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Barn Drama - Poached Clients

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  • Barn Drama - Poached Clients

    The barn just went through a major shakedown.

    Started with the once-a-week riding instructor getting too big for her britches. BO knew she was talking and politely told her it was fine if she needed to talk herself up but talking anyone else down would not be tolerated.

    First of the month comes, 2 show clients leave with once-a-week riding instructor. One of the clients were wealthy family who had just gotten into horses and wanted to start their own business. No biggie accept that they didn't give any notice and were just kind of sneaky about it.

    Anyway, slowly but surely, clients start leaving to go to this new farm bought by wealthy family. Lost about 4 in total - all of whom were friends and whose kids were friends so really, it makes sense.

    Thing is, once a week riding instructor wants to be chatty at the horseshows.

    In this business, people come & go but once a week riding instructor definitely had her hand in this and got the ball rolling. Hard not to have hard feelings.

    BO & her daughter, who is the assistant trainer/rider, want to be professional but understandably, don't want to have anything to do with once a week instructor. It doesn't help that BO kind of took the instructor under her wing and she lived with them for a while and whatnot.

    So what would you do? Ignore riding instructor? Tell her off?

  • #2
    Take the high road. As you said, it is a small world, and if she's flaky and does the same thing to these people when it all goes wrong, then you'll be justified. If, though, she goes on to be a success, you'll run into her again and again.

    Be polite, if not overly friendly. Clients come, clients go, don't take it personally. Karma gets everyone in the end
    Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


    • #3
      Seems to go on all the time unfortunately.

      I would go by the motto "hold your friends close and your enemy closer"
      Happily retired but used to be:


      • #4
        Take the high road... there's nothing the BO and daughter trainer can do. Clients are gone but they might decide the once a week trainer isn't all that -and want to come back - don't close the door on them. This kind of thing happens all the time. BO has to remember she doesn't own the clients so it's in the BO/Trainer daughter's best interest to be as gracious and kind about the situation as possible.. Sure chat up the once a weeker at shows or whatever - you never know what kind of stuff you'll hear


        • Original Poster

          Don't think it's the clients - more the instructor.

          All 4 clients that left had started at this barn so BO/daughter chalked it up to the grass is greener...no hard feelings (sad, but not angry).

          I am a family member of BO/daughter and it's been very hard on them. BO has been in the business for over 30 years and never had anything like this (multiple clients leaving at the same time) happen...mind you, she's also never had any outside help until now, when the business was too big for just family to handle. Don't think she'll be hiring outside of family again


          • #6
            You cannot control what clients do . . . only how you respond.

            I agree about taking the high road. Those clients may want to come back and it's important for them to feel welcome.

            If one of them did want to start their own barn and invited the instructor to come teach there, then they really instigated the move.

            However, it's always best to be up front with where you are as it's a small world.
            Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
            EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


            • #7
              Sounds like the barn owner feels betrayed and/or that the instructor/client is ungrateful.

              I am guessing though, it is just that the one owner wanted their own facility and offered the instructor a position there, that would be more beneficial to her than the once a week instructor position she had.

              It is a business decision and not a personal slight.

              But I get that it still sucks/hurts. But holding a grudge against any of the ones that left just makes you seem petty and insecure. Wishing them luck comes across much better.
              Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


              • Original Poster

                Originally posted by CHT View Post
                It is a business decision and not a personal slight.

                But I get that it still sucks/hurts. But holding a grudge against any of the ones that left just makes you seem petty and insecure. Wishing them luck comes across much better.
                You're exactly right and I'm sure it does still hurt.

                I think the hardest part especially for the daughter who is obviously younger, is that there was obviously a lot of talking going on and she feels like she never had a chance to defend/say their side.

                Such is life.


                • #9
                  I will agree with what others have said. People forget that bottom line this is no different than any other buisness. You do not have clients because of friendships you have clients because of services and goods you offer. If some people have left ask yourself or them why they chose to change barns? There maybe somethings you could change or not. They may just want a change or think they do, as you said grass may seem greener. DON"T BURN THE BRIDGE you maybe surprised at who returns or wants to at some point but you may not have space
                  All one can do is do their best, as others have said you can't control them only yourself.
                  Glass is always half full or empty. Who knows they may have done you a favor.
                  Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from behind, or a fool from any direction


                  • #10
                    Well....everyone-- the once-a-week instructor in this case-- has to start somewhere. And they have to move on if they want to make a living at training horses. What would your BO have done if the shoe were on the other foot?

