Commentary: This Internet Rating Site Might Become Valuable

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A website named ratemyhorsepro.com caught my attention recently. I paid $5 to create a profile and study the site?s contents, so then I interviewed the site?s founder. Now I'm ready to make some observations.

The site?s tag line is ?Equestrians Improving The Horse Industry,? and that's certainly a laudable idea. We trainers, instructors, barn owners and managers are an unlicensed group of professionals, with no minimum education or training requirement.? Anyone can hang out a shingle, and, admittedly, some shouldn't have a shingle to hang.

And our experience and ability vary widely. So too does motivation and conduct. For some it's just a job. For most it's a fulfilling career. A few are only looking to make a buck while cutting corners. And a few are actually criminals.

It was two trainers who are now convicted criminals that caused pony mother Debbie Hanson to launch ratemyhorsepro.com in 2011. They defrauded Hanson and stole her daughter?s pony nearly a decade ago, and she aided an FBI investigation that uncovered a long rap sheet on the duo.

Ratemyhorsepro.com is similar to to popular Internet rating sites like Yelp and Angie?s List, where anyone can go to see what others think of a business or service and then contribute their own evaluations.

A major flaw with these sites is that very often the people?anonymously?want to exact a pound of flesh from a business or individual they believe has done them wrong. The person complaining might be justified, but often if we knew the rest of the story, it would sound different.

let's be honest, we horse people are all at least a little weird, or we wouldn?t be so foolish as to spend our money, time and passion on horses. Our eccentricity is the main reason relationships between trainers and clients are often short-lived and can end unpleasantly.

Sure, sometimes the professional didn't live up to a commitment or was even negligent. But more often the client had unrealistic expectations about something or the horse?or the client?had a serious but unnoticed or even hidden issue.

So, the major flaw of ratemyhorsepro.com is that, while the site invites trainers and others to join and create their own profiles, it offers them a limited opportunity to respond if someone anonymously contributes a negative or defamatory evaluation. Hanson said the site offers a challenge review, which professionals can request. But there is no phone number on the site, nor any physical address, not even in the media kit. You must contact them via email and await a response, which Hanson said is usually within 24 hours. We did receive a rapid response to our inquiries.

The website?s overall tone appears anti-professional. It suggests that we professionals are vultures waiting to prey on unsuspecting horse owners. But Hanson says that's not the purpose. ?Our goal is to be more pro-professional, to promote the good folks in the industry. We want to make the horse industry a better place,? she told me.

Still, I worry that, for every horse owner who finds a suitable trainer or boarding stable because of someone?s recommendation, another trainer or a stable will have their reputation undeservedly sullied by a disgruntled or even capricious individual.