#RideWithYourTribe: Community, Teamwork and the Importance of Positive Barn Culture

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

I truly believe that continuing education is a pivotal point of working in the horse industry, and last weekend I was lucky enough to audit the Daniel Stewart clinic at Skylark Equestrian in Brentwood, California.

As one of the equestrian world’s leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics and performance, Daniel is a popular coach and clinician who focuses on fitness of both body and mind. He opened the session by engaging in a group discussion about communication, collaboration, and why working as a team is always a better plan than working by yourself. We talked about building a tribe, and creating a positive barn culture for people and humans alike. He told funny stories of Super Chickens vs. Regular Chickens while we discussed how barn dynamics influence your riding, your clients’ progression, and your horses’ happiness — something that has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.

This month last year I took a leap of faith and decided to open my own event barn. It happened in a matter of 72 hours and before I knew it, I had a team of clients and horses, at a new facility, with new barn owners and boarders, ready for whatever crazy and ridiculous journey I was about to take us on. It had its up and downs of course, but this wild, exhausting and adventurous year really cemented everything Daniel said about tribe and barn culture.

During those three days of limbo last March, I was able to give thought and time to the hows/whys and if this whole journey would pan out. I began my riding and professional career at a barn whose core pillar was to build a tribe that supports inclusion, learning, and community. I spent years learning how to train and teach through these methods, never once stepping foot in a show arena. But then I got hooked on eventing and there was no turning back.

I wrote down everything, for 72 hours, and kept going back to that word: tribe. I knew I wanted a competition barn where the kids were able to challenge themselves in a supportive environment. I needed horses that were safe teammates for them to love and learn on, through 20-meter circles and finish flags. I wanted to build connections with trainers in the area and create a process of individual journeys but team successes. Most of all, I hoped to bring the same barn dynamic of laughing, loving, and just “being” at the barn — the dynamic I had grown up with — with a competitive energy as well.

Reflecting on this past year, Daniel is right. If you want to be truly successful, you must have a tribe. People that will push you, support you, and be your sounding board. Clients and friends who will encourage you to question decisions, and never let you settle. Someone you can call when things go haywire and who who will also share in your success. In eventing, the tribe comes easier. Jump judges, working students, haulers — we all basically need a tribe to survive. You pave your way through friendships and working together, which is my favorite thing about our wonderful sport.

One of the clinic’s attending trainers, Michelle Emmermann, started the hashtag #ridewithyourtribe. I decided that this is one of my professional goals for this upcoming year — to collaborate effectively, communicate better, and ride more with the people that make up my wacky, lovable, and supportive tribe.

Thank you Alex Skylark for hosting, Daniel Stewart for teaching, and Jordan Good for letting me tag along. Go Eventing!