I was part of a busy, thriving barn in high school. I worked hard, I rode hard, and I had friends who I bonded with. But as our group headed to different schools and into adulthood, we drifted onto our own paths. I’m always glad to ‘like’ their pictures on Facebook, or chat with them when we see each other at horse shows, but things have changed. It wasn’t until I started riding as an adult and was trainer hunting that I discovered what I most wanted from my new group.

I had all the usual requirements: I wanted a great trainer, great program, horses to ride, people to validate it was a legitimate group, and accepting of adults and the baggage we can bring. Bonus points for indoor arena and teeny ponies to feed cookies to.

And I had thought I wanted a team of people to lesson and compete with. After all, that’s what I knew from the past, and what I had enjoyed. However, I found myself in a group of people who understand my crazy without me having to explain, or apologize for it. I realized I wanted someone to push me, who wasn’t afraid to call me out when I was being an idiot. Also the person who answers your texts on their family vacations about whatever frantic thought you had about your horse. I’m sure we are all guilty of this one. And hello, of course I needed enablers who would blindly encourage me to treat myself when I needed a little pick me up. In short, I found myself in need of a barn family.

The six years of being a part of my program have been full of chaos, joy, success and fun. It has also changed the way I observe and evaluate other riding programs. I see the other groups winning ribbons together, but do they know each others fast food orders? Do they know their teammates’ pets and children’s names and associated quirks? I see that their horses are all beautifully turned out, but when all else fails at a show do they have someone who will literally give you the tack off their mount’s back? These eclectic group attributes have become things I’m now unwilling to part with.

Maybe everyone does have this kind of group support in some fashion, and it’s nothing uncommon. But it’s rare to me to be apart of a group this large and diverse, and feel 100% comfortable being myself. They are the people who had to dress me after a quick ride in the ambulance (and the medics couldn’t figure out chaps), the ones I trusted to ride my mare when I travel for work, and the ones who sit in the grass with my toddler and help her feed the barn cats cheerios.

So if you are out there wondering if you have the right fit in your barn, I just need to say, it’s more than fancy heated waterers, or polished office spaces. It’s the people we decide to share our love for the sport and our horses with that make the experience worth it. To all those out there who already involved in a fantastic group? We are so very fortunate.