Safety should be everyone’s priority in their barn.
I used to feel safe in my barn. I used my barn as an escape, a blissful place where I felt peace and decompressed from my busy life. I unloaded the stress of my high-stress job and busy life at my barn and got my freedom in the saddle. For well over a decade, I felt like this place was my family. I thought they had my back and I always had theirs.
Over a year ago I was subjected to some horrific online racial abuse by several horse people. The experience was both traumatic and public. The horse community in my area saw it unravel and some were very vocal about it. Others were silent in disbelief and called me privately to check-in. I was in tears, destroyed from the incident, and nearly sick from what happened. I made it known to the barn that this happened, and they said they would keep me safe.
So, what exactly is trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event that one has lived through and/or experienced. It is not necessarily the result of a physical attack or accident. Experiencing trauma can alter a person’s sense of safety, ability to regulate emotions, ability to form and navigate relationships, and even one’s sense of self.
But what happens when trauma happens in your barn, and more importantly—how do you fix it?
Over a year later some of the people who engaged in the abuse towards me moved into the barn—the same one that promised to keep me safe. I had absolutely no idea they were moving in, nor would I have ever expected it. I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt like I was going to be sick, and all I could do was run, tears streaming down my face as I was literally racing out of the barn. A full-blown anxiety attack.
I wondered: How this could happen? How could someone promise to keep me safe and then not do so? As I chased a “why” that I will never understand, I became cognizant that this was the end of my peace. My safe place was no longer safe, and I must leave. My friends begged me to stay, saying that the offenders shouldn’t win, but I question: Is my sanity worth the perceptions of “winning the battle?” Is it worth risking my mental health being in a place that feels so unsafe, just because I don’t want someone to “win?” I’d rather just be somewhere that I feel safe, somewhere that I am respected, somewhere that I can regain my peace, my joy, and my freedom.
Unfortunately, the place that I loved the most, the place that I have loved for so many years, isn’t that place anymore and I’m heartbroken. Change is hard, but necessary.
Of course, no one wants to have trauma in the barn. Not one person wants students, staff, parents, trainers, or any person who works, rides, or frequents the property to experience trauma, but sometimes it happens. Often times it’s accidental but quite frankly avoidable, which is why we can all learn to be trauma-informed in our approach to managing healthy relationships within our barns.
Open communication is a key component to ensuring that barns remain a safe space for someone who has experienced trauma. Whether that be from a riding accident, an interpersonal relationship, bullying etc., open communication is so important to ensure that the person experiencing trauma is comfortable and does not end up being re-traumatized. It can be as simple as monthly check-ins or a heads up and conversation when change is coming, particularly change that could cause instability or re-traumatize the person.
We don’t live in a perfect world; people are going to make mistakes but when mistakes are made there needs to be accountability. Accountability in the way of genuine apologies and willingness to learn and do better. Exploring options with the person who experienced trauma on what they now need, in order to feel safe again and in order to move forward.