In years past, it was part of every child’s upbringing to learn etiquette. Good manners mattered, and those who did not follow the rules were often shunned by polite society. Not so in our current “anything goes” culture, but maybe the “barn culture” should be a little different. After all, etiquette (defined as the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group) actually has a purpose beyond good manners. It simply makes it more pleasant and, more importantly, safer for riders and horses alike.
With that in mind, here are the most basic horse and barn rules for the well-mannered.
This is paramount in any barn, because working with horses is inherently dangerous. Horses are bigger, stronger, and do things suddenly with great force. So rule #1 always has to be – Be Safe. Whatever you are up to, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and be situationally aware, too. Think about what could go wrong and be prepared for the unexpected. Here are some important points to keep in mind:
Horses in cross-ties.
- Some barns have stalls that are reserved for cross-ties, and while that’s safer, it is often not feasible, especially in a boarding barn where stalls space is at a premium. Cross ties in the aisle are much more common. When your horse is in the cross-ties, be sure he is there only for as long as you absolutely need him to be. Don’t leave him and walk away to do something else. Groom him, tack him up, and get out of the way.
- BUT FIRST! Make sure you have put all your grooming tools and anything else that belongs to you away. If he pooped, make sure you’ve cleaned it up and replaced the EMPTY muck basket and pitchfork in its proper place. The cross-ties area should be ready for the next person exactly as you’d want it left for you and your horse.
- Need to get by? If it’s just you, speak up loudly enough to be heard but not so loudly or suddenly that you spook the horse. Touch him gently on the hindquarters and slip by as quickly as possible. If you need to lead your horse by, politely ask the owner to allow you by. She should unhook one side of the ties and move her horse over so that you can get your horse past. Thank her, and move on. Remember to do the same if someone wants to get by when your horse is tied, too.
Keep stall doors all the way open or all the way closed.
- Protrusions (like latches sticking out) can gouge a horse, injuring him. A partly-opened stall door can cause a knocked-down hip or worse if a horse bangs into it while going in or out, or even passing it in the aisle.
Put everything where it belongs.
- Clear aisles mean that horses and riders can pass through without stepping on something or knocking something over. Muck baskets or wheelbarrows, pitchforks, rakes, brooms, buckets, tack, hoses and so on should be replaced in their designated spots as soon as you are through using them. Don’t leave your halter hanging from the cross ties. Look at the area. Could your horse get hung up on something? So could someone else’s horse!
Control your horse.
- Also your kids and if the barn allows your dog, keep him under control, too.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
I don’t know about you, but I appreciate it when the tack room is orderly and clean. I don’t want dirty or broken tack marring what otherwise might be a pleasant spot in my barn. It is offensive when someone leaves a filthy, stinky saddle pad on a rack or worse, tossed on top of my clean saddle. Bridles hung with dirty bits are not only unsightly, but make your horse miserable when you slide that nasty thing in his mouth next time you want to ride. It only takes ten minutes to give your saddle and bridle a quick cleaning, and just a moment or two to hang things neatly in their places. If you’re too rushed to do it right, consider shortening your ride by a few minutes to be sure you can keep things neat and clean for other riders.
Outside the barn is your responsibility, too. If your horse makes a mess walking to the arena, after your ride, be sure to clean up behind him. (And while we’re at it, if you’ve moved jumps or readjusted something else, put it back the way it was when you’re through.)
What’s yours is…not mine
Borrowing without permission is simply wrong. Use your own brushes, tack, and supplies. If you have permission to borrow, be sure your replace what you’ve used and put it back where it belongs. If you’ve used someone’s flyspray, get some to replace it. Even if you have permission to use someone else’s things, don’t share brushes and grooming tools. This is also a health precaution!
Treats are for your own horse
Unless you have been given permission, don’t give treats (or extra hay or grain) to someone else’s horse. Even if the horse begs so prettily, stands on his hands or does cartwheels, you should not give carrots, apples, sugar cubes or anything else to a horse that is not yours. You may not realize that he is on a special diet, has special nutritional needs, or allergies. And before you give your own horse extra hay or grain, see your barn manager. You can throw the entire stable into a riot by simply carrying hay to only one horse.
Attitude is paramount
Be polite. Overlook slights, because chances are they were unintended. Even if they weren’t, being nice to people usually means they’ll be nice back. And if not, at least you have the pleasure of knowing that you aren’t at fault. Pleasant words and kind actions are always welcome. Don’t gossip about your barn-mates or their horses. Everyone is at a different place, and you don’t know another’s struggles. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember what mom used to tell you? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
If you mess up, fess up
Somewhere along the way, you will mess up. Nobody expects perfection, but when you do make a mistake—and you will!—confess and make it right. Don’t let others place blame on someone who is innocent. That’s just wrong in any group. So take responsibility, fix it, and move on. If you don’t dwell on it, chances are others won’t, either.
Your Manners may not be their Manners.
It is easy to assume that other people think about barn etiquette the same way that we do, but we come from diverse horse backgrounds and experiences. What may be normal behavior for us, could be rude and annoying for others. There is also a huge disparity in what is considered “clean”. My poop clean-up might not be what someone else thinks it should be.
A great dialogue to have with your barn mates is what your etiquette is. Having an open conversation about it- may reveal some interesting differences, and create alignment. Not “Rules” but just agreement about how you are going to respect one another and our shared community.