by Mary Paine
Hope everyone is going to have a wonderful holiday weekend with some great time with their favorite horses!
Overall, I've been very fortunate to have received wonderful feedback on my first novel, A Dangerous Dream. However, I had an interesting comment from one reader that I would love to get some more opinions on. In A Dangerous Dream the setting is a hunter jumper facility whose trainers show at the Grand Prix Level. The junior riders are primarily training for Medal/Maclay. The barn manager is a talented woman with a gift for horse care, veterinary needs, barn and staff management who doesn't have the same level of interest in being in the saddle. My lead character, Melissa, is hired as her assistant. Melissa has a great love for horses and experience working with a veterinarian and teaching beginner level riders. What she does not have is a great deal of formal training in the saddle, either.
I wrote a scene where Melissa is taking a lesson and working on seeing her distance. Now personally, I was riding for many years before I really nailed this skill and to be honest, I was always hard pressed to be really confident about my approach when I was more than three or four strides out.
The comment from the reader was that no barn would hire a barn staff member to be an assistant who was not skilled in counting strides. I've been at a couple of very high quality barns where there was a barn manager or assistant I felt very happy trusting my horses' care to who weren't really great riders. Their focus, and their love, was for caring for the horses from the ground. This was perfectly okay with me as we had trainers to school the horses.
What has your experience been? Do you feel the staff at a hunter jumper barn need to be comfortable with jumping in order to meet the job requirements of caring for the horses?
I'm going to have many more books (I hope) with equestrian settings, so I definitely want to make sure my settings are realistic to my readers.
Happy Holiday, Everyone!
I know managers that get hired in other professions that don't know diddly about what they are managing so, why not?
I train in western events on the AQHA circuit, but there is a hunter jumper trainer at our barn, so I do see the hunter jumper world from a slight distance. I think a barn manager needs to know how to work with horses on the ground, how to recognize a horse in distress, do simple first aid, etc, but I don't think they need to know how to ride unless their job dictates that they exercise the horses under saddle. So what if the assistant can't count strides - was she hired as a trainer? Sounds like she wasn't.
When I took my first lesson, my instructor (and friend), Tina, told me, "You're going to meet a lot of people who take one lesson and act like they know everything."
You sound like you know your world and how to make it believable for your readers. The one person who kvetched is either a "glass half empty" soul, or that know-it-all my friend Tina warned me about.
When I was hired on as an assistant I didn't know everything I needed to know to show. That's why I was an assistant!
I was there working myself to death in order to learn. I was a decent hand and was extremely knowledgable on the ground, but still learning for the show scene.
If I had known it all I wouldn't have had to be the assistant.
While I'm not at a hunter/jumper barn, we do have our group of riders who jump and event, as well as the western, trail, 4-H, saddleseat and dressage people. It makes for one crazy barn, I can assure you. With around 75 horses there, about 25 of them stay outside, and the rest are stalled. The man who's in charge of feeding, stalls and turn out six days a week would be hard pressed to put a saddle on correctly. Yet, everytime there's ever a health issue with a horse, he's the first to spot it.
I don't think those in charge of a horse need to ride, I do think they should know enough about riding and the diciplines they're around to see when something is unsafe.
H'mmm. I can't see why she'd need to jump as an assistant barn manger, and not a trainer. Unless hunter-jumper barns are radically different from sj / hunter / eventing / mixed livery barns, she certainly wouldn't normally be expected to school horses over fences as an assistant barn manager.
Admitted, I don't know jack about the hunter-jumper world, but I did groom/ride for an Olympic showjumper if that counts? And incidentally, I've always been rotten at seeing a stride myself.
Woo-hoo! Thanks, everybody. Your feedback was a shot in the arm for me. I rode in hunter jumper barns for so many years writing those settings seems like going home, so this reader's comment confused me a little. She was certainly entitled to her opinion, but I'm sure glad it's not a universal one!
I've had many stable jobs in the past..basic mucker to barn manager. I am actually a very good rider, but in these types of positions it was not intended for my job to have any riding of other peoples horses whatsoever, so I feel as long as I was/am completely capable of taking care of the horses, how well you ride is of little importance.
I currently have a job as a mucker/groom etc...but part of the requirements for the job was to be able to and comfortable with exercising/training babies and some stallions. But that was in the job description.
So, though that might be the one commenters experience, I feel that you are more so on the right track with Melissa...after all, even not so great riders that love horses should be able to take care of and work with them at some capacity!
Keep up the great work!
I realize I'm late to this discussion, but I do know that someone can be an excellent horse keeper but lousy at the business skills that keep a barn running and making money.
IMO, the horse person who describes themselves as an expert usually isn't. And I'm not trying to be insulting but just stating the very human fact that a person can't know everything about all aspects of a topic. It's just not possible.
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