Dealing with difficult parents

Looking for advice or maybe just sympathy…

I have a small h/j lesson program, all of my clients own their own horses. I have a lovely group of adult ammy riders who are doing 2-3 lessons a week and hacks on their own on other days. They all are lower level riders, re-riders, nervous/anxious riders, are people I genuinely enjoy teaching, and we have a lot of fun and have success at our local show series.

However, currently I have one teenage rider who is a challenge, along with her parents, who have turned in to quite the difficult people to deal with. Don’t really want to dive in to all of the history, but current issue is that this particular student has not taken a lesson in 3+ weeks due to vacations and scheduling, and now wants to show in two weeks. I have a policy of at least two lessons a week prior to a show, and after presenting my scheduling options parents can’t get her there to get the lessons in. I let them know I am not comfortable taking rider/horse to a show with such little prep, and they are quite upset with me. I want student to show, but more important than a show is having a good experience and their money/my time be well spent. My policy and expectations are clear, I have been kind and have attempted to be flexible (within my scheduling limits), but they are quite unsatisfied/upset.

Am I being unreasonable? What am I missing. This is not the first issue with these clients, but I do like student and tend to try and make things work. But my emotional energy is waning. Thanks, all.

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your call as your Students represent Your riding program (successes or failures) in competitions

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Oof - this stuff always sucks. My trainer has a very similar situation - loves the kid, but just can’t stand Mom.

On the one hand, it’s nice to be accommodating (everyone deserves a vacation from time to time and life happens, ya know? most of it’s probably outside the girl’s control anyway). On the other hand, some people definitely will take advantage of your kindness.

I don’t run my own barn or anything, but I’d probably approach it this way - if you think kiddo can go to the show and have a good time, do well, and generally represent the barn/you well etc. then I’d try to work something out (and maybe make sure to remind them that if showing is a priority, they will make it a priority going forward). Just be prepared to enforce your policy if they take this to mean that you’ll make exceptions for them for every show.
Now, if you think kiddo really needs those lessons prior to the show, lest they be a living breathing train wreck (or they bring a negative presence to the show environment), then I would stick to your guns and enforce your policy, and then maybe find a different show to deflect them towards. “I cannot take your daughter to this show, but this other show is in a few weeks. Let’s make a plan right now to get her to that one.” The ball is in their court now - if showing is a priority, they will make it one.

In any case, remind them that your policy is to ensure that everyone stays SAFE and has a good time and that their money is well spent - in that order. Taking two lessons the week leading up to a show is your way of reducing the risk that something goes poorly. I’d probably leave out that it’s your reputation on the line though, as they sound like the types of parents who might be offended that their little princess isn’t the world’s best most perfectest little rider anyone has ever seen and you might not want to be associated with her at a show :joy: No matter what, stay calm, stay professional (and maybe play a little game to earn a margarita every time they try to get a rise out of you during that conversation :wink: )

Aaaand at the end of the day, depending on your situation, it might be worth it to you to “fire” these clients. They might just be the type of people you could lay down on the floor and let them walk over you and they’d still complain you weren’t flat enough… in that case, good riddance.

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The problem with making an exception is that they’ll want it made all the time, and your other students/parents will want it made for them.

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@Mander you hit the nail on the head with your reply… My kid is kid #2, she and horse desperately need the lessons and prep, and after the last few shows I am a bit wary… I am not inclined to make an exception, and agree that it could set a precedent. Thanks all for your thoughtful replies, pretty much everything you said rings true and just verifies how I was already feeling/acting. These are tough, and the tough (but necessary) stuff is not my favorite part of the gig!

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Agree with the above. Personally I do not think you’re being unreasonable. I’m sure parents knew about this policy ahead of time, so it shouldn’t be a surprise coming up.

I would hope that they would respect you as a professional, and your policies in turn - you wouldn’t go to a Walmart and start making demands against their policies, and expect them to accommodate. Of course, that’s a bit of an extreme example, and I think we all appreciate flexibility every once and a while when needed but that isn’t an excuse for them to get the exception to your policies every time. You say that you’ve had trouble with them in the past which makes me think that this isn’t the first time they’re making a request/stink out of this.

Also (because I’m on a bit of a tangent now), I think it says more about them that when you enforce your policy, they push back. Seems like a bit of a red flag to me if they don’t respect your professional policy and want to raise issue with it. There will be other shows that they can plan ahead for in the future!

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I had a recent issue like this with parents as well. I just explained that in other sports the kids don’t play at the game if they do not practice, and it wasn’t safe or fair.
I did not want to take it out on the child as I felt it was the parents issue in getting the kids to lessons, so I had them do just flat classes and limited them to two classes at the show. I thought that was reasonable compromise. The kid was somewhat disappointed in the limitations but not devastated to miss out completely due to having no control over her own transportation.

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@CBoylen that’s a great idea of a compromise… unfortunately in my situation horse is a hotter jumper and loses his mind in the flat so that wouldn’t be fun for anyone :joy: but I love the idea of trying to find a compromise.

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I would stick to the policy. Flexibility is best earned, in my experience.

