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Long story about a client... advice?

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  • Long story about a client... advice?

    Some background: I have been teaching an 11-year-old student with severe anxiety and processing/sensory integration issues for approximately 3 years now. I met her while volunteering at a therapeutic riding center. She graduated from the program, and became my student at a barn where I taught.

    I am not a PATH/NARHA instructor, and worked with this student to the best of my ability, for 2-3 lessons a week. At one point I asked her mother whether she had any other anxiety management program in place, and the mother said no, only her riding lessons. I explained that she needed more than that since I am not a therapist, but other than having the child on medication, nothing was done. When I suggested visualization and other exercises to be done at home, they did not follow up and my hands felt tied in helping this girl progress. She is a good little rider, but the mental part has always been hard for her, and it was that I kept asking the mother to help me with.

    Okay, so the girl outgrew the lesson pony we had at the barn where I've been teaching. She began leasing a horse at a barn without an indoor, and when winter set it, brought her to the barn where I work, where we have an indoor. They began leasing her in September, and I traveled to them while she was at the other barn. I charged for lessons, but did not add in other fees, like travel expenses, and use of my tack while they were first starting their lease. They said they were tight with money, so I did what I could to make things work. They knew the tack borrowing was supposed to be temporary until they could get their own.

    In order to help them with costs of boarding at the more expensive barn, I proposed for them to either pay half the board and for me to half lease the horse from them to use her for 2 other weekly students a week, or for them to pay the full board costs, and I would not charge a lesson fee for my student in exchange for using her for the 2 weekly lessons.

    When we got the horse to my barn, we discovered that she was greener than we'd been led to expect, and my student started having trouble with her in the new, busier, environment. She is a very timid and anxious rider, and will not make effective corrections to save her life, sadly. Also, with the winter cold, the horse had a lot more energy and needed regular lunging, which the mother expected me to do free of charge in between the girl's rides.

    When the green horse began taking advantage of my student, we decided that she wouldn't ride outside of lessons, and that I would do some training rides on her. No charge, of course.

    Yesterday, I received an email from the mother, saying they were going to return the horse to her owner. She said that she was in a meeting, but that I could call her later. I emailed back and asked if she was intending the email to be her 30 days notice, and asked how she wanted to proceed. I got a confusing email back, so I picked up the phone.

    Basically, the mother said that she didn't want to pay full board and not be able to ride the horse. I explained that she wasn't technically paying full board, since she wasn't paying anything for the lessons, the training rides, or any of the other services I have provided free of charge. I did acknowledge that it must be frustrating, etc, and tried to listen to her, but I was getting pissed at that point. I do not see any of the board money, only the money from the 2 other students who take weekly lessons on this horse, which means that I have been essentially splitting my lesson fee in half to accommodate their financial situation.

    Then, she said that she wants to be able to do other things for her daughter, and maybe have her ride only once a week. That, I get. If she's lost interest, or if they don't want to continue a full lease, fine. But two days before the email from the mother, I stood out in the 25 degree weather so my student could try an older lesson horse that was being given away free to a good home. The mother seemed excited by the possibility, but it turned out not to be a good match, and I said so. There was no mention of not wanting to have a horse, or to cut back on riding, or anything. In fact, there wasn't even a thank you for setting up the meet-and-greet with the horse. In fact, there hasn't been a "thank you" in I can't remember how long.

    I do think it's best that the horse goes back to its owner, and even that the kid cuts back on riding. Her anxiety is too much for her to listen to instruction at times, and I am not a therapist equipped to deal with what she needs to do. She needs to get some effective coping skills in place, before she can ride effectively at this point.

    However, the mother's comments about having to pay full board--when she pays for nothing else--and the fact that after all this time of working to accommodate her and her daughter's needs she sent me an email instead of having a face-to-face discussion with me got under my skin. I am angry at the lack of appreciation for the work I've done, and the sense of entitlement they have that everything I do for them should be free of charge, as if I am somehow profiting in some way.

    I know that people can suck sometimes, and that you don't always get what you feel you deserve. However, I do want to take some steps so that I can feel like I'm sticking up for myself in all of this. I have to work with them for the next month, and even beyond if they do decide to ride a new lesson horse once a week.

    Right now, I am planning to give the mother a detailed invoice of all the training rides, lunging sessions, holding for farrier, etc, that I've done free of charge, so she can see that in the end, she made out quite well. When it comes down to it, the mother received between $500 and $600 worth of services per month that she did not pay for, above and beyond the board costs, which were the only ones she paid. At this point, I am not going to charge her for these costs, but I do want her to see how hard I worked to make this situation work for her. I will also explain when I give it to her that I feel unappreciated and had hoped at some point for even a "thank you" for trying so hard. The cost of her daughter's lessons alone has been $520, and the mother has paid $650 in board with no other costs.

