My Dream Job Turned Nightmare
It’s been about 6 years since I’ve posted anything to this blog, not because I didn’t want to, but because I graduated college and began trying to make a living. I’m posting today because I have a story that I’ve been meaning to write down for a while about what happened to me right out of school.
The story below is not complete, unfortunately more than what I’ve written happened, but I feel like it’s important for me to write at least a part of it down to share my experience. It was the job of my dreams, but ended up being one of the worst experiences of my life.
My hope is that if you’re reading this, and you’re experiencing similar problems as I did, that this story will serve as a warning. I hope if you are going through a similar situation, that this will help you decide to get out.
In the beginning
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Studies in the spring of 2013. After school I had no long term jobs lined up. I had a grooming gig in June, and my next door neighbor had given me permission to use her indoor arena to give lessons to the students I didn’t have. After working for some successful trainers in the past I knew in my heart that I absolutely did not want to be an assistant trainer like most of my classmates did (which is a whole different story) so I was determined that I would be a self employed, struggling young horse trainer.
Near the end of July word got around to me that a big barn only 15 minutes away was looking to hire a head trainer who could also provide lessons, and I knew I had to figure out a way to interview. One way or another, I received a phone call from one of the owners, let’s call him Toby. I talked with Toby for a while and found that we were looking for the same thing. I was looking for a barn to train and give lessons out of, while he was looking for a trainer to elevate his hobby farm into an all inclusive equine facility with training, lessons, and board. After some time on the phone we set up a time for me to come over to the place for an interview.
When I found the place, I pulled up to a long gravel drive with large white iron gates, leading to an enormous white farmhouse, and beautiful modern looking barn. The picture was complete with free range chickens, goats, miniature donkeys, peacocks, and of course, horses. It was a great first impression. I met Toby outside, and he introduced me to his husband, let’s call him Randall. Toby and Randall proceeded to show me around.
The barn was insulated and heated with about ten modern wooden stalls, an insulated and heated tack room, feed room, and bathroom. The indoor arena was connected to the barn, and was absolutely enormous. It was a bit older that the barn was, but had six stalls of its own, a hay loft, a heating strip, and sprinklers attached to the ceiling to water the arena when it got dry. There was another heated building they would rent out for events like weddings. It was heated with the main floor being a conference type room, a loft with a gorgeous wooden ceiling they would host parties in, and the basement was a sterile area they would use to milk their goats. This was the barn of my dreams.
I talked to them about my aspirations, dreams, and goals, and basically nailed the interview. I got the job.
Three months after graduating college I had gotten my dream job. Head trainer and coach at a beautiful modern barn, just minutes from my home. I was on cloud nine.
Above is one of the miniature donkeys running in the pen
Red Flag #1: Where are the clients?
I began by moving the small amount of lessons students I had over to my new barn, and started to train Toby’s horses, along with some of the horses that were already boarded at the barn. There were already two stable hands, so I didn’t need to clean a single stall, just train and teach. Needless to say, I did not have enough clients to have enough work to keep me occupied for a full 48 hour work week, so I began advertising. I created flyers, a facebook page, made my own website, took out an ad in a local horse magazine, etc; but still after about 4 months of advertising, not a single new boarder, or horse owner even attempted to contact me.
“Why?!,” I thought. Literally the only time I was contacted for board was a scam (which is another story), and not a single person has contacted me for training. Sure I was training five horses, but two of them were my mom’s, and the others were either Toby’s or existing border’s horses. My goal was to get at least 10 total because I could handle that amount on my own, which never happened.
I decided that it must just have been my lack of experience, I was fresh out of college, and people who pay for training, want a trainer who has had decades under their belt. That’s what I thought. The entirety of time I worked there I only succeeded to bring in one horse in training, whose family I had given lessons to in the past. Nobody wanted to bring their horses to this place.
Red Flag #2: The Help
When I began working at this farm there were two stable hands who did the chores, while I was the trainer and instructor. After a couple of months one of the stable hands quit, which I saw as an opportunity. I quickly jumped in and asked to take her spot, which Toby and Randall had no issues with. This way I could care for the horses the way I wanted, and get a little extra income as well.
