Unsafe kids in the barn, need curriculum for a barn safety class?
Well, I'm mostly a lurker here but I've read some amazing advice given by the people on this board so now that I'm in need of some sound advice myself I figured I'd try here.
Okay, this may start off as half rant/half plea for help. Please bear with me...
I board at a small, quiet, adult barn. Been there 12 years, work there, my mother boards there, my step-father boards there, all the boarders are good friends, BO is like family to everyone, it's a wonderful environment. A far cry from the boarding horror stories you hear about. Like I said, I've been there 12 years with never an unhappy day. Horses are happy, healthy, well-cared for and everyone cares for all the horses as they would their own. It really is a wonderful albeit small and far-from-fancy place.
Now though, the BO has leased one of her horses to a 12 year old girl. Total beginner. My mother has leased one of her horses to the 12 year old girl's 11 year old friend, also total beginner. 11 year old girl has an 8 year old sister whom I am letting spend time with my old, semi-retired gelding, also total beginner. All the parents are non-horse people. It's creating an, um, unsafe environment. In the last week a normally dead-quiet gelding (leased by the 12yo) has violently broken 3 sets of cross-ties. 12yo brings all kinds of friends to the barn and gets out horses for them to ride without BO's permission (happens while the BO is away at shows). She tries to use towels-yes, beach towels- as saddle blankets, puts the wrong tack on horses, has broken a few of the BO's bridles, gets into everyone else's stuff, ties horses by the bridle, leaves stall doors open for horses to wander out, I could go on all day. The other two girls are very repectful and always ask before doing anything, and always look to adults for guidance. They take no liberties with the horses. I have noticed a ringleader mentality with the 12yo though as she encourages the other two to follow her lead and shirk the guidance of the adults.
All the *Old Guard* at the barn is in agreement, we need to set the 12yo girl straight and really enforce some ground rules with her. We don't, however, want to single her out. We've decided the best way to go about it would be to have a safety class for all the girls. Like print out some basic guidelines for them to follow, have them sign a safety agreement and impress upon them that while we want them to enjoy their time at the barn they need to be wary of the safety of themselves, others and the horses while also being respectful of other people's property and horses. All the barn regulars are on board with it and the parents are in agreement also. And of course the BO although she won't be present (super-busy show schedule). I'm a tad miffed she isn't being a little more involved but it is what it is.
So our little class is being held this Thursday. I'm in the process of putting some material together for the girls and I've got the basics addressing the major safety issues I've witnessed like wrong tack on horses, unsafe handling, using horses and tack without permission, etc.
Can anyone think of anything to add? I've not got a lot of experience with kids not being a parent myself. Maybe those of you with kids or that give beginner lessons could give me some guidance? How do you wrangle the little buggers around the barn and impress the importance of safety into their minds? I just can't handle going for a relaxing evening at the barn and winding up running after this girl preventing accidents anymore. I'm at my wits end. Any and all help and suggestions would be appreciated I'd like to also add that I'm not an instructor and really have no pony in this race so go easy on me. I'm just a boarder concerned with the welfare of all involved and want to see this develop into a safe, happy, long-term situation for everyone involved-even the kids. I've also been at the barn the longest so it's kinda falling into my lap. Sorry this turned out so long and thank you for reading.
Don't be afraid to take off the kid gloves with the kid who needs to be straightened out - if you have to make an example of her to keep the two others on the right path, DO IT. You might just be saving someone's horse (or someone else) from injury. A lot of kids that age don't get subtle messages; they need to be told straight on when they are doing right - or not. And, don't be afraid to catch them doing right either....praise works wonders.
There used to be this awesome poster that showed a picture of a person leading a horse correctly, picking the feet correctly, sitting on the horse (with helmet) and grooming. I can't find it anymore and I wish I could.
