Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... shame on me.
Lately, social media is full of discussions focused on "the cheaters" and "bad eggs" in our sport... Everyone of course has a solution to the issues, but when it comes down to it NO ONE will step up. The main root of all of the problems boils down to one simple word. Honesty. It is absolutely beyond me how so many professionals don't even understand a simple vocabulary word that I hope most of you learned in kindergarten. Being honest means being vulnerable. It means taking a good hard look at yourself and saying, 'can I live with this for the rest of my life?' Hey, some of you can. Some of you have this insanely uncanny ability to look at clients and just flat out lie. Who cares if the money keeps rolling in, right?
Maybe I'm too emotional. Maybe I'm too sympathetic. Maybe its because I could barely pay my bills for so long (and still, more often then I would like to admit, rob good old Peter to pay a pissed off Paul)... But in any situation, I always put myself in my clients shoes, asking, "if that were my horse, what would I expect out of the professional relationship? If I was the one stroking the check, what would I want to get for that money?" Yeah, I'm not going to be the one making the six-figure commissions under the table and driving a Land Rover, but you're also not going to be reading a scathing report about me on Facebook.
Clients for the most part are not horse-savvy. Some get into it as a fun hobby. Or their kids were bitten by the horse bug. But all of them, regardless of financial status or reason behind the decision to get into horses, look to us PROFESSIONALS for guidance. And it is our responsibility as PROFESSIONALS to lead them in the right direction, transparently. Is their current horse suitable for the job that they aspire to do? Am I able enough to properly train the client and/or their horse to their goal? Is that goal even appropriate? Am I being honest in this horse's true
capabilities? Heck, is the horse EVEN SOUND? And to be blatantly honest, because this is what this post is about, is the horse SAFE? Riding is a dangerous sport (spoken from someone with a body full of metal), and it is up to us as professionals to keep both our clients and horses safe. That takes a lot of self-actualization on your part. Do you really have the skills to provide what this client and horse need from you?
I don't think this one is short stirrup appropriate
And then you have the horse people clients. The breeders. The other professionals. They turn to you to help you sell horses for them, to show them, to properly put correct training on them. They are dependent on you to help keep their own business going. They are putting their faith, their brand and livelihood behind your name, and these business relationships usually start out based as friendships. What so many struggle with is separating the business from the friendship. Even though you might not be getting what you expect from your "friend" you still keep cutting that monthly check that may or may not be putting you into the worst debt of your life because you're clinging to the hope your horse will sell. You don't want to ruffle feathers. Sure, you might be paying an arm and a leg for your horse to be sent away for winter circuit to be shown and sold and you might never hear a peep from them, but it's all OK because your friend has them... And your friend knows your going to keep paying, because they are nice to you.
Meanwhile, your horse is sitting in a $1,500 dry stall, barely getting 20 minute flat sessions, sub-standard care, not being prepped for trials, perhaps even not getting tried because your friend likes to tell their friends there how many issues it has. Or maybe it's in some barn in another state starving and lame and you don't even know it because your professional friend doesn't answer phone calls or text messages, because they're busy. You haven't received a photo or video of your horse in weeks, because they're busy. There is no accountability in this industry. Because we don't have any legal regulations and most horse deals are done on handshakes. And they want to honestly believe in their professional.
I've been doing a LOT of cleanup for clients. Clients that were once really good clients, but come to me with an awful taste in their mouth because they have been so badly burned by other professionals. Honest, good people taken advantage of by these so called "professionals" in this industry. Whether it be kids on totally inappropriate horses that are on three legs or have 4 screws loose, breeders that don't even know where their horses are and show up to me 200 lbs underweight and missing two shoes, or good horses that should have sold years ago, but have rumors attached to their back ends. "Oh it's okay, you live and learn...".
If this happened in the real estate industry they would be stripped of their license! People would stop shopping at your store! Where the HECK is the accountability?!?!? Nope, these pros just keep waltzing around, showing, selling, ripping more people off. Very few clients get pissed off enough to actually do something about it, but the majority just move on. Or alternatively, they don't have the legal means, the support, or enough proof to bring the truth forward and expose the very thing that makes these people money. So yeah, that really makes the pros actually want to be honest and transparent... you can't catch me!
The problem is us. The professionals. Usually not the clients (don't crucify me for that statement - I have had my share of bad ones, but the good ones pay my light bill), and most definitely not the horses. It's time all of us as professionals start putting ourselves in their shoes. This sport is too expensive and too time consuming to think, "it's just money". Honesty is and always will be the best policy. Clients need to stand up and find their voices again. Friendship and business are two completely different animals and ALWAYS must be separated, regardless of how long you have known them. As long as you're willing to have an honest conversation with your professional about your expectations, and your professional can be honest about whether they can meet those expectations or not, then you will know if the relationship will work. If you are on two separate pages, there is nothing wrong with accepting the truth and moving on. That will make it much easier in the long run for both of you. And you know what? No hard feelings! Don't feel guilty about moving out or breaking things off. Because in the long run, it only comes down to what's best for you and your horse(s).
Be completely transparent, fulfill the clients needs to the best of your ability, and if you can't then tell them that! If their horse doesn't belong in Florida, in your program, or you can't hold the client's hand enough, or the horse has a cut, took a funny step, it needs to be drugged to be remotely sane, or absolutely is NOT going to fulfill the job... FREAKING SAY IT! Honesty is the only way to save this industry. For the sake of the horses, the sake of the good clients, and the sake of my sanity.