Contrary to popular belief, barn rules don’t exist to try to take all the fun out of riding, but to keep horses and humans safe. Kjirsten Lee details the what, why and how of barn rules.
Every horse person can spout off a list of “rules” about working with horses: don’t run, don’t yell, no sudden movements, don’t walk directly behind the horse, and so on. These unwritten rules of horsemanship are meant to keep us safe around our beloved animals. But what if you are a barn owner and you are concerned about more than individual safety? That’s where barn rules come in.
Having rules helps provide a stable environment for humans and horses. The good folks here at HN have provided lots of suggestions over the years: common sense rules, unique rules, rules for parents, and more. The point is, rules exist to help us all cohabitate in the barn and enjoy our horses – and each other!
Why have rules?
Think about why a teacher has rules in their classroom, or why companies have policies. In general, these rules and policies are there for a few reasons:
- To make sure everyone is on the same page
- To keep people safe
- To answer questions people might have
- To set guidelines for how and when equipment and facilities may be used
- To set expectations
Rules frequently grow out of experiences. For example, let’s say an adult decides to jump their horse without wearing a helmet. They fall off and are seriously injured. Their insurance company blames the barn owner for not having a policy regarding jumping. The barn owner implements a rule that everyone who jumps must be wearing a helmet. This is not a circumstance the barn owner might have considered previously, but having the new rule will help avoid similar circumstances in the future.
Rules also set expectations for how the barn staff handle the horses. Requiring supplements to be assembled by the owner and placed in a drawer, for example, sets the expectation that the staff will only feed those supplements provided and placed in the appropriate drawer. This rule also creates the expectation that the owner will make sure there are enough supplements at all times – if there is no filled container, then the horse will miss their supplements until the containers are refilled.
What should the rules cover?
Rules should cover basic safety procedures and operating procedures. Examples include:
- Barn hours
- Arena access – times and capacity
- Helmet policy
- Keeping common areas clean, such as aisles, grooming bays, and wash racks
- Use of empty stalls
- Parental supervision requirements
Depending on the barn, there might be other necessary policies. A self-board facility, for example, might have rules about when owners should come to feed their horses. A barn with lots of kids might have extra rules regarding when kids can go into paddocks and who should be present with the kids to supervise. The rules should be stated clearly and as precisely as possible. They might require occasional clarification, but for the most part should be self-explanatory.
How should rules be communicated?
Communication can be the downfall of any good idea or system. If that system or idea is not communicated effectively, then it cannot be used effectively. Rules can be communicated in a number of different ways. You should choose the way that works best for your operation, but options include:
- Attach the rules to the boarding contract – boarders are then responsible for reading and following the rules
- Post the rules in the barn
- Review the rules at regular boarder meetings
The safest route is to have a boarder meeting to go over rules so that boarders, parents, staff, and other interested people have a chance to discuss and ask questions if anything is unclear. Even if you as the barn owner think you have made the rules very clear, they might not be interpreted that way! If you choose not to have a meeting, make sure people know that it is okay and even expected that if they don’t understand a rule, they will ask for clarification.
Not sure what your rules should and should not cover? Ask around – other barn owners probably have suggestions based on their own experiences. You can always customize those suggestions to meet your particular needs.
Emphasize that rules aren’t in place to stifle or curb anyone’s enjoyment of their horse. Rather, the rules exist to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone – and questions are always welcome.
For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click here to open a list.
Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.