    I do plan to charge them a $25/month rental fee for the use of my bridle and bit for the six months that the horse was leased. They were supposed to have bought tack for her last fall, but never did, though they kept claiming they would. The horse broke my noseband, which they have not fixed. I'm sure they would have kept using my saddle for her, but it was too narrow for the horse, so I helped them find a used one online that worked. Did I charge a finder's fee for the saddle or for my time? No. Okay, I suck.

    I've definitely learned a HUGE lesson in all this, which is that if I need to stick to my fees if I don't want to feel taken advantage of. I did have a soft spot for this student, and wanted to make it work for her. But going forward, I'm not going to be that flexible or accommodating for anyone without getting much more in return.

    Does what I plan to do seem reasonable or do I just need to suck it all up as a learning experience and try as best I can to get through the next month with them without losing my cool over the way I feel like I've been treated? I'm not sure I can say nothing at this point, since it's been going on for a while, and the daughter wants to keep riding with me once the horse goes back.

  • #2
    You know what I would say in this situation?

    Good riddance to bad trash.

    I understand you've been trying to help this kid, but she's got far more problems than just her anxiety and processing issues--she has a parent who's totally willing to use you (and others, presumably) for her own gain.

    Unless you had an agreement IN THE BEGINNING that they owe you for items like bridle rental or saddle finding or longeing, then you are SOL. Coming back NOW and asking for those dollars is inappropriate on your part.

    So, what do you do? You are the professional here, so act it. Thank them for their time, wish them well and wave as they drive away. If they still want lessons in the future, hand them a price sheet FIRST ("I have been working on formalizing all of my business practices. I know we've worked together in the past and this is really just a formality! If you have any questions regarding anything, please let me know." Said with a smile.) and stick to it.

    Lesson learned. Don't let other people walk all over you. Set the expectations correctly right up front!

    Comment


    • #3
      I personally would let them go and let it go. You are not going to convince a non horse person that there is more to horses than riding financially or otherwise.
      McDowell Racing Stables

      Home Away From Home

      Comment


      • #4
        Sit down and write out everything you want to say to the mother. Get it all off your chest. Itemize every little thing you did and how much it would have cost them if they were paying you. Then put the letter in a drawer.

        Send the horse back. Wish them well.

        Any time you need a little reminder of the lesson you learned in all this, pull the letter out and read it.

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by Laurierace View Post
          I personally would let them go and let it go. You are not going to convince a non horse person that there is more to horses than riding financially or otherwise.
          Yes, but what do I do for the next month until the horse gets returned? They are expecting me to continue with the status quo until she goes. Should I stop giving the girl lessons? I've already said I would not continue with training rides, since there seems to be no point, but the horse is going to be there for another month, and the mother wants me to keep going until the horse leaves.

          They knew they were supposed to get her a bridle 6 months ago, and kept putting it off. That's the only thing I'll charge them for at this point.

          Comment


          • #6
            I've learned the hard way you have to be careful how much you help people. When it moves from helping to them taking advantage, many of the seem to get ticked off when the gravy train runs out.

            Suck it up as a learning experience and the next time put it all in writing. You can only be taken advantage with your consent.

            I would ask that they pay to make repairs to the noseband.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by aWp View Post
              Yes, but what do I do for the next month until the horse gets returned? They are expecting me to continue with the status quo until she goes. Should I stop giving the girl lessons? I've already said I would not continue with training rides, since there seems to be no point, but the horse is going to be there for another month, and the mother wants me to keep going until the horse leaves.

              They knew they were supposed to get her a bridle 6 months ago, and kept putting it off. That's the only thing I'll charge them for at this point.
              Give them a price sheet. Tell them you've been lax with your business practices and are now formalizing them. Same story to *every* one of your students.

              Charging for the use of the bridle when you did not set that expectation in the beginning is inappropriate, petty and foolish at this point. Asking them to pay for the noseband repair is reasonable.

              You really seem to be WOE IS ME! THESE PEOPLE HAVE WALKED ALL OVER ME! when really? You have allowed them to do so. Over and over again. What did you expect here? That all of a sudden they would wake up and realize all of the good things you have been doing for them, thank you profusely and hand you a wad of cash? Why on earth would they? They have one hell of a deal here.

