A Barn Owner Responds to the “Ethics of Employment”

Photo by Lauren Mauldin


I read the article, several times in fact, and I have a few things I’d like to add. Now it is entirely possible I misread the intention behind it, and I am by no means condoning the act of trainers going behind the backs of fellow trainers and attempting to solicit staff out from under them – that is shameful. But on behalf of barn owners worldwide and the employees that carry the weight of their barns on their shoulders, I have a few things to add.

“When did people stop caring about a job well done or how walking off the job reflects on their character and affects the rest of the staff and the horses they were charged to care of?”

I think that change happened somewhere around the time those very people realized they had choices. They could chose to remain with an employee who barely recognizes their existence as anything more than the function they perform, or they could chose to work for someone who treated them like a human, and not a disposable commodity.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

We recently found ourselves in a situation where our current barn was closing its doors for good. Another adult ammy and I (with help from our trainer) busted our tails to find a new barn to move us all into. When searching for the perfect place, second on our list of “musts” second to the safety of our horses was that the property included housing for our employee. I’m going to call him “Sam” here, because “groom” just doesn’t encompass all he does for us. He is more than just an employee.

Sam is crucial to our ability to have a functional barn. Maybe I am naive, but I believe that Sam knows we took him, and his family, into consideration when making the move to a new barn. I believe he is grateful to us for not leaving him high and dry, when we didn’t owe him a job. And I believe if someone did come along and offer him an extra $50 a week, he would show us the same decency, and let us know. And I, for one, would do my best to make sure that if he needed the extra money, that we could get him what he needed.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Most alarming, to me at least, was the comment about who is left to suffer when an employee leaves suddenly, “… it can be a huge problem because the ones that suffer when the rest of the staff is overwhelmed are the horses.” If, in the unexpected event, that we were left without adequate help, I can assure you the last ones to suffer in my barn would be the horses. You know who would suffer? Me. My business partner. I’d venture to guess my husband and my kids as well, but damn sure not the horses. Because if something needs to get done, ultimately it’s on me. And no, I don’t want it to fall on my shoulders, so the best way to make sure it stays the way I want it to stay is to treat Sam like the hardworking, valuable team member that he is.

I agree that anything easily lost isn’t worth having. I also agree that good help is hard to find, but it’s also easy to keep. The art of ethics of employment is quite simple: treat your employees the way you would want to be treated. I would be lying if I said that I’ve never needed to ask a groom to rewash legs, or be more diligent about drying after. But I can promise that I’ve never said it in a way that would prompt him to up and leave the next day.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

This attitude of “someone else can do it better, or for less money” or (gasp) I shouldn’t have to do it myself if I want it done differently/better, is the very reason we aren’t raising good horsemen in recent years. Great grooms aren’t just born that way, they are taught by someone taking the time to listen and teach and explain. The often common air of superiority is a problem. Talking about people as if they are paper plates, freely to be disposed, is a problem. The fact that many riders advance through the divisions without knowing how to wrap legs, identify signs of colic, or know the difference between a dandy brush and a curry comb, is a problem. Taking grooms for granted as if they are not even worthy of recognition, is a problem. If any barn is having a hard time holding on to employees, I might suggest starting with a long hard look in the mirror, before pointing the blame on an entire industry in employees.

While I agree that a two week course to impart basic knowledge would be a great place to start, I’d be willing to bet that many of these same riders the grooms benefit, couldn’t pass said course if they had to. Until we, as a sport, address that problem, the rest of this is in vain.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

I do think that the ethics of employment are old school and simple. Employees should show up on time, act professionally, refrain from drunken selfies with the pony hunters (though I would imagine none would be more put out by this than the pony who’s beauty sleep was interrupted), but as the employer, we have some simple rules to abide by too: pay a fair wage for work done and pay on time, be considerate of special events and extenuating circumstances (if I need to feed for a couple days so Sam can have a week of much deserved vacation, then I’ll gladly do so), set clear expectations in advance (ringside is not the place for a groom to learn that this particular small pony needs ear plugs), and mostly treat them like decent, hardworking human beings.

If the industry as a whole too more of these things into consideration, I think people would find it is much harder to steal a happy employee, than it is to steal a disgruntled one.

About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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