For most of us, the barn is our sanctuary. This is the place that we can go and forget all of our troubles, focus on our horse and our riding, get some much-needed exercise and quiet our minds. The majority of us, though, are not lucky enough to have our horses on our own property, which means that we board them, so we have barn mates. We also interact with other horse people when we go for trail rides or to horse shows. Our “hobby” or “sport” definitely has a social aspect to it, and yet we don’t do a lot of thinking about how we can be a better barn mates or horse friends.
I spoke with a good number of my own horse friends and trainers and breeders who I have relationships with, and I compiled a list of the Top Five Tips for becoming a better barn mate.
Clean Up After Yourself
Okay, this one seems almost unnecessary to mention…and yet it was the number one thing that came up amongst my own circle of horse buddies. As the old adage says, you weren’t born in a barn, so don’t leave a trail of debris and destruction behind you. Whether you’re at the barn for your daily ride or routine, at a horse show or out on a trail ride with a group of friends, it seems that maintaining tidiness is a highly prized trait. There’s nothing worse than that person who doesn’t sweep up the hair after shedding out their horse, who doesn’t pick up the manure their horse has left in the wash rack or barn aisle, or who is bathing their horse at a horse show and leaves the hose unwound and laying on the ground to be stepped on. We all have limited time at the barn, and we don’t want to have to spend half of it cleaning up after other people. If you’re at the barn and you see a piece of trash on the ground or notice someone has forgot to clean up some manure…just do it, because you want to be in a clean environment. But you may want to leave a note on the community white board or speak with the barn manager if it happens too often.
Check Your Religion and Politics at the Barn Door
This one may get some people prickly, but let’s face it, we live in a time of societal turmoil. We all have our own opinions on things, and it seems as though these opinions are being thrown about from all directions as of late – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, at work, at school, on the nightly news, etc. The barn is supposed to be a place filled with happiness and acceptance. There is just no reason to even bring up the topics of politics or religion when you’re there. Not everyone believes the same way that you do, and it’s still possible to be friends because you’re connected by something special…the bond of horses!
Be Helpful, Not Overbearing
Everyone appreciates barn mates and friends who are observant and helpful. We all like to learn from one another, and we all appreciate if someone notices an issue with our horse when we aren’t there and alerts us immediately. With that said, no one wants to constantly be told what they should be doing. If you’re not a paid trainer or veterinarian, chances are it’s best that you keep your thoughts to yourself in most situations. If there’s a newbie at your barn or in your riding group and you want to make a “suggestion” about something, do so kindly and then leave it – don’t make it a constant thing. There is a big difference between being helpful and being a “hovering” or overbearing barn mate or horse friend.
This is a No Gossip Zone – Don’t Get Too Personal
Another highly discussed topic amongst the people who I spoke with was the problem with “barn gossip” or people who air their dirty laundry at the barn. We make friends at the barn, in our riding groups, at horse shows, and we care about them personally, how they are feeling, what their lives are like, etc., but in truth the reason we are at the barn is to first and foremost be with our horses and foster our riding skills. It’s great to make friends, but it’s not always a good idea to get too personal with people while you’re hanging with your horse. If you have made good friends with a barn mate or two, maybe go and grab lunch after you ride on a Saturday and talk about life there, not while you – or someone else – is trying to work, ride, groom, etc. This is a good way to alienate those people who aren’t “in your circle” and to create an overall uncomfortable environment. So…keep your barn time focused on the horses, and no matter what kind of crazy story you have about a fellow barn mate, don’t gossip!
This is a tough one for a lot of us – me included – who are empathetic by nature and tend to be “pleasers”. The barn is like any other “mini society” where there are a lot of different personalities thrown together, and some are going to be extremely giving and others may tend to take advantage. I can remember some years ago being at a barn where it became known after a couple of years that if anyone needed anything – from a horse trailered somewhere, blanketing, medication administration, a piece of tack (that would often get lent and not returned), etc. – I was the person to go to. I like to help people and horses, but what eventually happened was that I was bending over backwards and having to change my own schedule and sometimes not even ride because I was constantly doing things for other people when I was out at the barn.
I learned to protect myself after talking to a trainer friend of mine. I didn’t stop being helpful, but I started to look at my own needs too – if someone needed a horse blanketed for the winter because of their schedule and I was going to be out at the barn, I would happily do so for a charge, and the same held true for trailering, gas money was a must. I stopped lending my equipment to people, or allowing them to freely use my expensive emergency medications like Bute or Banimine – or if they needed something I made sure to mention that I would like them to replace it. You can be friendly and helpful without getting taken advantage of.
In the end, being a better barn mate or horse friend is a lot like being a good human being in general. It’s about being honest, caring, compassionate, accepting, respectful and also looking out for your own interests. So, take these five tips to becoming a better barn mate and horse friend and apply them to your own horsey life. Happy trails!
Cover Photo: Sharon Jantzen