              This is a wake up call. Not all people manage relationships the way you would. So set some ground rules and make sure the expectations are clear moving forward. You cannot fix things that have already happened in the past.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by Simkie View Post
                You really seem to be WOE IS ME! THESE PEOPLE HAVE WALKED ALL OVER ME! when really? You have allowed them to do so. Over and over again. What did you expect here? That all of a sudden they would wake up and realize all of the good things you have been doing for them, thank you profusely and hand you a wad of cash? Why on earth would they? They have one hell of a deal here.

                This is a wake up call. Not all people manage relationships the way you would. So set some ground rules and make sure the expectations are clear moving forward. You cannot fix things that have already happened in the past.
                I agree! I did go way above and beyond, and am regretting it.

                What do you suggest doing for the next month in regard to lessons for the girl, etc?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by aWp View Post
                  What do you suggest doing for the next month in regard to lessons for the girl, etc?
                  This is the third time I've said this

                  Give them a price sheet.

                  Lesson price, longeing price, bridle rental price. Whatever. Everything you could possibly do for your clients. They can pay, or they can not ride with you. Their choice. Just like ANY other business or activity. Since you did not set this expectation in advance, all you can do it set it going forward.

                  If they choose not to pay and ride the horse anyway, it's not your deal.

                  They have to Pay. You. for your services from now on out. Some amount that you deem fit.

                  And if you want to retain use of the horse for lessons through the month, then assign a $$ value to that use and consider it credit toward whatever items on your price sheet are allowed for "trades."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I agree that it's difficult to change expectations in a relationship partway through. I think if you want to keep working with these people, the suggestion of "I'm formalizing my price structure, here is a sheet of paper that lists them all" is a good one. I wouldn't charge them a "rental fee" for the tack, since it wasn't agreed in advance - but I think you're well within your right to ask them to replace the noseband/bridle. And insist on that. You might have to bring it up more than once, and just stay firm and neutral in your tone.

                    Is it even possible to still give her lessons without the training rides? Sounds like it's not the kind of horse you can bring in for a lesson once a week and have him be tuned up for a rider with challenges. Would he still work for your other 2 students this month?

                    Finally, I think you should try to feel good about this when you look back rather than bad, and this is why: you did your best to help these people. You are a *nice person*, and you probably made a difference in this little girl's life, even though she may not be able to express that to you right now. Mom, if she's not horsey, may not realize how many associated expenses go along with horses, like holding for a farrier - I don't know if it's intuitive that people usually charge for stuff like that. Or she may just be taking advantage totally. But, when I was a young teen I rode at a barn and my parents were barely involved, had NO IDEA about anything horsey at all, besides writing occasional checks when I showed or leased - they were physically at the barn maybe 3 times in 3 years. The barn manager and trainer were always extremely kind to me. Looking back, I really hope that they got paid for everything they helped me with/let me do. But it's possible they didn't. I still think about them frequently, and hope my teenage self said thank you often enough.

                    So long story short, I agree you should chalk it up as a "learning experience" and be tougher in the future from a business standpoint. But don't feel ashamed of getting "used" - consider it evidence of your kind nature. You're a good person!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I agree and disagree. I think you should talk to her. You will have to gage during the conversation what to say and how to say it. She may surprise you or not. How much do you want to continue working with the daughter?
                      I'm looking at this as a former speech pathologist. Thank you for trying so hard. As you know, you were/are being taken advantage of. Breaking that cycle would be difficult. Do you want to put that effort in? The only right answer is what you want.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Expect the mom to pay for lessons just like every other student. If all you do in those lessons is walk, so be it. If you want to/feel comfortable approaching the mom, explain to her you do not feel comfortable working with her daughter beyond x pace because she is so nervous. I agree with posting an itemized sheet of how much lessons cost in your barn so everyone is on the same page. Mother should not get any more favors from you. You are running a business, stand your ground.
                        "Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tides" - Garth Brooks
                        "With your permission, dear, I'll take my fences one at a time" - Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Simkie View Post
                          This is the third time I've said this

                          Give them a price sheet.
                          Thank you, Simkie! I'm dense--I admit it! This whole thing kinda has me thinking stupid, obviously.....

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Simkie hit the nail on the head.

                            Why would you keep putting training rides on a horse that's going to be returned? You have one month left with this horse. Let the mom know that you'll be billing her for all services, make a list of those services (including tack rental), and then leave it up to her to choose which ones she wants.

                            As for the rest of it, pick your battles. I'd let it go. They're not going to realize the error of their ways and make everything right, they're going to get mad and pout. The best way to move forward is to make a change (start charging and being up front about your expectations) and enforce it from this point on.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Many folks will have had different experiences from mine, but: every time I have "bartered" or "traded" boarding, lessons or services at my barn, I felt I got taken advantage of. Maybe I'm just a crappy negotiator. I never do this anymore, ever.