                    I know it "stings" but I don't see the room for being angry or being anything but professional to the instructor who has moved on.

                    We don't here the other side in the OP's post, of course, but it sounds like the OP and/or the BO and family don't see this as "just business." It is.

                    I also know there are better and worse ways to leave a job. But don't confuse the instructor with the clients. And please don't ever think of clients as people you own or who can be "poached." It's really consdescending.
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat


                    • #11
                      I can well imagine that having clients leave - especially a group of clients - is not a fun experience.

                      However, as CHT correctly pointed out, this was a business decision, not a personal slight. It goes without saying that BO and the daughter/assistant trainer should continue to be polite, and to wish the departing group well. The horse world is small and there is no point in burning bridges.

                      The question to ask is not whether everyone should continue to be civil (the answer to that one is ALWAYS yes.) The REAL question to ask in this circumstance is, "why did the customers choose to leave, and what could we have done/done better to prevent that?"

                      HINT: The answer is not, "Never hire another outside instructor."

                      The bottom line is, perfectly happy clients don't leave. Clients leave when they do, in fact, think the grass is greener in someone else's pasture. So the better exercise is to understand what it was about the new situation that was more attractive to these customers, and deciding whether or not your facility can offer that (or wants to.)

                      It is easy to blame the loss of customers on the inducement of the assistant trainer (see the title of this thread - "Poaching" is a strong word, and frankly, IMO, is fairly inappropriate when talking about customers, who are entitled to make the decisions that best suit themselves and their pocketbooks.)

                      So what was it about the new situation that attracted these customers? Certainly for the one customer who owns the new facility, it may simply that they wanted to have a place of their own/call the shots etc. It is worth asking why that is the case - though you may not get a straight answer, of course. (There is really nothing wrong with wanting to own your own place, right?) Maybe that owner's kid aspires to be a pro and the Dad figures he might as well buy the place now, while prices are down. But maybe... just maybe... they didn't get something at your place that they really wanted. And if that's the case, knowing what it is might help you retain the rest of your clients (and/or attract replacements for the ones that left.)

                      It is worth asking the others, too. Maybe it is just a case of friends all wanting to stay together. But maybe there are things that they wanted, too, which they didn't get at your place. Again, worth asking. You will get the most useful answers by being genuinely nice when you inquire. You respect their decision, wish them the best, but would certainly appreciate any suggestions they might have about what you could have done to retain their business and/or made them happier at your place.
                      We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                      • #12
                        Back to the original question - I would neither tell the (former) trainer off nor ignore her at shows. A conversation should take place between BO and (former) trainer. I don't understand the aversion to communicating with people when there is a problem (not you, OP, it's just a tangential statement in general). The BO should let (former) trainer know what her thoughts are about (former) trainer leaving with BO's clients and whether or not she suggested that the clients give BO the standard 30 day notice before moving, etc etc. They should have a civil conversation about what happened and then move on. The conversation won't change what happened but it will make it a little easier to smile and take the high road when BO and (former) trainer cross paths. Karma will take care of (former) trainer. Hopefully she'll learn from it.

                        Years ago, I was at a barn where this happened. Asst trainer came on board, taught well, bad mouthed every decision/lesson/etc Head Trainer/BO made, and after a year or so plotted a move with more than 1/2 the 50+ clientele. Some told Head Trainer/BO but there wasn't much that could be done. Asst trainer was moving and clients decided to follow. There was high drama the two weeks before the move (and after). BO was devastated but knew that client's need to do what's best for them and actually helped clients pack and load up their horses. BO was furious with asst. trainer who was on contract not to take clients (for x period of time) after leaving BO's facility. I'm sure there were threats of lawsuits initially. But, BO knew that the community is too small and having tension with another trainer would only make life more stressful than it needs to be. BO met with former asst trainer where they talked it out for a loooong time after which BO let it go - never bad-mouthing or even talking about it again. BO and former asst trainer (who went through hell trying unsuccessfully to earn a name back after all of this) are civil and even joke at the shows. By the way, some of the clients came back. So, the moral of the story is always take the high road. People will remember you for it and you will feel better because of it.


