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Barn manager drinks

From: Cindy

Dear Jessica, I don't dare ask anyone local about this, and please use the name "Cindy" (not my real name) if you answer this which I hope you do. My daughter has been taking riding lessons with a woman I will call "Mary" (not her real name) for three years. She has learned a lot and done very well at the barn shows and at two local shows. "Mary" seems to be a good teacher and her barn is clean, the horses are healthy and so on. My worry is that I am afraid she is an alcoholic and managing to hide it from most people, and that she will become a danger to her students. Let me tell you why I worry about this.

A year ago I was out at the barn helping my daughter get ready for one of the barn shows, and I cut my hand. The barn bathroom was out of order so "Mary" told me to go up to the house and use her bathroom and first aid box. I was a little dizzy and she offered to come with me and said I could sit at her kitchen table until I felt better. She asked me if I wanted a drink and I said okay, then she opened the fridge and I saw that there were a lot of beer bottles at the back. She didn't say anything about them and neither did I. I thought maybe she had a party or something that night, but ever since then I've made up an excuse every couple of months to go use her bathroom at the house, and I've checked the fridge every time and she ALWAYS has the top shelf half full of beer bottles. I've thought about taking my daughter away from the barn, but it would break her heart, she loves "Mary" and like I said she has learned a lot. I've never smelled alcohol on "Mary" but I worry all the time, now that I know she has beer in her fridge all the time. I am bringing up my daughter alone because my husband left us when she was seven, she is eleven now, he couldn't deal with responsibility and all he wanted to do was drink, he lost all his jobs because of alcoholism and finally he just walked out on us. I won't allow alcohol in my house. I feel like I should talk to "Mary" about the danger she is putting herself and all the children into because of her drinking, but I don't know if I can, I just start to hyperventilate and cry when I let myself think about this situation. What should I do? I know this isn't really only a "horse" question but I just don't know what to do, my daughter loves horses so much, riding is a big part of her life and it has helped keep her normal since her Dad walked out. Her teachers tell me she is a good kid who seems real well balanced in her life, and I'm sure it's because of the horses and riding, and also probably some because of Mary. So you can understand why I don't want to take her away from Mary, but I can't let her depend on another alcoholic. I don't know what to do about this, please please help me. I don't know many people around here except at work, I can't ask them about this, and I just don't know what to do, and I can't sleep.


Hi Cindy - This isn't something I would normally tackle in HORSE-SENSE, but the issue of alcoholic barn staff is often all too real. I can't tell you what this individual's habits are, but I can offer some observations and suggestions based on many years of experience with many managers at different barns.

Let me begin by discussing the "horse" part of your question. One thing I've learned is that people must be judged by how they behave and what they actually DO, not by what they say, and not by what they spend (or don't spend) on advertising. If someone manages a barn, you need to look at the condition of the barn, and look at how well it is run. If someone looks after horses, look at the condition of the horses. If someone teaches riding, look at the students, and the horses, and the tack - and the barn! You say that your daughter has been making good progress, and that all those things are fine - and those are the matters that should concern you. I understand that your personal experiences make you very sensitive to any mention of alcohol, but I think that your sensitivity may be causing you to see "Mary" in the wrong light. Let's take a look.

Although she is definitely an important and influential figure in your daughter's life, "Mary" is not your husband, and I'm not at all sure that she has an alcohol problem. "Mary" does not seem to be avoiding her responsibilities - you said yourself that she seems to be a good teacher, that her barn is clean and her horses healthy. I have known alcoholics and other substance abusers who owned barns and taught lessons. Their up-and-down mood swings were dramatically obvious to all, they were neither responsible nor reliable, and believe me, the words "clean barn", "healthy horses", and "good teacher" did not EVER apply. Everything you've said about "Mary", on the other hand, describes a reliable professional who was kind enough to help you when you cut yourself, and who doesn't seem to have any problem with you using the bathroom at the house rather than the one at the barn. This doesn't give the impression of someone who has anything to hide.

Beer in the house fridge is not necessarily a sign of an alcohol problem. It isn't even necessarily a sign of regular beer-drinking. The last time I moved, I found two bottles of beer at the back of MY fridge, behind an inexplicably large number of bottles of mustard. I couldn't figure out how the beer had gotten there, then realized that it must have been back there for almost a year. Someone had brought half a dozen bottles to a long-ago party, and the two leftover beers had been in the back of my fridge ever since. If you had looked in my fridge every two months, or every two weeks, or every two days, for that year, you would have been absolutely correct to say that there was "always" beer in the fridge... but you might not have realized that it was always the same two beers! Right now, there are two bottles of a soft drink in my fridge (also left over from a party), and it's not a drink that I like, so those bottles will sit there until a visitor or student decides to drink them. Someone who looked in my fridge frequently might well come to the conclusion that I must love this soft drink, since it's always in my fridge...

And now, to go even farther afield from the subject of horses, and farther from my own area of expertise! If I may, I would like to suggest that you get some professional counseling. It sounds to me as if you've done a terrific job of keeping your life together, raising your daughter alone, and managing to make horses and riding part of your daughter's life. That's wonderful. But you are obviously under a lot of emotional stress to do with your husband and his alcoholism, and at this point, it looks to me as though it's simply too much stress for you to continue trying to handle alone. You definitely need to get some sleep, and some rest, and some peace, and I suspect that in order to get those things, you will need to have someone to talk with about your husband, your daughter, horses, the barn, "Mary", and everything else that's on your mind. I think you're wise to look for someone away from your job, but you do need someone who is nearby and to whom you can have regular access, and I strongly advise that you enlist the help of a professional as soon as possible. If you'll contact whomever runs the local Alcoholics Anonymous office, you'll probably get some excellent suggestions; at the very least, you'll be able to get in touch with people who understand what you've gone through and what you are going through now. You've been through a lot, you need and deserve some real help, and I hope you get it.

Good luck!


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