Essays of an Equestrian

Many horse owners board their horses.
Some choose to, while others have to.
Some live in cities or suburban areas.
Some just don’t have the time, money or energy to have their own place.
No matter the reason, the boarding of a horse or horses is a huge industry which continues to grow as urbanization increases.
Not only does the horse have to acclimate to the barn surroundings but the person must as well. Sometimes, it’s easier for the horse to acclimate than it is the human.

     We all know the care of the horse should be our primary concern when it comes to selecting a barn. However, we do ourselves an injustice when we do not consider  our own mental and emotional health when making such a choice. Many of us spend hours at the barn and how and where we choose to spend those hours not only determines our success with our horse but our own mental, physical and emotional well being as well. Happiness counts!  Many horse owners have had horses for some time yet they fail to consider this factor. This lack of consideration renders them far too vulnerable.

     First, I’ll explore two common denominators to Battered Boarder Syndrome. One is the desire to lead. To rule, to be worshiped. I call it the “big fish in the little pond” syndrome. It’ll be the barn owner, manager, trainer or any other authoritative entity for that barn who would fit into this group and who uses this power unfairly. If the number of barns in that area is small, it intensifies the effect, as a potential boarder’s options are very limited. I’ll refer to that person as the “person in charge” or PIC.

Battered Boader Syndrome denotes a type of abuse similar to an abusive situation in a marriage or other interpersonal relationship. It seeks to alienate and it seeks to control through intimidation, fear or belittling. Often it plays upon the victim being made to feel lesser than as their knowledge of riding and horses in less than the PIC’s.

It is essential when discussing Battered Boarder Syndrome that in order to be an owner, trainer or manager that there is nothing mandating a certain level of education or sophistication in the horse world. Therefore, many PICs are without the knowledge that you think they have. It is also essential to mention that there are PICs who are just bad people. All you need to run a barn is the money to buy or rent one. In the United States, all you need to be an instructor is the balls to hang out your shingle and call yourself an instructor. Running a barn or being an instructor is NOT in itself an indicator of knowledge or personal morals. Remember that.

     That being said we move on to the next factor:  the ‘sheep factor. That’s the desire a boarder would have to fit in, be accepted, have fun with friends with a mutual interest, chat, and be part of a group. The desire to be seen as “cool” in one’s horsey world and to follow some mentors lead. Many of the horse owners in this country are middle aged women who might naturally enjoy meeting and mingling with other middle aged women sharing common histories and interests.

Please understand that being a sheep is not derogatory. It merely refers to the people willingly being led  by that person in charge.

     In this syndrome we find PICs who believe that when running a stable that the regular laws of economics cease to exist. They forget that the boarding of horses is in reality, a service industry. I’ll repeat this. The boarding of horses is a service industry. There are those PICs who believe that they,  in their position, are king of their domain and absolute in their power. On some things, I might agree with them, on others, they couldn’t be more wrong. I understand that when you have your own place you want things done in your way and I’m not speaking against that. I’m speaking of a corrupted position of power that is used to control everyone in that environment, and to harass and abuse people.

I understand that many boarders are not always the most knowledgeable and that many need help or guidance. I’m speaking of corrupted wisdom by those with complexes who seem to NEED a boost to low self esteem or other similar issue; those who need the unwashed masses to hang on their every word; those who need to control others via ridicule, fear and intimidation.

These type of people love to ‘name drop’ in conversations in order to give the illusion that they are on the same level of the person whose named they’ve dropped. Usually, they are not.

I speak of PICs who try to convince boarders that horses only require two flakes of hay a day, or just a sprinkling of bedding on the stall floor, or that they shouldn’t speak to their friend Betty because Betty keeps her horse at another barn or has a different trainer. I’m referring to PICs like the one who told me as a child that if a mare in heat is naughty that a perfectly good solution would be to take a broom handle and help her relieve her stress via its intimate insertion. Another wanted to show me (as a child) how strong his horse was by swinging a 2×4 at its neck. (However ugly, that type of horse abuse requires its own story as does the frequency of child molestation. Barns should never be thought of as day care for your children.)