There are a few safety videos out there that are 1 - 2 minutes long and then have the kids lead the horse through an obstacle course. Giving points to the safest one. At the barn DD and I ride at children aren't allowed to bridle horses and any child under the age of 10 must be accompanied by a parent for all horsey adventures. Clueless parents are shown the videos with their kids and the kids can help the adult do it correctly if they understand it.
Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
Originally Posted by alicen:
What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.
As the barn owner has leased her horse to the 12 year old ring leader I feel it is her responsibility to talk to the girls. It will have more impact coming from her. Since you and your mother own the other 2 horses you have the right to lay down the law. Make up rules that will be followed or the riding will END!
The BO should take responsibility for the kids instruction as it is causing her long time boarder to be stressed and unhappy. That's the first step to losing clients. If she doesn't take this seriously, I know you said she is busy, it just shows how much she doesn't value you boarders.
First off, I always have kids wear a helmet in the barn around horses. My little quirk!
Now onto the question at hand:
One thing I've had some luck with turning beginners into law-abiding-productive-barn-citizens-I-like-to-ride-with is to teach 'steps' to do things. Right down to turning on the lights when you come in the barn and turning off the lights when you leave.
As you are not going to be giving regular lessons to the girls where they can practice the 'steps', write them out so they and, more importantly, the parents, can follow them.
I tell the parents that once the kids learn the 'steps', they are the same 'steps' they will use their whole lives no matter what barn they are at or what horse they ride.
Having the 'steps' ensures that they use the same tack from the same place every time they ride. They put the tack back in the same order exactly the same way every time. They get the brushes and put them back exactly the same spot. Get the idea? They do the same things the same way so that it becomes second nature. If it is possible to put the horse's name above their tack, that can also be helpful.
In addition to the steps, I also talk a little bit about horse vision, body language and herd dynamics. Just enough so that the kids and their parents get the idea about why a horse would be startled if you popped out of nowhere, what a horse's pinned back ears mean, why it is important to shut the stall door.
Thanks all! Great suggestions! The pony club manual is wonderful, thanks for reminding me of that. We are also going to discuss punishments for not being safe, the one I have in mind is if I see a kid causing a potentially dangerous situation I will untack the horse they are using and put it up for the evening. After all, they are there to ride so I think that would be a pretty good motivator. I was also thinking about holding a safety contest and with a board where they get a gold star for every evening of safe behavior. At the end of the month the kid with the best track record gets a little shopping trip to TSC to pick out a new halter and lead. Good idea or taking it too far?
As for the BO, sigh. I wish she would be more involved. It is hectic for her right now though and she is still adjusting from the loss of her husband of nearly 50 years earlier this year. Like I said, it is what it is and I love her dearly. She's went out of her way many times over the years to give my horses the best care and always been more than understanding whenever I've needed her to so her absence in dealing with this isn't a huge issue for me. I think my annoyance comes more from my own inability to wrangle in the little ones. I'm a fish out of water when it comes to kids.
Alibi, you are correct. I will not deny the parents are not enforcing safety and common sense as they should. But like I said I really don't want to single out one kid, and the one kid is the source of the problem. The other kids are also new to horses (as are the parents) so I figured a safety class would maybe be a good way to get everyone involved on the same page. Maybe all of them would benefit from a little knowledge? I thought it might be a good way to reel in the one that's a little too big for her breeches and prevent the others from developing bad habits. The parents would benefit from this also I feel...when I was there Friday the mother of the 12yo was trying to ride the BO's lesson horse in a twisted wire snaffle (he goes in a french link) with a western saddle (that didn't fit, plus the horse is an english horse and we don't have a western saddle that fits him) with the saddle postioned so far back over the horse's back she would have been sitting on his kidneys. With a towel for a saddle pad. Her kid had saddled the horse for her and she was along for the ride. Poor judgement on the parent's part? Absolutely. Horrified when I pointed out what was wrong and what could happen to herself and the horse as a result? She was. I don't think have bad intentions, they are just true beginners and they have not been properly explained the boundaries they need to abide by. That was a failure on our part that I am trying to rectify.
