tell people what you have accomplished – They can see and will make judgements based on their own internal criteria and agenda.
- Relationships take time. Be patient and let them develop and unfold. Be mindful that first impressions can and do change. A few times, people I initially thought I was going to have issues with have become lifelong friends.
- Be Respectful. This applies to people (owner, trainers, riders, farriers and barn workers) as well as their physical space (arena, barn-aisle, tack room, grain room and even the refrigerator). This is critical to ease the transition.
- Be Clean. Keep your space clean and always clean up after your horse. Score bonus points by stepping up to help someone else with theirs.
- Be Considerate. Whether you know it or not, you are creating a mild to moderate disruption just by entering the tribe. Be sensitive to that.
- Listen More Than You Talk. My personal ratio is listen 80% and talk 20%. Demonstrating genuine interest in your new barn mates and their horses goes a long way to creating trust.
- Puff. It doesn’t do you any good. People already made their perceptions of you. You are new, so in their mind in the rank order you are effectively last. Be patient and get the lay of the land.
- Commit to a Clique. Be friends with everyone, barn workers included. This also allows you to sort out the true barn dynamics.
- Engage in Ego Contests. This should go without saying but I’ve seen it happen. It usually has some ‘Alpha’-style dominance personality elements. All this does is mark you as someone to avoid.
- Talk Shit.There is no better way to say this. All that does is show people that you are the girl that gossips and who talks shit when those other people aren’t around.
As the new rider at the barn you have choices in how to behave and how you show up to others. Be sure to choose wisely and it will make that transition smooth for everyone!