What is professionalism? According to standard business practices, professionalism is an entire body of actions and attitude. It’s all the way from being on time, to providing above and beyond customer service. It is often thought, that in the horse world, professionalism at least at the common business level, is somehow lacking.
Perhaps it is because we work with a flesh and blood animal with a mind of its own, we tend to give proper business practices the go-bye in the horse world. Is that wrong? Should allowances be made because a horse isn’t a motorcycle or bicycle, that simply can be parked when it’s not in use?
I think the standard is that someone who is paid to care for, manage, or train horses should at least be familiar with accepted business practices. The problem lies in what the professional thinks they can do, and what the person on the other side — the owner, the parent, the boarder – expect the professional to do.
Communication is always key to expectations.
Similarly, because we are in an outdoor sport, weather and outdoor conditions affect what we do with horses nearly year round. No one who owns a farm doesn’t “get” how weather affects management. (I’ve got heaters running in the barn right now thawing pipes from a minus degree night, so I can water horses.) This is where decision-making and professionalism come into play, and to be honest, much of that is based on experience.
If you’re young or new to the horse business, perhaps you didn’t know how hard it would be to wear six layers and school horses on a frigid day. Once you got going and felt that pain, wow. It was all you could do to crawl off that last horse and stumble into your tack room, exhausted, and looking at your barn calendar, realize you forgot one horse, or don’t have the energy to tack up another on the list.
Management is professionalism, it is every aspect of the horse’s care and training, and it takes a village, at times to do it well.
We have an entire equipment room full of stuff – just tools, equipment, boxes of spare parts, just things I need from time to time, from season to season, simply to manage my own little two-horse stable. I have learned over the years that I need those things to make my life easier during times of extreme weather.
If you take that experience, and times it by 10 or more, you realize the thinking that goes into running a large equestrian center in the snowbelt in winter – it’s an immensely management-intensive exercise. Add in the variable of a the horse, key to the whole business, and you’ve got a professionalism scenario that requires a very high degree of skill, and communication. And you pay for that if you are the boarder, owner, or parent. And because you pay for it, you expect the same kind of consideration you have to provide in your work outside the horse business.
And is that wrong? Does that expect a higher degree of attention than the horse business can guarantee? What is the standard of professionalism when it comes to sticking strictly to a schedule, even during periods of high heat or extreme cold? Who should be taking a look at the schedule, and saying,”I’m not going to be able to handle this today,” and giving the boarder or students a call to cancel? Or, should one soldier on, possibly exposing horses and riders to extreme conditions that could lead to health problems? And doesn’t professionalism have at its core communication? How do you decide what to do, and how to do it when you are faced with problems out of your control?
The answer is “experience”. The great teacher, the thing you get right after you need it, as Jimmy Wofford says. Professionalism is probably, at its stem, experience. In the horse business, experience sometimes comes at a high price because mistakes are not always cheap and inexpensive with an animal who weighs half a ton and has a mind of its own.
If you need professionalism, then you need experience in the horse business. If you expect professionalism from the folks taking care of your horse, what should you look for? Right. You got it.