You all sound like a wonderful, kind, caring barn family - don't let these naughty kids ruin it! Keep your united force and lay down the law now! These kids are old enough, they certainly know better than to touch anything that doesn't belong to them. This isn't horse specific - this is just plain old bad behavior. They should not be at the barn without their parents, and there should certainly not be other children there! I would have your safety meeting, make it clear these are the rules we all follow, and then follow thru with the consequences - no riding/no horse time for blatent rule breaking. I would not reward good behavior - having a horse leased for you at such a young age is reward!
Poor judgement on the parent's part? Absolutely. I don't think have bad intentions, they are just true beginners and they have not been properly explained the boundaries they need to abide by. That was a failure on our part that I am trying to rectify.
The parent didn't had poor judgement. The parent doesn't know nothing about horses, (visibly neither the kids...)therefore don't have any judgement on any thing about it! You guys are the one judging and inforcing what is good or wrong.
Beginners should take lessons and never be left alone with horses, especially kids. Point blank! And you are doing the right thing to rectify it ASAP!
What about listing/tagging equipments that fits with each horses so no more 'mistakes'? How about lessons in general? And a rule that would state the tack should be checked by a knowledgeable adult before each ride? I couldn't care less about someone using a towel as a pad, pads only prevent the saddle from getting dirty and I've ride without a pad...but the girth being loose or wrongly adjusted might concern me just a tad more...(especially if you said the saddle was way off where it should have been...)
Would you give a 12yo kid your truck keys for a little unsupervised drive? Same goes with horses.
BTW, do you have any, or those kids, insurance plans covering all this?
Alibi- Yes, the BO has necessary insurance. Equine Inherent Risk law is also posted at the gate and both barn enterances and liability release forms are included in leasing/boarding contracts and are required to be signed by all guests (although I've found myself chasing down the 12yo's guests to make them sign on 2 seperate occasions. I've since told her and her mother no more guests for now). As of now I'm pretty much just going up there for my evening feedings and walking into train-wreck after train-wreck of loose horses, broken cross-ties and tack strewn about. When I am up there to meet the other kids and supervise their barn visits I feel like I'm constantly running interference between them and the 12yo. The 11yo and 8yo really aren't a problem but I am concerned about them getting injured in a situation the other girl creates or them possibly beginning to follow her lead. But so far they have been nothing but courteous and even helpful with barn chores.
As for lessons, that is something that needs to be worked out. The girl leasing my mother's horse is a fast learner and very respectful and I think will do well with informal lessons from us. The smaller girl is just being led around on my old guy, pretty much just letting her get on the horse as a courtesy. She's just a sweet little kid that wants to sit on a horse and her mom doesn't even bring her there unless she knows I'm going to be at the barn. The other one that-yes, should be the BO's problem-really needs some lessons from a certified instructor that can handle her personality. I am neither certified nor do I honestly want to deal with this kid. Bringing in an outside instructor is something I will be strongly suggesting to her mother. None of the kids are interested in showing at this point but I am also going to suggest they all join a 4H club ran by a friend of mine who has over 25 years horse experience and 5 children of her own.
How do these ideas sound? And thank you for taking me to task and giving me some food for thought. I have a tendency to be a bit of a pushover.
As a barn owner who has had boarders, past manager of a co-op barn and mother of kids who were once tweens, my advice is to absolutely single out the ringleader and let her know that her actions will not be tolerated. You cannot allow one 12 year old to damage the positive barn atmosphere you have enjoyed for so many years, and she is putting all of you...and the horses...in danger with her behavior. And if the other kids are being bullied into following her, it is not fair to paint them with the same brush, but whatever the case may be, you must squash this behavior right now before one of the horses is injured or one of you or the BO has a lawsuit on your hands if a kid sneaks off on your horse and gets hurt. If the kids have no experience and there isn't a lesson program at your barn, it is really not an appropriate setting for them.
