What happens when you mix big egos, high expectations, and strong opinions in a barn full of horse owners? Sounds like a boiling pot of conflict stew to me! Throw in a dash of estrogen and I can practically hear the mixture bubbling. Conflict is inevitable anywhere a group of equestrians congregate. Unresolved conflict can easily destroy relationships and turn what once were enjoyable trips to the barn into toxic atmospheres you dread entering. When I first began my business, I unknowingly assumed I would be primarily managing horses. Oh, how that makes me chuckle, seven years in. Working with horses, I have found, is actually primarily a people business. You might even go so far to say that managing conflict is my business. Allow me to share with you my mistakes. Here are my top six ways to deal with conflict and encourage camaraderie at your barn.
1. Be kind. Kindness is a dying quality, from what I’ve witnessed. Self-centeredness is practically praised and encouraged at this current time in history. Propelling yourself forward at the expense of others and “saying it like it is” is encouraged. There’s much to be said for putting others first and considering how one’s words and actions might affect those around you. People notice kindness because it is the exception, not the norm.
2. Forgive quickly. If something didn’t sting your pride today, be ready, because it’ll probably happen tomorrow. People can be so wrapped up in their own tasks, me included, that they often don’t consider how something as small as their tone of voice may have hurt people around them. The very best actions to take when this happens to you, are to take anything too personally, quickly forgive that person, and move on. It is important to note, however, that “moving on” without forgiveness leads to bitterness and grudge-holding. No need to always point out what someone did to wrong you; just forgive them quietly in your heart and let the sting subside.
3. Only give advice when asked. Keeping your mouth shut is an excellent skill to possess. For example, a fellow boarder is proudly spouting off about how her training method is clearly the superior way to train a horse. If you’re like me, a slew of heated words are rising up in your throat just imagining it. Learn to suppress the need to always correct someone or give advice where it is unwanted.
4. Encourage one another. Having a positive environment will propel your equestrian success much faster than a negative one. Make it a point to encourage the people around you. Point out something specific that they did well. It feels really good to know someone noticed your success, but it feels even better to know you made someone’s day.
5. Don’t gossip. Just don’t.
6. Resolve conflicts immediately. Got a legitimate problem with someone? Perhaps someone isn’t doing something safe and you’ve ignored it long enough. These are perfectly appropriate grounds for confronting someone. When confronting someone about an issue, talk to them calmly and quietly, and never in front of a group of people. Explain why you’re concerned or frustrated and even offer help to resolve the issue. Or perhaps you are the cause of the conflict. Swallow your pride and apologize. Apologizing in person is a rare occurrence and is generally received like the treasure that it is.
Use these tips to help create a positive atmosphere in your barn. Encourage your fellow horsemen and women and never lose sight of your joint passions. Let’s agree not to let pride and egos ruin our deep camaraderie.