Barn Manners: You’re Rude, I’m Perfect

Jan 27, 2010 - 6:11 AM
Everybody believes their own dog is perfect. Photo by Coree Reuter.

Last week, after my post on “barn manners,” I put out a request on the COTH forum asking readers to share their questions, concerns and rants. Oh, my! There are some rude people at the barn. You can follow the thread here.

What can I do to help? I read complaints about unruly dogs, misbehaving children, and clueless adult boarders who seem to think of their horses more as My Little Pony toys rather than 1,000 pound unpredictable animals. Arena etiquette, trainers who curse or talk on a cell phone during lessons, and the ever-present, but seemingly unavoidable barn gossiper were also hot topics. Folks, we’ve got more drama here than on HBO’s “True Blood!” Barn reality show, anyone?

I’ll get to each topic, one by one, on Wednesdays. But today, I offer some general advice for everyone (including me). Last week’s “barn manners,” looked at why barn employees may feel put out if they unexpectedly have to hold your horse for the vet. Looking for feedback, I posted this topic in the forums here. Reading through the 31 comments reminded me of a few business etiquette basics.  At great risk of boring you, here goes: 

1. You’re rude, I’m perfect.

There’s a 2009 Intel study where 82 percent of people surveyed said they’d seen someone behaving badly in public while using a mobile device. However, when asked about their own mobile manners, only 28 percent of adults admit to less than stellar personal mobile etiquette, such as discussing private matters on a cell phone in public. In the barn, this can sometimes translate to: My dog is well behaved, but yours is a menace that should be shackled and banned. While we are quick to notice rudeness in others, sometimes we walk right past that mirror without taking a little look-see at our own behavior.

2. Think about how your actions impact others around you.

The easiest way to assess your own behavior is to ask yourself how your actions impact those around you. No rules to memorize, no forks to figure out. Shout “door” before you run into the arena. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Put all your stuff away when you’re done. Don’t borrow things without asking permission. Sweep up after yourself and your horse.

3. Get it in writing.

I don’t think I’ll offend anyone by saying that horse people are notoriously poor business people. And their paperwork skills can sometimes be a little on the lackluster side. If you don’t have a boarding contract, ask the barn owner to talk to you about his or her general barn rules. Even if it’s not in writing, you need to have a sense of what the expectations are at the barn. Write your own “contract” and ask the barn manager to review it and sign it. Or, offer to plan a barn meeting to discuss creating some general ground rules.

Kudos to the COTHer that posted this comment: “I swear I just read through the posts scouring each for something that I might be doing that is a major faux pas.” It’s a good reminder that someone who acts inappropriately at the barn may just not know “the rules.” It’s a kindness to share your knowledge with someone less experienced around horses. It will make the barn a more pleasant place for all of us.

Keep the questions coming. If you have a barn manners issue you’d like to see covered here, email me at

Elizabeth Howell grew up riding on the hunter/jumper circuit in Massachusetts. Now she is a horse show mom. She holds a day job at The Emily Post Institute and slings horse manure on the weekends.  Her web site is



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