Barn Manners: The Holiday Edition

Dec 23, 2010 - 4:28 PM
Photo by Elizabeth Howell.

‘Tis the time of year when people give you a gift, and you don’t have one to give to them. When you receive a pink fuzzy sweater that you’d like to exchange. And perhaps there’s a coffee maker, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine you’re thinking of regifting.

How’s a polite barn girl to handle these situations? It’s also the time of year when we want to thank the folks who work hard all year to care for our beasts—the barn workers, the trainer, the farrier, the vet. What’s an appropriate gift?

Pink’s not really my color…..

Seriously, what was your best friend thinking? Maybe it’s a hint that she wants to see you in something other than Tailored Sportsman azure, but if the gift is going to sit in the back of your closet until the release of Avatar 2 then go ahead and exchange it. Don’t feel guilty.

The situation will require tact, because you will have to tell your friend about the exchange: “Melissa, it was so kind of you to give me something so pretty. I hope you don’t mind that I exchanged it for something in a lighter shade. What a treat to have a beautiful top that I promise will never see the inside of a barn!” Don’t forget to write her a thank-you note.

The time not to exchange a gift is when you’ve received something handmade or so unique that the gift-giver would be hurt if you traded it in for something else. Trainers, this means you: No matter how many coffee mugs or homemade holiday ornaments you receive from 7-year-old students you must keep them forever, less you break their wee little hearts. And you must eat every last cookie they make for you.

Many stores make exchanges easier and less awkward by offering to enclose a gift receipt in the gift box that doesn’t show the price. (Start including gift receipts in the gifts you give for good gift karma.)


This practice of gift recycling is a favorite of members of the old school, the die-hard practical and the tightwad. But is “regifting” an acceptable, i.e., polite, practice? It depends.

Our desire to regift is a symptom of the economy, our surplus of “stuff,” and a desire to be practical and give away things we know we won’t ever use. Regift with caution and only when the following criteria are met:

  • The gift is something the recipient would really like to receive. Don’t give a box of chocolates to your friend who worked hard all year to lose 20 pounds.
  • The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed) and comes in its original packaging. If you already opened the Chia Pet and threw out the box, you can’t give it to someone else.
  • The gift isn’t handmade or one-of-a-kind, such as a handmade sweater or acquired during your parent’s 30th anniversary trip to Greece.

Make sure you don’t hurt feelings—neither the original giver’s nor the recipient’s. Would the person who gave you the gift mind that you passed it along? Do he and the recipient of your gift know each other, and would it be awkward if they realized that you’ve recycled a gift from one to the other? Make no mistake, the potential for humiliation does exist, and many consider this practice to be completely unacceptable.

But here are the kind of situations where I think it works. Last night you went to holiday party A, where there was a gift exchange and you came home with a nice bottle of wine. Tonight you’re going to holiday party B and you would like to bring a gift to the hostess. You forgot to pick something up, and she’s a big fan of red wine. As long as the guest lists don’t overlap, last night’s gift is tonight’s hostess gift.

Only you can decide whether to pass along a gift, and if, so how to do it appropriately. Think through each situation carefully and then, if in doubt, don’t do it. 

Holiday Thank Yous For Horsey Helpers

The end of the year is the traditional time to acknowledge the hard work of the service providers in your life. For us COTHers, that isn’t usually the doorman, nanny or personal trainer; it’s the farrier, barn workers, grooms, vets and barn managers who care for our beloved animals as well as the trainers who teach us and our children.

The most important gift you can give these folks is to settle any and all debts you may have incurred during the year if your account is not current. Often, these are the folks who won’t speak up when your account is several hundred dollars behind and won’t charge interest. Do the right thing so that they aren’t left shortchanged over the holiday season.

Keep in mind, all of these gifts are optional. Many of us are on a very strict budget and simply can’t give anything this year. That’s OK. Take the time to write a note of appreciation. You’ll be amazed at the impact.

Gifts for grooms and barn employees can run the gamut from cash and gift cards to homemade treats and specialty food baskets. In many parts of the country, it’s traditional to provide a cash tip to barn workers and grooms. If you’re new to the barn, ask other boarders what is typically done. It’s appropriate to give a higher amount to full-time workers. Give to each worker—even those that you may not see.

If your budget is tight, don’t feel pressured to give what you don’t have. You may leave a large tray of cookies or other group gift for all of them to share, just be sure to leave a note addressed to all of them.

Body lotions, gift cards for manicures and any other kind of pampering products are great gifts for female barn staff. Gift cards for $10 or $20 to the favorite local sandwich or coffee shop work for men and women.

Regardless of what you give, include a hand-written note of thanks to express your appreciation. Two or three brief sentences are all that’s needed: “Amanda, thank you for everything you do all year long to take such good care of Toto. We both appreciate you very much!”

For farriers, cash tips are appropriate, as are gift cards. The same holds true for trainers. If you know someone’s personal interest or taste, gift accordingly, a favorite bottle of spirits, a new book by a favorite author, luggage, or a gift card to a favorite restaurant, bookstore or electronics store.

Encourage your child to get involved in the gift-giving. They can help select the gifts, wrap and write notes thanking people for their service and hard work. These are important rituals that help kids learn how to express appreciation.

Veterinarians’ offices are a great place to bring food trays or baskets along with a personal note of thanks.

Gracious receiving

And finally, what should you do when someone gives you a gift, and you don’t have one for them in return? Smile, open the gift, say thank you. Write a thank-you note. There’s no need to reciprocate.

Happy Holidays!

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 website is



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