Thick Skin

Training as a career was all I ever wanted to do. Learning to teach and train better each year than the last was something I was always prepared to do. What I wasn’t prepared for, but probably should have been, was learning to accept failure, criticism, rejection, no closure, overwhelm and more.

Every horseman out there at some point will encounter these. Some put on rugged and steely personalities, and maybe get less criticism to their face as a result. Criticism will always happen, however, and learning to deal with it is essential. It might be in online comments- posts shared by groups that tear you apart like a pack of wolves over a piece of steak. People commenting careless and self righteous cruelties behind the anonymity of a screen.

You get less in public but they exist – someone who wants to argue, and you don’t know why they even paid to be there. Maybe the barns trainer sneers at you, and wonders if you even have show scores- with a face that says who exactly do you think you are? You might be too soft, or you might be too harsh- you might not be doing the latest training trend, or not a hardcore traditionalist. Someone is always going to be miffed.

Maybe you aren’t invited back because you pushed the wrong button- you said the thing you were supposed to dance around. In your attempt to help people and horses, no matter how kindly you tried to put the truth, the truth came out and wasn’t well received. Maybe if you were a big gruff cowboy you could directly insult people and charge 50% more, but that is not your reality, so you leave behind a barn and walk on to the next.

You might spend long hours helping someone through a problem. You might give discounts, freebies and go out of your own pocket to help, only to have them leave mad for unknown reasons- and move on to someone else. Or worse, leave and get hurt.

Perhaps even more painful, sometimes, than direct criticism, is lack of closure. A clinic went really well, a student was doing great, and suddenly they vanish. You don’t know how they or their horse are doing, and wonder- what exactly happened? Did you miss something they needed? Did they move on to someone new? Are they upset or taking a break? You may never know, and you can’t waste your time trying to help folks who aren’t in front of you, when there is so much help desperately needed elsewhere.

You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to look back on horses you trained and wish you’d done the kind of job you could do now- but you didn’t know then you what you know now. You’ll have long hours on the road wondering whatever happened to horses you knew, how they were doing and if you helped enough.

You’re going to be overwhelmed-

There are so many who need help. So many questions, so many messages, so many emails. So many unbalanced and fearful horses, scared riders who’s confidence is lost, and there’s just one of you, one truck and trailer, and only so many hours in the day. You might answer to your best ability a ten mile long question from a stranger only to get “that didn’t work but thanks anyway” in response.

No matter what though, at the end of the day, you can go home to a barn filled with peace, horses quietly grazing, and satisfaction. Horses who were troubled and turned over inside now doze, and you know at least in a small way, you’re making a difference. Through all the noise of the public, good feedback or bad, the horse provides direct and honest feedback, and the day fades away.

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