I loved helping run the barn. I wanted to maintain an image of cleanliness, and professionalism in the barn to help lure in potential clients, and to keep existing ones around.
After some time the other stable hand left, and a new one came in, then after a few months, he left and another took his place. Over the course of the year and a half I was there, there ended up being five different stable hands, including me.
That’s right five. In a year and a half. That’s an average of 3.6 months of work per person. The turn over rate was unbelievable.
Red Flag #3: A Split
That November I found out that Toby and Randall had a huge argument, and that Randall had moved out. I was shocked. I came by the barn to talk to Toby because I was scared for my job. This was a large facility for only one source of income to keep it afloat, especially because we were struggling to get clients.
He told me not to worry about my job, he was still going to keep the place, but there was going to be changes. Randall had been in charge of the goats, so Toby told me that he would pay me a commission if I were to sell the herd of goats, and the three goat milking stands. He also told me he’d like to sell two miniature horses, a mountain of tack, a miniature driving harness and cart, a large cart and harness, a Fjord horse, a rescue horse, and his show horse (which again is a different story). Basically, he needed to downsize in order to keep afloat.
“Sure! I can sell some things!” I decided that I needed to work on my salesmanship anyway, and this would make me some good money.
Above is my personal horse meeting one of the mini horses for the first time
Red Flag #4: The Goats
I first inventoried everything that Toby wanted me to sell, and began to price out the things I was familiar with, which was all of the equine things, but I had no clue how to decide what to price these goats at.
Luckily for me, me best friend had bred and raised goats her entire life, so I called her up and she agreed to come out to help me price out these goats.
The second she saw this herd of goats she froze. “What is it?” I asked.
She said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t even want to touch these goats.” I was confused, they looked like your typical herd of goats to me, but I am not a goat person. She explained that she could tell immediately that these goats had a disease that was extremely contagious. She didn’t want to go near them for fear that she would infect her own herd.
WTF was I supposed to do with a diseased heard of goats?! Did Toby and Randall know they were using diseased goats to make their goats cheese, and soaps that they were selling to people?!
I asked her what she thought these goats were worth. She said that I could probably get about $75 per goat, but they were basically mutts, with no conformational correctness, and they had an incurable, highly contagious pathogen.
I told Toby what my friend had said and he didn’t seemed phased at all. He liked the idea of selling them for $75 each, and seemed more excited than concerned. A bit confused, I listed them on Craigslist, and I ended up selling them in batches to a couple of different buyers.
The day before a buyer was scheduled to come, I noticed that one of the goats was laying down during feeding time when normally, the goats are trying to crawl up the walls to get at their feed. I went inside the pen to check on her, and she wouldn’t get up. I was pushing her, trying to lift her, kicking her, anything to get her up on her feet. I called Toby and told him the situation, and he said to give her a shot of penicillin and she should be fine.
Now, I’m not a vet, but I know enough about veterinary medicine to know that giving this goat one shot of penicillin, at this stage of her illness, was not going to do anything significant.
Eventually, the other barn worker came into the barn, and he helped me carry her into the heated side of the barn since she was sick, and it was very cold out. I then skeptically gave her the shot of penicillin I was instructed to give her and went home.
The next day was the day a goat buyer was scheduled to arrive, and I was going through my head all of the things I would have to say if the buyer saw this sickly goat. But when I got to the barn that morning, the goat had already passed. With no time to grieve or think, I quickly asked the stable hand to help me dispose of this goat, and we threw her body into the dumpster out front.
The buyer came and picked up the last of the goats that day without ever knowing that there was a dead goat in the dumpster out front, and I sold the goats for around $25 each instead of $75.
Looking back on this incident still infuriates me. Not only did Toby allow this goat to die with no remorse, but I was put in a position that went completely against my morals. I was selling innocent people sickly goats, that would infect their own herds, while hiding the bodies of dead goats in the dumpster out front. At the time I desperately wanted this job so I did everything that Toby asked of me, and I knew these goats would be going to better homes than what they were living in at the time. However, if I were in the same situation again, I would refuse to be a part of it.