                        • #13
                          Success is the best revenge.
                          The BO and her daughter/trainer need to keep doing what they're doing, and do it better than the new, young chickadee who thinks she's all that. The clients who left will see that the "tortoise" is continuing with their successes as they plod steadily along on their unswerving course, while the "hare" speeds ahead to territory she has very little experience negotiating.
                          .... Or Not.....
                          As was already said, perfectly contented boarders do not leave a barn where they are happy.
                          However..... Sometimes that green grass on the other side of that proverbial fence dies more quickly than the slightly-browned-around-the-edges variety.
                          Be courteous at shows when the other trainer is near. Otherwise, don't interact.
                          DO be kind and curious and supportive of the former clients and their exploits in the show arena! Let them know you're still around and always interested in the well being of them and their horses.
                          As a very very dear friend of mine advised me some years ago when I was going through this very thing.... "Smile and Wave, honey!! Smile..... and Wave!"


                          • #14
                            It sort of sounds like this trainer got an amazing opportunity to work at a farm purchased by a wealthy family She wants to remain friendly and you want to be mad If you don't want to be friendly then ignore her you have no right to be telling her off in my opinion


                            • Original Poster

                              Didn't mean anything condescending by "poached".

                              Should mention that instructor goes to school full time for non-horse related work & was also starting on a placement which was why she was only teaching once-a-week at this facility. She was doing a lot more (riding, coaching) but wanted to step down to concentrate on her schooling.

                              Again, don't think it was the leaving...more the way it was done.

                              Perhaps it was missed in the original post..instructor was talking - a lot. Other boarders started to mention what was being said and it wasn't nice. If you're going to move on..fine...but why trash your employer unless you were trying to lessen their value in the eyes of others?

                              None of these were "horse people". They were families from the city who rode as hobby and they had never been anywhere else. I do believe some thought they could do it cheaper (which is definitely possible but possibly not with as much success) and the original family just didn't like to be in a program. They were quite wealthy and I think they were used to calling the shots but they were completely new to horses and didn't know anything yet.

                              The wealthy family would have moved on eventually - that was obvious right from the beginning. But if the instructor hadn't started the talking; I don't think the others would have gone. Maybe that's just the way I see it; I could be completely wrong. The instructor seemed nice but was very insecure and often resorted to talking trash about others I guess to make herself feel better.


                              • #16
                                What Lucassb said.

                                Honestly, I hear stories like this and always wonder how a client can be 'stolen' from a previous trainer. Clients have free will, and if they can find a product that's superior in their mind, for a competitive price elsewhere... then where's the theft?

                                If the once-a-week trainer was truly badmouthing her employers, then she should have been reprimanded once, then fired if it happened again. Any employer who keeps someone on who's opinions are polar opposites of their own really isn't thinking.

                                Be nice at the shows. If your clients are happy with the new trainer they'll appreciate your professionalism and working toward alleviating any tension. And if they become unhappy one day, they WILL return.


                                • #17
                                  As someone posted above, you cannot control what the clients do.

                                  Should you tell her off? No.

                                  Your response should center on what you can do for your remaining clients and address any problems that may have contributed to the departure of the other clients.

                                  It may not be just the fast talk of a once a week trainer that caused the other clients to leave.


                                  • #18
                                    My philosophy on horse world/barn drama--Life is too short and the horse world is TOO SMALL for any petty trash talking or bad mouthing.

                                    The BO should learn from the experience (as Lucassb said, try to get to the root of WHY these folks left and use that to constructively improve their program and business) and move on with her life. Don't let the other person's pettiness or trash talk suck you down to their level. Be a professional.

                                    I read things like this and am reminded of the reasons I want my own place with my own horses and nothing more.


                                    • #19
                                      I agree with MVP and Lucassb, particularly as to the poor word choice on "poached." In response to your question - you should neither ignore nor "tell off" the once-a-week riding instructor. You should behave as a rational business person, which means treating other professionals (which is what this once-a-week instructor is, despite what you may think of her) with respect and courtesy.


                                      • #20
                                        It is called "free market competition" and it happens all the time in all businesses.

                                        Best advice is to take the high road as others have said. You never know, once the "bloom is off the rose" at this new place you may see some clients return. Much easier for them to do that if you don't make a big deal over this.

                                        This is also a perfect time for BO to take an inventory of how they are running the current business and make changes/adjustments.