But if someone is willing to take it on, a simple safety class is a great idea for the kids once you make it clear to Miss Ringleader that any more behavior like that and she's out. I highly recommend using the United States Pony Club D and C Manuals as the basis for your lessons, as USPC is a safety-first organization.
First set the kids up for success. You can't expect them to know what is right unless you show them and I would bet once is not enough.
Assign a saddle, bridle, brushes etc to each horse. Label all and the kids must know to use only Smitty's stuff on Smitty - good practice for future as well. No other equipment, tack boxes etc are for their use except in the event of a first aid emergency that you have taught them to handle.
If it was just the BOs horse you have no control and might only be able to ignore. But you have given the other two kids use of your animals as well so you are right to step in. This will absolutely affect the vibe at the barn and you do have to be more present/aware about the horses. I'd start by setting up some rules that the horses aren't available without an adult around. Make sure they understand how your animals are to be handled and treated and the punishment for not following through is loss of use of the horse for some time unless it is truely a mistake
It's about the safety of the kids, the horses they are using, the other horses and you
I've always found it easiest if you lay down the law and be consistent. I Still can't walk behind a horse without running my hand along it or bridle/unbridle without having something around their neck - first lessons from my first barn.
This is such a hard situation. I could have written this post, except my problem is 2 14yo girls and a 12yo boy. What is it about tween girls and the herd mentality, I'll never know.
A huge part of the problem is that teens and kids simply don't have the capacity to understand the long-range consequences of bad decisions, and do risky things because of it. They simply aren't developmentally capable...
liability release forms are included in leasing/boarding contracts and are required to be signed by all guests (although I've found myself chasing down the 12yo's guests to make them sign on 2 seperate occasions. I've since told her and her mother no more guests for now).
If guests are minors, this is an issue. Minors can't sign a release, contract, etc. If the kids are going to be allowed to bring guests, the parents of said guests need to come along the first time and sign the paperwork.
Imagine the nightmare when child guest gets hurt and parent says "I never said my kid was allowed to ride!"
I'm a beginner teacher at a lesson barn. I also have children. My advice is to direct those kids to a lesson barn, because they will have a more complete, more fun experience. At a lesson barn they will be with other "little devils" that love horses too. But it will be a structured setting, which, IMHO, is what kids need around horses. No matter how quiet a horse is, something can go wrong.
If there is no lesson barn available, then you and the other boarders are the their instructors by default. That being said, it is often very effective to coopt the ringleader and make them the responsible one. She obviously shows leadership qualities, so divert them from mischief to keeping the others in line.
But, first, you or whomever, must teach her the correct way to do things, as well as set limits on what she is allowed to do, and involve her parent also. The other posters have already given you great resources.
Having kids around, means that everyone has to watch out. Its not that they are there to be bad, but kids always stretch their boundaries, that's a part of growing up. If no one wants to tackle it, then perhaps you need to rethink including them at your barn.
I think your class is a great idea, and I think your idea for rewarding safe behavior is a good one. But the reward doesn't have to be as formal as gold stars or a gift certificate or anything. Be careful with that kind of stuff, because kids can be jealous.
I was a bad little kid once. I know, hard to believe, but it's true. I would never have admitted it at the time, but I acted up because I desperately wanted attention. My (extremely hardworking) parents were uninvolved with my after-school activities, and just like the kid in your scenario, would drop me off and leave it up to the adults in charge to handle everything.
I always liked learning something new, even mucking stalls, because the trainer/barn owner would take me aside, one-on-one, and show me how to do it. I really looked up to her (still do!) and it felt awesome to be noticed by such a fine horsewoman.
So my advice would be: When the kid does something wrong, show her how to do it correctly! Then, next time you see her following safety rules on her own, tell her good job or give her some kind of positive attention. This kid obviously craves it!
Good luck, sounds like you have your hands full
Last edited by The Centaurian; Oct. 5, 2010 at 01:29 PM.