This session will provide an overview of a model for resolving conflict and discuss strategies for avoiding issues that lead to conflict.

altLinda Jesse

Linda Jesse is a mediator and arbitrator, managing a private practice in conflict resolution for nine years before retiring to live in the country and develop VJ Stables. Through her experience on both sides of the horse boarder/facility owner relationship, Linda provides a unique perspective on why conflicts develop and how to achieve sustainable resolutions.

Conflict can be defined as the perceived opposition of needs, values, wishes or external demands that result in stress or tension.  The word ‘perceived’ in this definition is critical, for it allows us to consider that the conflict may simply be born out of misunderstanding.  The most common contributor to a misunderstanding is missing information.  All we need to do is provide the same information to all the relevant parties and surely we shall all see the light.  This sounds pretty simple and in fact it can be.

In every industry there are standards and practices that provide for clarity and consistent treatment of similar circumstances.  Standards are neutral.  Rules can be applied universally.  Policies and procedures can ensure consistency.  The rent is due on the first of the month.  A widely accepted standard that rarely invites debate.  All riders participating in lessons must wear a certified riding helmet.  A policy easily applied.  Please keep this door closed.  A polite rule that all can follow.  We must first develop effective standards, rules, practices and policies to avoid conflict.


In the horse industry, the following list is recommended for stable owners/operators. 

1. Horse Boarding Agreement
2. Lesson and Board Rates
3. Arena and Barn Rules
4. Vaccination and Deworming Protocol
5. Acknowledgement of Risk and Release of Liability
6. Emergency Procedures and Contact List
7. Policy and Procedures
8. Job Descriptions
9. Labour Standards  and OHS Postings
10. Safety Signage and Warnings
11. Farm Orientation/Checklist

The key to avoiding conflict in the first place is to clarify expectations.  We all have expectations whether they are spoken or assumed.  Expectations must be shared to be understood.  It is easier to share a document containing all the pertinent information than to rely on memory and chance meetings.  It is important to be timely with sharing information.  For example, items 1-5 should be given to potential boarders during their first visit to the stable.  This package provides all the information the new boarder needs to understand and accept prior to entering into an agreement to board their horse.  Items 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10 should be posted on site as a reminder and reference for all boarders and visitors.  Items 6, 8 and 11 are given to all employees.  Item 7, Policy and Procedures, must be accessible to all employees.  Sharing information in writing not only clarifies expectations, it also establishes both credibility and authority.  These are important qualities to have developed before a conflict arises.
When conflict does arise, we need a process that promotes collaboration and produces sustainable resolutions.
Conflict Resolution Model

Step 1:  Create a Positive Environment

• Privacy and Location
• Timing and Commitment
• Clarify Process

Step 2:  Defining the Issues

• Separate the Issues
• Encourage Equal Contribution
• Create a Neutral Agenda
• Separate the Person from the Problem

Step 3:  Develop Understanding

• “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”
• Keep Issues Separate
• Use Active Listening Skills

Step 4:  Resolution – A Mutually Agreeable Solution

• Describe Desired Outcome
• Develop an Action Plan
• Promote Positive Future Relationship

Step 5:  Implement Action Plan

• Assign Tasks and Timelines
• Follow up and Adjust to Make it Happen

Working through this model requires good communication skills.

Active Listening
Active listening requires us to communicate without judgment and blame.  The key to active listening is to acknowledge what the other party is saying in a positive manner that promotes understanding.  For example, the statement:  “I’m not going to pick up other horses manure because the rule is stupid and no one does it anyways!”  A positive response would be, “I understand it is frustrating when the rules are not followed and everyone needs to do their part to keep our arena clean”.   This statement deals with the emotion and identifies the issue that needs to be resolved.
We also have to be skilled in how we present our own issues and manage the process.

Create a Positive Environment
 Everyone is defensive when they are blindsided and embarrassed by public display.  Ask if the person has the time to meet with you and pick a place that ensures privacy.  Also, clear your schedule for sufficient time to meet.  False starts do not promote confidence.
Avoid assumptions by asking questions, “Do you have time to meet with me today after the lesson?”  Use “I” statements to remove blame, “I would like to meet with you at the house to go over some things I need to have clarified.” Set the tone of cooperation, “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me”.

Defining the Issues
Use neutral language to separate the person from the problem.  For example, simply state “tack security” as the issue for discussion rather than naming any particular person’s tack.
Encourage participation by asking questions, “What else do you want to discuss related to security?”  Issues need to be separated to be manageable.  Summarize the issues and get agreement on what will be discussed.  If the list is long, start with the most neutral item.

Develop Understanding
Understanding does not mean agreement.  You need to understand their perspective and they need to understand yours.  Ask open-ended questions, “How did you discover the halter was missing?”   Use active listening skills to ensure that the other party has been heard and then disclose your information.  Work through one issue at a time to the resolution stage and then return to the agenda for the next item.  Build upon success.

Reach a Mutually Agreeable Solution
Describe the desired outcome, “Given that we both value a secure facility, what are the options available to us?”  Generate options and evaluate each option objectively to find the most sustainable solution.  If a resolution it not reached, discuss alternatives for moving forward.  Do you need more time?  Is information still missing?  Do others need to become involved for the Action Plan to work?  Acknowledge the progress made to date and express appreciation.

Implement Action Plan
Decide who is going to do what and by when.  Write it down and give the other party a copy.  Make sure the plan is shared with all appropriate people.  The more people know the less they assume.  Follow up to see if the plan is working and make adjustments along the way.  For example, a new rule may be the perfect solution but not if it is posted in the wrong place.  Check in with everyone to see if the desired change has occurred.

There is a difference between communication conflicts and structural conflicts.  A structural conflict occurs when there is an ineffective process.  People may be clear on what is expected of them but they can not meet the expectation.  For example, don’t expect anyone to pick up the manure if there is no designated place to put it.  Don’t expect your next student to be mounted and ready to go in five minutes if they share a saddle with the previous rider.  Make sure you set the example for what is reasonable.  


Industry Standards

Alberta SPCA:
• Human Handling Guidelines for Horses
• Recommended Code of Practices for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals

Alberta Agriculture, Food & Rural Development:
• Horse Handling Facilities
• Animal Keepers Act

Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC):  403-662-8050
• Standards for the Care of Unfit Animals

CHA – Certified Horsemanship Association:
• Operating Standards for Instructional and/or Recreational Programs

Horse Industry Association of Alberta:
• Criteria to consider when evaluating horse board facilities

Livestock Identification Services:  403-509-2088
• Stray Animals Act
• Documentation for Out of Province Transport

Conflict Resolution Services

Alberta Arbitration & Mediation Association:
• Directory of Arbitrators and Mediators

Alberta Farm Animal Care 403-662-8050
• Resolution Process

Alberta SPCA Peace Officers:  1-780-447-3600
• Complaint Line 1-800-455-9003

Local RCMP Offices: South  1-403-699-2614
   North 1-780-289-5510



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Spruce Meadows 'National'

June 6-10, 2018





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