                              Agree with the advice to politely and clearly set out terms for this month, and then (leaving that letter in the desk drawer), just let them go.
                              http://www.facebook.com/pages/Easy-K...22998204542511
                              http://www.easykeeperfarm.com

                              I can ride my horses without a sharps container.

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Okay, just got another email from the mom; she agrees training rides are pointless moving forward. I replied that if the horse isn't going to be doing anything between lessons, then it's not safe for me to use her for the other 2 lessons (the daughter rides on the two days I have my 2 other lessons, which means the green horse will do nothing for 5 days out of the cold, winter week), and that she will therefore need to pay me for lessons/training rides/lunges moving forward as of February 1st. I explained that I can't put the safety of my other students at risk if the horse is sitting for 5 days a week. If she wants me to get on the horse to make sure she's safe during her daughter's allotted lesson times, I told her I would be happy to. Then I sent her the link with the barn's rate sheet on it, so she can see what the fees are, so that way there is no confusion for the month moving forward.

                                We'll see what happens next. Thank you all. What an awkward situation I've put myself in, nice person or not. Ugh.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Martha Drum View Post
                                  Many folks will have had different experiences from mine, but: every time I have "bartered" or "traded" boarding, lessons or services at my barn, I felt I got taken advantage of. Maybe I'm just a crappy negotiator. I never do this anymore, ever.

                                  Agree with the advice to politely and clearly set out terms for this month, and then (leaving that letter in the desk drawer), just let them go.
                                  *************

                                  I think this is true and an indication of modern human nature!!! People always seem to take all they can from a situation with little regard for a generous, caring person. My father (a corporate vice president) used to say this..."Do a friend a favor and you'll get your just reward....SCREWED!!" Very sad, but true. It may not be your nature, but you have to look out for yourself. Your client is going to resent everything you say and do from this point forward....they got "caught" taking advantage of a good person. Feelings WILL be bitter, but you do have to look out for yourself. Good luck.
                                  www.crosscreeksporthorses.com
                                  Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Well I AM a therapist and I think you did great, even if you feel now as though you did too much! Thats a good signal to back up a bit, but it still sounds like you made a huge difference in this girl's life. Her family is probably doing the best they can (and clearly need to do more, in the way of actual therapy, which we KNOW is helpful!) As frustrating as it is, if you have not set out prices and all that so far, i probably wouldn't at this point, but consider it a very good learning process (and we all have them - AFGOs - Another F'king Growth Opportunity!!) i would not do anything different, just let the horse go back, let the family go (and the girl will remember you really well, always a good thing!) and NEXT time, you'llhave your price sheet and so on.

                                    Still think you did fine! And can see why you are frustrated!

                                    Comment

                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Originally posted by lilitiger2 View Post
                                      Well I AM a therapist and I think you did great, even if you feel now as though you did too much! Thats a good signal to back up a bit, but it still sounds like you made a huge difference in this girl's life. Her family is probably doing the best they can (and clearly need to do more, in the way of actual therapy, which we KNOW is helpful!) As frustrating as it is, if you have not set out prices and all that so far, i probably wouldn't at this point, but consider it a very good learning process (and we all have them - AFGOs - Another F'king Growth Opportunity!!) i would not do anything different, just let the horse go back, let the family go (and the girl will remember you really well, always a good thing!) and NEXT time, you'llhave your price sheet and so on.

                                      Still think you did fine! And can see why you are frustrated!
                                      Thank you! I love AFGO--I use it ALL the time!

                                      I'm not sure I could stomach the next month of the status quo at this point, so I did send them rates, etc. If they can't do it, that's fine at this point. I've done all I can for them without getting really angry and resentful. If I do any more for nothing, I will only end up hating them--well, really, only hating myself, and no client is worth that, but most especially the non-paying kind.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        They went to that barn BECAUSE you did the deal with them to make it more affordable, to back out of that deal while they finish the 30 days is unfair...you should be held to the same 30 days in my opinion.

                                        She likely figured that you were running a business and that the "deals" you made for her were mutually beneficial.. She may even have friends telling her "you pay how much for board? My daughter has her horse somewhere for half that!" and think she is getting taken advantage of board wise and you are making your money that way.

                                        When you give things for free, that is the value they have. To expect the mother to know different is unreasonible.

                                        How to proceed? If you want to loose the client then hand them a rate sheet and start billing for the things you previously did for free. Think about how that will look to the mom who is likely clueless about what other clients pay...it will look like you are trying to milk them for money while they still have a horse.

                                        I would talk to her and come up with a compromise that allows the kid to enjoy the last month with you and the horse. If they decide to get another horse, then make sure they know the full costs and are prepared for it in advance
                                        Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

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