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Breed prejudice: finding a stable

From: Amanda

Jessica,

I have been looking for a dressage-oriented barn in my area for my 13-year-old Appaloosa mare (I am moving to a new area, about 20 miles from my home now).  She is recovering from a stifle injury, and I want to find an instructor who can help me with some retraining.  It's a long story, but the bottom line is I don't know too much about her training history. She is sound, and needs retraining to rid her of some bad habits--like not engaging her hind end enough.  This all should be fairly easy, since I live in the Northeastern part of the country where there are tons of barns, many of which are dressage barns.

The problem is, many stables that I have called or visited seem to have a real prejudice against Appaloosas.  They always ask me what kind of horse I have, and when I tell them I have an Appaloosa mare, I get a very distinct response. One man said, "Well, I only accept people who are interested in showing" implying that if I have an App of course I would not be interested in showing!  Another woman who trains up to Grand Prix was very rude when I told her what kind of horse I have. She told me I'd never be able to show her and seemed to imply that HER barn was much to "good" for an Appaloosa--she made it quite clear that they didn't have any at her barn and was very curt with me. She obviously wanted me to stop wasting her time. Yet another instructor at another barn grilled me on the phone about my horse. She reluctantly told me I could come visit her stable, but that she would "of course" segregate my mare from her geldings.  A lot of barns told me they do this--segregate the mares and geldings. One barn told me they don't "accept" any mares at all.

I love my horse and I think she is *beautiful.*  She's tall and very forward-moving, and she isn't built like a stocky Quarter Horse type of App; she looks more like a long-legged TB, and in fact, if you dyed her chestnut, you'd mistake her for one!  Her roan coloring makes her look more like a gray than anything else.  But what does her coloring or her breed have to do with finding an open stall at a respectable stable? I don't even want to show--I just want to do some retraining with the help of a good trainer.

I feel like because I have an Appaloosa who also happens to be a mare I am doomed in the world of dressage barns (and not even show barns at that). I never thought that finding a new barn would be so difficult.

I am very discouraged. I hope you can offer me some words of wisdom or advice or comfort or something.

Thanks for listening,

Amanda


Hi Amanda!

How about some words of sympathy? I'm very sorry that you're encountering this sort of prejudice. It's silly and unfair, but often people ARE silly and unfair, and you may as well weed out all of the obvious "impossible" barns before you move. Just cross them off your list when the instructors/trainers react in this way.

If it's any comfort, these are clearly not people who would be of much help to you in any case, no matter what kind of horse you owned. It sounds to me as if you want a real dressage instructor/trainer -- someone who can help you become the best rider you can be, and someone who can help you help your mare become the best horse she can be! Dressage is for ALL horses, and although not all horses are going to have the potential to win in dressage competitions, that's just one aspect of the discipline. To some of us, it's the least important aspect of the discipline.   The people you've talked to are just displaying their ignorance -- they obviously don't have an appreciation of the real nature and meaning of dressage. They equally obviously don't know that Appaloosas come in a variety of styles! Yours sounds like a racing-type Appaloosa. Their pedigrees -- like those of many European Warmbloods, by the way -- feature a LOT of Thoroughbred blood.

Don't be angry with these people -- just look somewhere else. You can't learn from someone who doesn't want to teach you, and you can't get help for your horse from someone who doesn't think she's worth working with.

Having said all that, now let me offer a few thoughts in the defense of the people you talked to. ;-)

Some facilities are strictly show-oriented, and all of the riding and teaching is geared toward that goal. At many such facilities, all riding is done indoors, according to a strict schedule -- you probably wouldn't enjoy being there anyway, if showing isn't your main interest. When someone says "this barn is only for people who show", LISTEN -- that's useful information. When a facility is set up for ONE activity only, don't go there unless that single activity is all you want to do. It doesn't matter what the activity is -- it could be barrel-racing -- but if you want to participate in a variety of different activities, you'll need to find a facility that makes this possible. ;-) And similarly, if someone has set up a facility that caters to ONE type of competitive activity, that person is likely to want boarders and students who are equally interested in that ONE activity. It's not an excuse for being rude, but it makes sense, doesn't it?

The "mare" question is a different one. Some barn owners prefer to have only geldings, or keep a balance between mares and geldings -- not because of prejudice but because they have limited turnout space. Let's say, just for example that YOU are a barn-owner. If you have a barn with two small pastures, and each pasture can accommodate a maximum of four horses, you'll want to have all geldings or four geldings and four mares, so that you can keep them separated. If you have three geldings and four mares, and someone calls to ask if they can bring in another horse, you'll tend to encourage them if they own a gelding, and discourage them if they own a mare, because adding another mare will overcrowd your small pasture. At that point, you may not be "accepting" any mares! ;-)

As for the mixed-turnout question, there are good reasons for separating mares and geldings; I've gone over those reasons several times before, and you'll find more information in the HORSE-SENSE archives. If someone tells you that a facility offers separate turnout for mares and geldings, that's not prejudice, it's just good horse management, and it's a "plus", not a "minus".

As for the instructor -- keep looking. A good teacher will know that dressage means training, not "training for Warmblood geldings only", and a good teacher will want to help you and your horse. You might consider looking for the instructor and the barn separately -- in other words, try to find the best possible instructor FIRST, and then ask that instructor to recommend a boarding barn that will suit you and your horse (and allow your instructor to come in and teach you, of course). Looking for a barn and a teacher can be very frustrating, but it's not nearly as frustrating as finding a barn, moving your horse in, and THEN finding that you really want to take lessons from someone who doesn't teach at that barn. If you look for the barn first, be sure that the terms of your boarding contract will allow you to bring in the instructor of your choice. That way, your options will be open.

Good luck! Appaloosas are terrific horses: intelligent, athletic, and strong. There are Appaloosa sport horses doing very well in dressage, and there's no reason that yours can't be one of them, whether you choose to compete or not. Keep looking until you find an instructor who appreciates your mare, and until you find a barn where you don't feel that you're expected to apologize for your choice of breed -- that's tiresome, and gets old very, very fast.

Jessica

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