Hire the right horse employees and fire the wrong clients

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If you’ve been in the horse business long enough, you’re going to meet someone who has no qualms about thanking you for your kindness by taking your property or unpaid work-product into their possession. It’s sad that some people operate with an entitlement philosophy that deems it OK lie, steal and abuse liberties given, but, sadly, there are some in the world that are artful manipulators who exist without integrity. Don’t blame yourself for being stupid to have empowered such players – we’ve all fallen victim to naive trust.

Questionable characters are rarely the culprits. Even if they are, you’re prepared for unethical behavior with these red flags. What really burns is when you go out of your way to help someone, donating time, resources and wisdom, to be rewarded with thievery.  It happens and it hurts, but there are things you can do to help avoid bad decisions concerning  the staff and clients you choose to bring into your equine business. While one will slip through occasionally, we’ve found some early vetting can uncover most bad actors.

Tips for equine business money decisions

  • With the young horse training business at Halcyon Acres (http://www.HalcyonAcres.com), we now require the starting fee before the horse trucks in (board is a separate item and it’s amazing how quickly these payments come in when a client is invested upfront in the outcome). The ones that baulk about this (they’re often wealthy), are referred elsewhere and invariable leave a trail of unpaid bills in the horse’s wake.
  • Where farm help is concerned, this is a tougher challenge in this remote area. It’s best if you can witness them working for someone else over a period of time, but that’s not always possible. Get references and make the calls. Time spent with employers can be an indication of how reliable (or not) they are. Be wary of those moving from jobs (or states) every couple of months.
  • Don’t give away time and resources. Offer an exchange of work for professional services instead, or a trade arrangement where you get something you really need to help improve your equine business. Few seem to value something that is free. Hard-earned benefits are appreciated more. Such a pact also gives you the opportunity to witness the dedication and ethic of the ‘student’ or ‘client’.
  • Set clear expectations from the onset. It feels right to bring someone on board with the ideal that they will help define their job, but this rarely works. Instead, take the time to put a job description (with associated benchmark expectations) in writing. Hold the employee accountable (and bring it to their attention immediately when work isn’t up to par) for agreed upon performance.
  • Periodically stop in unannounced to see what’s really going on when you’re not there. Sadly, many trainers are now resorting to always-on cameras that they review in fast-forward to get an honest picture of what goes on ‘behind their back.’ This shouldn’t be necessary if you hire the right people, but it’s a clever way to get behind the scenes when you’re unable to be on the grounds.
  • Hold on to the gems. If you find someone who is honest, hard-working, talented, reliable, kind with the horses and a joy to be around, pay them a king’s ransom, shower them with compliments and be flexible about time off.

Bad decisions build horse sense

Some years ago, we gave a kid of little means an opportunity at Halcyon Acres. She had a young horse parked on the acre where her family’s trailer sat. Her attempt to start this pony under saddle created a monster that learned violence was her best defense to a training regimen that didn’t reward efforts.  So, with donated training and lesson time to reprogram the filly and the rider, the two parted better connected – and better equipped with a good deal of supplies stolen from our tack room. We installed locks after this incident.

More recently, we opened our home to a twenty-year-old. She was a clever manipulator and adept at portraying herself as a victim to the trusting. Her departing acts would have ended her career as a jockey if we chose to press charges, but we decided to let it go. We filed the police report paperwork needed to resolve some of the resulting problems, but refrained from supplying a name and OKing and investigation that would have resulted in an arrest on federal felony charges.

The fact is, there’s little reward in vengeance for such acts, but you sure feel violated when you decide to extend yourself to someone who sees kindness as an opportunity to case the joint for their profiteering plans. Take solace in the fact that such little minds live a miserable life. If you let them suck you into their world, you’ll spend countless hours shrouded by negative energy that will ruin your day (or week, or month, or year). One trip to small claims court (we won), was enough to realize the cost is too high for any of the rewards to cover the loss.

Think before you leap into horse business hell

A much better strategy is to be smart in how you screen and/or prepare the people you decide to embrace as you work to build your equine business and reputation. Couple this with the realization that no matter how hungry you are, a client who doesn’t pay or makes your life miserable will cost you dearly and isn’t worth the price, and you’re on your way to working smarter instead of harder.  The next time your gut says no or whoa – listen, slow down and consider the consequences.  Set your mind to turn away clients that don’t fit and wait for employees that do and you’ll be amazed at how more profitable and in-demand you become.

Do you have a story about an employee or client that you want to share? Questions on warning signs you may sense but need confirmation on relative to hires or clients? Great experiences you want to tell to serve as models for others? Ideas others can benefit from? Please leave a comment below to get the conversation going.

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