Friday’s Opinion

Seeing dumb marketing moves is like finger nails on a chalk board for me. I have the same reaction when horses are blamed for being bad because some human has scrambled their brain. Just because an ignoramus decided to try to shove a talented but difficult equine into an inflexible system designed as an easy quick-fix for the human doesn’t make it right. Sadly, when the horse finally starts acting out in a dramatic fashion, culpability rarely goes where it belongs.

Seeking higher education?

There’s a TV ad campaign going on now for a technical college that must have used a script writer who graduated from the School of Bad Grammar and Unintelligible Phrases. The sad thing is, they lose all credibility (maybe I’m the only one paying attention – it’s that grating thing) because they take some of the most dreadful language offenses and attribute exact phraseology to multiple people in their ‘candid interviews.’ I get making a mistake once and learning from it, but where’s the team that vets this stuff?

The same holds true with bad horse training practitioners and the clients who should be holding them accountable. Of course, almost every business-savvy multiple-horse-owner who has engaged vendors for training find themselves stuck with a bill that delivers a horse that is not only ill-prepared for the stated job request, but also set back by human mistakes made in the ‘schooling’ process, ONCE. What really puzzles me is why there are so many who go back for more. They complain to everyone who will listen about how disappointed they are with the results of their investment, yet continue to fill the charlatan’s coffers with new requests for services.

Whether it’s a team responsible for a series of college commercials, or those parading as equine teachers, an error is just that – repeating it with new voices – or different horses – doesn’t make it right, but does make one wonder who the brains are in the outfit. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s baffling how some can proudly display these errors repeatedly. Makes you wonder how careless they are with critical issues you can’t catch.

Catch me once . . .

Some time ago, I was managing a stable and lesson program for a fairly rinky-dink facility. The lovely location attracted some affluent boarders. One included a family that had bought their daughter a pony hunter for a veritable fortune at the time. Shortly after the purchase, this steed was diagnosed with moon blindness. When they revealed this to the seller (a high-brow show stable owner who turned a lot of horses to bolster facility profits), they were referred to the contract and told it was their problem. What shocked me is, they went back to the same seller and paid twice the price for a replacement. Catch me once . . .  yep, I get that, but twice? Dumb.

Broke horses should keep you broke

Today, I see horses coming into the track after ‘being broke’ who can’t even make it around the shed row on the end of lead without their eyes bugging out of their heads. Then it’s ‘look out’ time as they bolt, duck or freeze with every new sight. Forget about being able to pick up their feet, tie, saddle and bridle easily or handle a bath. And these horses are expected to proceed with confidence and ease on a racetrack with 50 other horses zipping around in different directions? Some even boast they ‘broke’ the horse in seven or ten days, yet it takes another six months before the horse can travel in a straight line. How is this saving money? Or helping the horse be the best he can be? I’m not seeing the ROI here.

Instilling trust, understanding and an enjoyment toward training goes a lot further in helping a horse understand and relish job requests in a faster fashion, even if the initial time is a bit longer. These same trainers who invest huge sums struggling to get such frightened horses race-ready, only to lose a race (or a horse) because he bolted from the lead pony, flipped in the gate, unseated the rider or got taken down as his ducking and diving interfered with another in the race go back for more of the same. Huh?

Take the time to discover good horse providers

I don’t have much sympathy for those who “expect different results from the same behavior,” to paraphrase Einstein. My heart goes out to those, though, who trust and get taken.

If your equine vendors don’t make you feel good about what they deliver, fire them. Sure, you’ll have to invest time in the research and discovery process to find a better provider, but they’re out there. It’s easy to be lazy and hold your course with ‘good enough,’ but the fact is, that’s not OK in today’s economy, particularly if all or part of your livelihood involves the health and performance of equines. Believe me, it’s a lot more expensive for clients that come to Halcyon Acres® with ‘problem horses’ than those that bring young equines here with a clean slate. Not only have they already paid for someone else to confuse their horse, but the time it takes to undo damage tends to be a lot longer than what’s involved in bringing a horse along right from the start.

