For most of us, the barn is where we find harmony, peace and balance; it’s a place we go to both escape and be found. Sadly, even in the most well tended gardens, a few weeds are bound to spring up. Over the the years, I’ve had to opportunity to board at more places than I can count – or even recall – and while for the most part I have had great experiences, it seems that there is a common theme of “barn issues” that tend to drive most equestrians just a little bit batty. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been around the “horsey block” enough times to know what makes for a great barn experience and what things drive you nuts.
#1 Drama and Barn Politics
You may have gotten a list of rules with your boarding agreement, but it’s those things that aren’t written down that cause the most trouble. Drama and politics at the barn are a lot like what most of us have dealt with in high school – someone doesn’t like someone else, someone feels certain people get special treatment, certain people feel as though the rules don’t apply to them, etc. So, what’s a person to do? Stay out of the fray!
Remember the reason that you’re going out to the barn – to work, to have a good time, to enjoy some positive energy – and try to practice this little rule…don’t say anything to anyone that you wouldn’t want repeated to everyone.
#2 The Resident Know-it-all
Come on, you know who I’m talking about…that person who seems to spend more time worrying about other people’s horses or telling you what you should be doing than they actually do with their own horses. It seems like every barn has someone like this, and while the degree varies, the outcome is the same; this type of person can drive most horse people insane. Some advice…if you find yourself in a situation with this type of character, be friendly and positive, but also make it clear that while you appreciate their advice, you have your own way of doing things. Present a strong and confident front and you’ll usually get left alone by the self proclaimed equine prophets.
This is probably my number one pet peeve when it comes to boarding facilities. I have left several barns because facility owners or managers have decided that they can pack a property to beyond its capacity with stalls and horses, but fail to understand that expansion of capacity without adding amenities (like more wash racks, grooming areas, arenas, parking, tack room space, etc.) makes it almost impossible for us to enjoy a productive day with our horses. I always speak in depth with facility owners prior to signing a contract about any plans for expansion or the exact capacity of the property; this usually helps me to get a good feel for what to expect in terms of “sharing space”.
#4 No Bathrooms
Okay, I’m not the type that needs marble counter-tops and scented soaps to be happy at the barn, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there is nothing worse than getting out to the barn and feeling as though your bladder is going to explode. It’s really a very easy thing for property owners to provide some sort of bathroom for boarders to use, and I tend to avoid that places that don’t.
#5 An Uneducated or Unwilling Staff
Leaving your horse out at a boarding facility can be a scary thing; you only really know how your horse is being treated when you’re there. This is one of the reasons why being able to really trust the staff (stall cleaners, managers, feeders, etc.) is so important. The entire barn staff don’t need to be fully trained Animal Science majors, but what they do need to be is willing to learn and be educated in the basics – i.e. being able to halter a loose horse, properly weigh food, keep an eye out for signs of distress, etc. It just isn’t worth it to have your horse at a place where you don’t feel confident in the staff.
#6 Sticky Fingers
Nothing is worse than buying a brand new bottle of Show Sheen or fly spray only to find it half gone the day after you left it in the tack room. Unfortunately, it seems like in many barns, anything that gets left in the community tack room is fair game for those people who don’t mind skimming from other people’s things. I’ve actually been to barns where it was saddles and bridles being used without permission rather than replaceable products. Either way, I’ve found that having a large, lockable tack box for anything that people may decide to “borrow” (sprays, shampoos, medications, wraps, brushes, etc.) is the best way to protect your property, and if it’s tack that is being used without permission a swift report to barn management is a must.
#7 MIA Management
No one wants the barn experience to be all about overbearing rules and structure, but without a general set of guidelines that are enforced, chaos can easily ensue. If you have one or two people who push the envelope and leave horses turned out in the arena for longer than is allowed, or who think that there’s no reason their dogs should have to be on leashes (or any number of other things that are against the rules), that can infringe upon the enjoyment of all boarders.
If management isn’t willing to enforce rules, your stay will likely be either brief or continuously aggravating.
#8 Boarders Who Were “Born in a Barn”
Okay, so it might seem like most of us were “born in a barn” when it comes to how much we love spending time with our horses, but I’m talking about the old saying that revolves around manners and keeping things tidy. Some people simply don’t think about their fellow boarders enjoyment of the property, whether that’s by not sweeping up the grooming stalls or wash racks after use, leaving poles or obstacles out in the arena, dominating turn out areas, etc. So, do your part to keep your barn clean, your fellow boarders will thank you!
#9 Unattended Children
I get it, I was a “barn rat” from almost the time I was able to walk…kids love the barn, and I think it’s one of the best places to learn responsibility. However, there is nothing more aggravating or dangerous than a parent who allows their small children to run wild at the barn. I don’t want to have to be on pins and needles worrying that a child may run up behind my horse in the cross ties. Parents need to keep a good eye on their children and make sure that they are not infringing upon the usage of the facility by their fellow boarders…it’s just the responsible thing to do.
#10 Arena Time
Another personal pet peeve, but one that I share with many fellow equestrians…the dreaded problem of “arena use”. If you’re at a general boarding facility where there is no resident trainer, you may find yourself in a situation where you come out to work your horse only to find the arena being dominated by another boarder and their mobile trainer – this can be impossibly frustrating. You don’t want to be rude and get in the middle of a lesson, but you also have a schedule to keep. I have found that the most successful barns employ an “arena chart” where people can sign up for certain times to use the arena – this doesn’t mean that they can dominate the entire arena, but it does allow others to work around these times if they prefer not to ride while someone else is taking a lesson. If you do have a mobile trainer and your barn doesn’t use a barn chart, it might be worth leaving a note a few days ahead of time if you’re planning a lesson, just to be considerate of your fellow boarders.
Your time at the barn should be one of the most enjoyable parts of your day, so hopefully this little list will help you, either in choosing your next boarding facility or in more successfully navigating the one that you are at currently.