There are other facets to the goat story, but this was the main story. I’ll continue.
Red Flag #5: The facility
That year there was a propane shortage making the cost of propane skyrocket. Unluckily for us, the barn was heated with propane. So, because I live in Minnesota, the pipes in the barn froze when the propane ran out. This was a big problem because of the plumbing in the bathroom in the barn, and because all of the water was automatic. Meaning there was no source of water for the horses.
After scrambling to figure out a way to get the horses water, Toby bought a new heater that used gasoline instead of propane, so the barn could be heated. The problem was, the heater needed to be turned off when there was no one in the barn.
I’m sure you know what is coming next.
Because of the constant freezing and thawing of the pipes in the barn, that barn flooded. It flooded almost three times a week. The other employee at the barn was proficient at fixing the leaks that we found, but the flooding became comically consistent. The tack room was q pond, the stalls were submerged, the feedroom was a swamp. I have never in my life spent so much time getting rid of water, I felt like I was on a sinking ship, and only had a little bucket to throw the water overboard.
Despite the barn consistently underwater, the footing in the arena was always bone dry. The sprinklers on the ceiling seemed like a good idea, but only a fraction of the dirt in the arena got wet, and it took hours before there was any noticable difference in the moisture of the dirt. I would turn the sprinklers on when I arrived, and only turned them off when I needed to ride. The spots in the arena that were not under the sprinklers were always dry enough to suck the moisture out of your lungs, and of course they didn’t work in the winter
The barn never smelled good. This is a strange complaint, but as many horse owners know, horse barns usually have a good sweet, horsey smell. Not this barn. It didn’t matter how often I would clean, there was always a mixed scent of mold, cat poop, chicken poop, and dust.
The stalls were incredibly hard to clean because the floors of the stalls were soft dirt. Any experienced stall cleaner will tell you that soft dirt is not an ideal footing to create a clean stall. The dirt would mix with the wood shavings, and would make the wheelbarrow extremely heavy, you could never get all of the urine out because it would soak into the ground, etc.
Lastly turn out pens were dangerous. Not only were they full of slippery mud, the fences themselves were a danger to the horses. At one point the horse I would use for lessons eventually ended up tearing a piece of her shoulder that was about a finger length deep, and around 6×6’ wide.
NONE of these problems were EVER fixed, and trust me, I complained to Toby. The barn was underwater, the arena was a desert, the whole place stank, the stalls were impossible to clean correctly, and turn out for the horses was simply dangerous, but It was as if none of that seemed to matter to him.
Red Flag #6: Black Out
One day, while cleaning stalls suddenly all of the lights went out. After checking, I found that none of the electricity in the barn was working at all. I immediately contacted Toby and he assured me calmly that the power would be on in about an hour, and sure enough it was.
I happily continued working when the most recent stable hand Pete (who we’ll talk more about later) walked into the barn and exclaimed, “You’ll never believe what just happened!”
“I just got back from the electric company and paid $2,000 on an overdue electricity bill!” Pete explained that the only reason he paid the bill for Toby was because he owed him rent money.
As it turned out Toby owed $7,000 on overdue electricity! To power my two bedroom house costs me about $60 per month, which I know is not comparable to an entire equine facility, but 7 grand is absolutely unreal. Who doesn’t pay their electricity bill?! Meanwhile, while he owed this much money, he had bought two new horses, was paying me a lot of money per month in training fees, and had other exorbitant expenses, whilst never paying for his electricity.
Red Flag #7: Dogs held Hostage
Pete was employed at the barn the longest out of any of the others, (except for me). Pete didn’t know anything about horses, but he was an extra pair of hands. He always was friendly to me, but I could tell that Pete had a temper. I would often see him completely red in the face fuming about one thing or another, and he would often make me feel uneasy.
For a long time, I directed most of my frustrations about the facility at Pete, and blamed him for the problems with the barn. I was not wrong in feeling uneasy about Pete, but I was wrong in thinking he was the problem.