Too remote, small, populated, locked-in to attract good equine providers? Think again.

For those who believe they don’t have choices, you’re wrong. Halcyon Acres® is located in a rural area by anyone’s standards. The population of the town where the farm sits is 1830 people (900 households). The entire county (which is large geographically) has 25,000 residents. Admittedly, I felt stuck with the standard (and popular) fare for a number of years. There’s a county veterinary practice that ‘everyone’ uses. After more than a decade of being billed outrageous amounts to educate their cow vets on equine issues, I got fed up (the final straw was a jaw-dropper – involving about $20K of costs and damage). What was their answer to the damage and loss caused by unconscionable errors? “We don’t guarantee our work.” Duh and cute.  Where’s the chalk board? I need to log a customer service cringe – offer me an apology and at least $25 off my bill. I paid in full, but they lost a huge client. They did me a favor. With strong motivation to get them gone, I found the best vet I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my 36 years of owning horses.

Helped a blacksmith out as he was new to the area and building his business. He was great with the babies (that’s huge for me – early patient experiences with vendors shape lifelong attitudes and behavior) and so, I spent a number of years referring others to him to help him grow. In September, he asked to reschedule an appointment (so he could attend his birthday party). No problem – but I spent another month asking him if he had looked at his calendar yet for a date. When I finally pushed him as the state of the horse’s feet were getting pitiful, he admitted he was too busy to make the drive and was firing me as a client. Now, I get the need to stay closer to home as business builds, but the way he handled this was idiotic. Give me notice and I’m happy to understand and still sing your praises. Leave me in the lurch scrambling to find a new provider after a month in wait for a promise to be fulfilled – now I’m annoyed and sharing the (bad) story.  This ranks way up there on the scale of dumb moves to alienate those who have helped foster your success. Who was it that said something like be careful of the bridges you burn on your way up as you’ll meet them on the ladder down? Where’s the chalk board?

The good news is, my (fantastic) new vet provided two blacksmith referrals that were thrilled to come out quickly and add a relatively large client with extremely well behaved horses to their mix. One scheduled an appointment to handle the entire horse population at Halcyon Acres within days of my initial query. It’s nice to be appreciated again.

Economy aside, your attitude is the real factor

Today you can’t afford to alienate good clients and referral agents. Great providers aren’t being hit by the noted downturn, but those providing lousy experiences are sure blaming it for their struggles. Everyone realizes mistakes are made, and most are extremely forgiving when you are fair and honest when problems arise. Few are as understanding when dumb moves are repeated.

What’s even more irksome is being treated without regard by a vendor that you’ve supported in a big way over an extended period of time.

I’ve fired clients too – and get that this is a part of business growth and/or a change in focus. How you do it, though, can mean the difference between good will and resentment. This effects your future prosperity. Make people feel discarded and unappreciated and you’ll lose critical referral agents. Help them ease into a new provider with notice and an explanation that helps them understand your choice, and you’ll likely keep a crusader. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I have people I left well still referring business to me decades after our business relationship ended. Of course, if you’re cocky enough to believe you’ll never need the people who got you there – go for it. I wish you luck (you’ll need it).

Share your stories

Do you have a vendor that has you thrilled to know them? Please give them credit in your comments below. Is a horror story haunting you that you’d like to share so others can avoid your pain? Consider how your cautions may save another from mistakes with your insight through experience by sharing your message as an extension of this blog post. Thanks.

P.S. I did a Google search of the technical college in question seeking exact phrasing on the two quotes I wanted to include in this blog. Couldn’t find them (the website is pitifully void of much more than a sign up requirement), but did find dozens of parody videos on the TV commercial search that blasted this school for their results. It seems they’re consistent in their attitude toward excellence. So are most equine providers. Notice the little things and that will tell you a lot about the character of the people you are considering as business providers.