Yet another PIC claims to be on the U.S. dressage team every year to those who do not know better, yet somehow, has yet to attend a single show…. anywhere. I’m referring to PICs who whisper derogatory remarks to others as you ride in the ring, or convince children to sabotage your equipment to punish you for some perceived tort. I’m talking about a case when a boarder is taken advantage of or feels uncomfortable going to the barn. Often that boarder schedules their barn time when the odds are best to be left alone or they just sell their horse.

    I’m speaking of places that if a boarder should dare say they are moving the PIC does anything and everything to keep them from moving out. Perhaps they harass them more. Maybe they call other barns to make sure they don’t take that person in. (The most common accusation during such a phone call is that the boarder owes them money).

     Of course not every boarding stable is infected this way. There are many which are wonderful places to board, where both horse and human are treated with dignity and respect. I  board at one now and I show my appreciation by being courteous to others, paying my bills on a timely basis, and by being helpful to any who ask for help. Other barns however are pits of dysfunction and a potential boarder should be wary that this craziness does exist and what signs spell trouble.

What also happens in a barn where the PIC is lacking is that the other boarders pick up on things and either begin to gossip frequently, or then begin to themselves harass or intimidate the victim.

Often, Battered Boarder Syndrome starts in a seemingly benign manner. A new boarder arrives at the barn and is introduced to all the players. They see what appears to be friendship and comradery, a team of people striving for some personal, yet common good. They inherently want to be part of that team. They too want to chat and get along, and slowly they intertwine with others, sharing each other’s business and endeavors. They want to fit in and they want to belong. Abusive barn leaders recognize that need and use it to their advantage. At that point the unsuspected boarder is owned meat and the writing is on the stall. So many boarders pay a significant amount of money for the pleasure!


     1) Do you fear reprisal or slander if you disagree with your PIC?

2) Do you find yourself avoiding the barn because you just don’t want to deal with the PIC?

3) If you approach the PIC with a question about the care of your horse are you made to feel stupid, or lacking in the supposed knowledge the PIC has above you?

4) Are you called names or threatened constituting verbal abuse?

5) Have you considered getting rid of your horse just because you can’t deal with boarding him anymore?

6) Does the PIC play little mind games on you like taking someone else to a show instead of you as a form of punishment?

7) Are you told you suck or are stupid or useless during a lesson or any other time?

8) Do you find your things stolen, moved or vandalized?

9) Are others at the barn encouraged to make fun of you, gossip about you, or be nasty to you due to the encouragement of the barn manager?

10) Are you charged excessive amounts of money for alleged services or services whose value is different from what you are charged?

The good thing about Battered Boarder Syndrome is that you have the power to choose not to be a Battered Boarder. As it is your horse, paid for by your money, you have the power (legally) to simply up and go from your barn. The barn owner cannot stop you and you can call the police if they try or threaten you in any way.

Remember, the boarding of horses is a service industry, and if the service is not being provided, or is lacking, than you need to go. Just like if you purchase any other service or product that is lacking!!

Do not feel stupid. Do not feel alone as you are not alone. These type of things have happened to most, if not all, boarders, myself included. And just like spousal abuse, there is nothing you should blame yourself for, but you need to realize that the only path to your own happiness is to be done and move on.

Besides, your horse would like to see you more…….

     This scenario and similar ones play out daily in barns across our country. Admittedly, I do not fully understand the phenomenon or that desperate need to control.

     The saddest part of Battered Boarder Syndrome is that eventually people tire of all the drama and often they fade from the horsey set, never to be seen or heard from again. The industry loses customers who’ll never come back, due to the bad taste of horsepoop left in their mouths.

Alright, now that I’ve bashed the BAD barn owners/managers/instructors/trainers it’s only fair that I turn my attention to the bad boarders. Just like there are good PIC’s and bad, there are good and bad boarders.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Art of Boarding

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.