The only thing in life that Pete loved were his two big beautiful black Dobermans. They were incredible dogs to behold, and they were his life.
One day I received a text from Toby that basically read “Do not trust anything Pete will tell you, he’s a convicted felon, and con artist. He cons people for a living, don’t believe anything he tells you.”
Then I received another text from Pete, with pictures of the front gates closed and police cars out front saying, “Toby is holding my dogs hostage. Help me get my dogs back , hes blackmailing me into giving him money and he has my dogs!”
I didn’t go out to the barn that day. There was no way I was getting involved with what was going down, especially because the police were involved. As it turns out they were both telling the truth. Pete’s children had contacted Toby to warn him that he was a convicted con artist, and for some reason, Toby felt it necessary to hold Pete’s dogs hostage.
The Last Straw
One day shortly after the hostage situation, I heard it through the grapevine, that Toby had listed his farm for sale. I was not surprised to learn that it was for sale, but astonished that I had failed to learn from my boss that he was selling the farm in which my livelihood depended. How could someone be so thoughtless? What kind of person is so delusional that they thought they could sell their farm, without their barn manager, and head trainer finding out?!
I did not confront Toby. Instead I continued working, as if everything was normal, and in secret I slowly gathered all of the belongings I had at the barn day by day and brought them home. I brought my old 4H horse from my parents house, to a barn down the road and told my lesson students that I was moving my lessons to a new barn, without telling Toby.
I continued to train the horses he was paying me for while at the same time quietly slipping away from him.
Finally, one day I received a text from Toby.
He texted me a sob story saying how he was giving up on his childhood dreams, that he was too ill to continue to ride horses, and that he was heartbroken to tell me that he that he didn’t need me to come to the barn to train his horses anymore because he could no longer ride, and that he was selling the barn.
He had texted me to fire me, and he wanted me to give him my condolences at the same time. I didn’t respond.
He chose to fire me via text, so I chose to ghost him.
I have never spoken to him since.
He has sent me some vicious words via Facebook Messenger since, but I deleted them without reading them. I refused to indulge in his delusions anymore. I had already gotten all of my things out of the barn, and I didn’t want his money anymore. I had no reason to go back, and I didn’t have anything nice to say to him so I decided to not say anything at all.
I felt free.
After a year and a half of working at this hell hole, I finally came to the realization that it didn’t matter how hard I wanted this place to work, it was just not going to. I realized that the problems with the facility, the help, the goats, the lack of clients, weren’t because I wasn’t working hard enough. It had stemmed from Toby. I had so much faith and hope in him and his place, and had so much ambition, that I was blinded by the fact that Toby was the problem. I finally came to the understanding that if the owner of the business that I wanted to succeed was the reason that it was failing, it didn’t matter how hard I worked at it, it was destined to fail.
After I left, horse people from all around would approach me to tell me how relieved they were that I wasn’t working for Toby anymore. People who had worked for him in the past, people who saw what had happened to me in the present, people I did and didn’t know. It was then I knew had gotten out of a bad situation.
Was ghosting him the way I should have handled it? Probably not. But I had no problems burning this bridge.
There are other sad and frustrating stories to be told about this place and my time there, but these seem to be the most important. I hope that by telling these stories, I can help someone else who is having the same issues in their workplace to gain the courage to quit.
Look for these red flags when assessing if your place of employment is right for you.
- No new clients/ no new business
- A quick turnover of employees
- A rift or split between owners of the business
- An amoral or neglectful business practice
- A facility that keeps breaking down
- Failure to pay utility bills
- Employee/coworker drama.
- Lack of admitting mistakes on the part of the employer
A year and a half doesn’t seem like a long time to stay employed in one place, but I am angry at myself for not leaving sooner. I wore rose colored glasses for too long, and looking back I wish I had gotten myself out of there.
Toby eventually did sell the farm, and thankfully it is now owned by a wonderfully competent couple who train Saddlebreds, and have updated and fixed the place up.
I have so many other awful stories from my time working at this barn, that if any of you are interested in hearing them, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!
One of the many cats that were at the barn