Finding the right barn family isn’t just about finding friends to ride with… it’s about our mental health.
I feel like there’s this common theme of “barn drama” and I think we need to break the thought of that being normal. Our horses are our time to find peace and an escape from the world. It is absolutely not the place for petty comments, reality TV drama, or constant tension. You need to be surrounded by people who build you up, not tear you down… People who are cheering you on whether it’s at an A show or over a 6” cross rail… People who aren’t judging you for only wanting to walk around or having no desire to show at all… People who don’t care what outfit you show up to the barn in… People who want you & your horse to win, not just a ribbon, but to win at life. Let’s be real… horseback riding is a pretty intense sport. The fact that we’re strapping some leather onto a thousand-pound prey animal and hoping we can keep all four feet on the ground while holding onto two straps that aren’t much wider than your little finger… well it’s pretty remarkable in itself. Every time you get your butt in the saddle & manage to land back on the ground on two feet safely… well that alone is quite an accomplishment. Horseback riding is emotional. It’s raw. It’s intense. It’s an escape from reality because we have to be present in that moment, just as our horses are. But it is absolutely not for the faint of heart. When you are choosing to put your foot in the stirrup, the last thing you need is to feel emotionally drained from the 10 minute conversation you had in the barn with Karen who was just telling you all the “he said, she said” of who has been talking smack about you and your horse behind your back. You shouldn’t be going into that ride thinking about how angry you are at the fact that Sarah can’t keep her 300 saddle pads contained and they’re taking over your space in the tack room. You shouldn’t be wondering who’s talking crap about you while you ride. And you definitely shouldn’t be worried about who’s casually glancing at the arena and judging every move you make on your horse, just waiting for their opportunity to claim you were riding in Rollkur (cue PETA). There’s enough drama at work, on social media, and in those reality TV shows I can’t seem to understand how people watch; we don’t need that crap at the barn. As someone who used to suffer with severe anxiety, panic attacks, & depression, I now protect my mental health at all costs. I have overcome all my mental health issues & I refuse to let the atmosphere at my barn be a cause of any anxiety. I can’t emphasize just how important it is to surround yourself with the right people when at all possible. Sure, your barn might have the best landscaping, the most beautiful tack lockers, & arena footing that’s softer than your 20 year old mattress, but none of that matters if you dread going out because Susan might be there waiting to start a Kardashian style argument. No amount of perfectly swept barn aisles or pressure washed white fencing can make up for a toxic atmosphere.
We literally pay a human being to judge us all so we can win a 25 cent ribbon. Our sport is hard and its emotionally taxing. A lot of us are perfectionists, always wishing our round went just a little better or we rode a little deeper into the corners during our test. We are hard on ourselves. We get angry at ourselves for not seeing the perfect distance, for not getting the perfect flying change, or not having the finances to get that new $7k saddle that everyone else is toting around. Horses are expensive & tend to consume our lives. There is always a new saddle that’s a little better than ours, a trendy brand of boots that your horse just NEEDS, & a $300 pair of breeches we want to school in just so we don’t feel inadequate. If the people at your barn are making you feel like you should get a second mortgage on your house so you can “keep up with the Joneses” you need a new barn. Whether you’re riding in a $300 Collegiate with no knee rolls that you got second hand or a brand new, custom fitted Antares that cost more than most peoples’ cars, you ARE worthy of riding. Please don’t stress yourself out because you can’t keep up with the expensive trends in what is already the most expensive sport in the world. Your trips to the barn should be something you look forward to with all your heart. They shouldn’t be something you dread because who knows might be there. I wish I would’ve realized that just because it may be “normal” for there to be a ton of barn drama, it doesn’t mean it’s right. It took me a LONG time to find the right barn family as an adult. I moved Annie a lot. Sometimes because of the care, sometimes because it was just too far, but mostly, because I hadn’t found a barn that felt like home. I was at “fancy” places where I felt bad that I had a $400 Tekna saddle and a free rescue mare. I felt like I was less than all the girls showing up in their expensive breeches to ride their show-ready horses. I was at places where I was judged for using positive reinforcement and giving Annie treats while in the saddle. I was at places where I just dreaded showing up because I knew I’d get stuck hearing about the latest barn gossip for 45 minutes before I could even groom Annie for a ride. I’m grateful for all the crappy barn situations I was in, because it made me even more grateful for the barn I can now call my second home, surrounded by some of the greatest humans I’ve ever met. I never feel judged for my riding attire, whether I’m looking show ready or I’m in some Forever 21 leggings with a hole in the knee & a shirt covered in paint stains. Every ride, my barn family is there cheering me on for every little accomplishment. They build me up & encourage me to grow in ways I didn’t know I could. They have shown me what it means for friends to become family. Every single person deserves to have THAT sort of support system at their barn. You should show up & know that you are in a safe place, free from toxic drama & negativity. Please find a barn that you are excited to show up to everyday. Please find the right people to surround yourself with. Please find the place where you feel at home. But most of all, please take care of your mental health. You are an important part of this giant horse community & just know I am cheering you on!