Once in my entire life have I been late on board (after a vet bill, tuition, moving myself, and the way the 1st fell on my pay schedule) and I texted the BO a few days out explaining my case and promising to pay on the third. They were very understanding, but did say something about me having been so prompt and always paid in full made them more than happy to accommodate. I was very grateful, and never asked again.

These parents don’t sound like they’re in that situation with you. They’re looking to bend the rules, with a rule they deem insignificant, and I can guarantee they’ll ask to do it again the next time they go on vacation. And soon you’ll find yourself breaking every rule in your book for them because they’ve learned they can get their way if they push JUST right.

I’d explain your policy again, stress that it’s to keep everyone safe, successful, and to make sure their money is well spent. And no, you’re not budging. I like the idea of offering the next show on the calendar, and stressing that the later show will ONLY happen if teenager gets her lessons in.

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I guess I’m a big meanie, but I would respect an instructor who stuck to her policy. It’s one thing to be compassionate to someone who is otherwise a great customer who has a death in the family or a genuine snowball of circumstances that make things difficult to pay something necessary like board. This was a family vacation, and, I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that a teenager will live if she skips a single horse show.

How will another kid feel, one who perceives herself not to be the instructor’s favorite and who works her ass off in lessons, when she sees a kid being allowed to show just because the other kid’s perceived as talented enough not to really require the lessons to show every single time?

There’s enough worries about favoritism between teens in lesson programs as it is, and making exceptions will make this 1,000% worse. Don’t add to the barn drama!

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Just lay it out there that any college or school program requires student athletes to follow their program and attend a number of practices prior to meets/games/competitions. This is no different, and in fact, much harder due to the fact that they’re only 50% of the equation.
Be firm, but if this is a random one-off for them and they’ve got a specific reason for wanting to be there (aka family coming from out of town to watch, special birthday, can’t show once school starts, etc), then maybe try to make it possible for Precious Polly to join some group lessons to practice and ride with others.
Best way to approach it… 1. I want to set your kid up to succeed. 2. I don’t want the horses or barn’s name to be tarnished by a poor performance by the horse/rider team feeling unprepared. 3. I want everyone to have a great time at the end of the day: win/lose/draw. Can you agree that those are all important factors in any business and in your mind what you want for your daughter? I find that my program has the best possibility of achieving those goals and being that you’ve trusted me as the professional here, I would have that you would thought that you put some faith in that program, too.
What can we do to find time to get her the saddle time she needs? I understand that you have your own schedule, but these are the times that would accommodate her level and allow her to lesson with her peers. She needs to spend time riding and we need to get those times carved out or it’s not going to happen.
If you’ve got 10 days left, for example, before next show. Tell them that she’s got to have 3 lessons in those 10 days and as long as she’s working hard and engaging with the horse and barn, you’ll make a ONE-TIME exception but this is a fair warning and she needs to start booking out further and alerting you of scheduling conflicts as they arise.
This approach might actually help in the long run if they understand that you’re willing to work with them but who knows… some people are just awful, so no promises!

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I may have misunderstood, but it sounds like many opportunities to get those lessons in between now and the show were offered, and none would work for the parents. For whatever reason.

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So, to be clear, student has not had a lesson for the past three weeks and can’t manage to schedule a single lesson between now and the horse show, which is in two weeks?

If it were me, student would not be showing. Period.

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Well I also didn’t have a policy already set up to stand behind.
You could possibly put them in a much lower division, or just let them do blue ribbon classes no “real” classes.

Your policy is very good. Stand your ground.

Talk to them and tell them that your program may not be the ideal fit for their busy schedule. Keep it positive, let them know their daughter is very capable, but it’s important to find the right fit for all involved.

It’s not worth sabotaging the good program you have going.

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Student has not had a lesson in over 3 weeks, and can only make 1 lesson before show. I offered several other alternate lesson slots (which would require flexing/moving on my part), but parents said absolutely not, for whatever reason. I am being “unfair to student” according to them and changed my schedule without advanced notice (haven’t changed/canceled a single lesson yet all summer and happen to be out of town with family next weekend on the one day they happen to be available…)

Got a text from mom saying they “won’t be scheduling lessons for now”, so I guess problem solved for the moment and I need to figure out what to do with them long term (don’t think it is going to be a fit and I am tired of the mental games). I’m not a lesson mill, this is secondary income/my side gig, and I am in it for the love of teaching not for the drama.

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People like this are just not worth it IMO. They are asking you to compromise your program, compromise what you believe it, and aren’t willing to be at all compromising themselves. Showing is a privilege, not a right, and any entitlement around horses is toxic. This is something you enjoy, definitely protect that.

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Ilovetheadd27, you are being very kind, compromising and flexible.

Honestly, sounds like they’re not a good fit for your program. Maybe another program would be better for their needs?

<aka, not worth that PITA factor for you, these sound like people who will never be happy and will blame you if things don’t go swimmingly>

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If that “hotter jumper” and the rider have a wreck at the show, you will really regret your decision to let her show. You have a policy for good reasons, don’t be pressured into something that you know is unwise.

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I think they gave you an easy out here. If they do reach out in the future, you can always say you can’t take on any more students at this time or something along those lines.

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