Checklist: Does Your Stable Have a Good Atmosphere?
It’s all about the vibe.
Ever since I have moved my horses to a different stable, I learned that a good atmosphere is worth gold. An equestrian centre can have the perfect facilities and yet you can feel a certain tension in the air.
I think we all know these stables where people connect easily, where the horses sleep on the pasture and where everyone is looking forward to Saturday morning to meet up. And then there are these places where you just ride your horse and go home, because there is no reason to stay, where you try to avoid to meet the owner, or where you would rather not have other riders watch you train. As equestrians, we all share the love for these beautiful animals and we want a place where we can chat, exchange ideas, make new friends, and learn. A stable should provide a relaxing environment for both riders and horses.
Here are some aspect that contribute to the atmosphere in an equestrian facility:
Horses needs: Horses need lots of turnout, plenty of good quality forage, a herd, shelter and permanent access to water. In a place where these needs are not met, there will be a permanent level of stress among the horses. Ask yourself the following:
- Do the horses spend more time in a box stall than on the field or paddock?
- Are the horses allowed turnout in a group or does each horse have a separate paddock?
- Is anyone taking care that the horses in a group get along well?
- Do the horses have access to water at all times, especially in summer?
- Can the horses access some sort of shelter to get relief from the sun, wind, biting insects?
- Do the horses have access to good quality forage for most of the day? Not eating for more than 4 hours leads to a high level of stomach acid and can cause stomach ulcers.
- Are the horses dewormed regularly and do they get dental treatments and good hoof care?
- If horses are kept in box stalls: is there plenty of fresh air in the stable and are the boxes cleaned every day? Is there enough light and can the horses look outside? Can they take up contact to other horses?
Qualified personnel: stable work is a tough job and usually not paid very well so that it is mostly done by common labourers. Quite often, stable workers don’t know about horses’ needs and psychology, which can lead to a rough handling of the horses. After all, horses are big animals that can inspire fear if you don’t know how to interpret their behaviour. If the horses have to be afraid of sudden or unfair punishment from stable workers, they will trust humans a lot less. Ask yourself:
- Do the workers treat the horses with respect at all times? Or do you see any shoving, rope slapping or yelling?
- Do the workers know how to lead a horse and how to handle a nervous horse/ a horse that is in trouble, without resulting to violence?
- Can the workers tell if a horse is sick or if an injury needs immediate medical attention?
- Can the workers provide first aid in case of emergency?
- Do the workers pay attention to the individual needs of each horse?
- Do they actually like horses?
Stable rules: Some stables have more rules than there are entries in the local phone directory. Others are totally free style and slightly chaotic. Both is fine and if you feel good about the amount of rules depends on what you prefer. There are a few things to consider though. Over time, unreasonable rules, for example, can seriously spoil your experience of the stable:
- Do the rules apply to everyone? Or do some groups of people get certain privileges? Does the stable owner follow the rules, too?
- Did someone actually make you aware of the stable rules before you signed up?
- What happens if you break a rule? Are you reminded in a friendly way or being yelled at?
- Do the rules reflect what’s practical and common sense?
- Are there more rules about how the humans should behave than there are rules for the wellbeing of the horses?
- Are the rules written down somewhere and can be easily found by everyone?
- Can there be a reasonable exception to the rule?
- Did the stable community have a say in the development of the rules?
Communication with the stable owner: A stable owner sets the basic vibe of a stable. Some stables are owned by a cooperation or a person that is not involved in the daily business and the stable has a manager. If the clients at the stable have any request regarding, for example, the amount of feed or turnout time, they usually have to take it up with the owner/manager. As our hoof trimmer said just a few days ago, the main problem at stables is usually the owner.
- Does the stable owner care about the wishes of the clients? Is it a place that is for the clients or are you merely tolerated there and are not supposed to have any ideas?
- Is the stable owner open to suggestions or do you always meet a wall?
- Is communication with the stable owner a pleasant experience?
- Are you allowed to voice criticism?
- Are you happy to see the stable owner or do you prefer to avoid him/her?
- Does the stable owner inform clients about what is going on at the stable?
Community: Horse folk are a special species. We love each other, we hate each other. Sadly, in today’s social media, bashing of other riders is very common. However, didn’t we start horse riding also because we enjoyed meeting like-minded people and talk for hours and hours about what our horses did today? The way how riders treat each others is another crucial aspect affecting the atmosphere in a stable:
- Is there a lot of gossiping? Do people talk to each other or about each other?
- Do others enjoy when you are having trouble with your horse or does someone offer help?
- Are riders respectful of training concepts that differ from their own?
- Are riders of other disciplines welcome?
- Are there any common activities, such as barbecues, games, or courses?
Fairness to horses: How are the horses treated by their owners? Horses are very sensitive and they feel uncomfortable if one of their own experiences violent handling or training. The horse sport is very schizophrenic in this regard: riders can love their horses dearly and still resort to brutal training methods if the horse doesn’t perform as expected. Try to see things from the horse’s perspective and ask yourself:
- Are the horses being treated with respect?
- Do the horses seem worried or stressed during training or do they seem to enjoy it?
- Do you see a lot of rope slapping/kicking/yelling/chasing?
- Do people use equipment that is harmful to horses?
- Are the horses allowed to have a say?
- Is someone locking the arena when they train?
- Do any horses have bold spots from spurs?
- Are the training methods used at the stable in accordance with the horse’s anatomy and biomechanics?
- Would riders get raw hands and blisters without gloves?
- Are the horse’s mouths shut tight with nose bands? Are there horses that even have trouble breathing during training?
- Are whips used as communication tools or as punishment?
- Do you feel safe to leave your horse at the stable and go on holiday?
- Does your horse show signs of stress or is it constantly worried?
- Are you allowed to bring your own trainer to the stable?
- Do you like to hang out at your stable or do you train and leave?
- Are there any aggressive dogs at the stable that people, especially children, could be afraid of?
Next time you look for a place for you and your horse, have these questions in mind and spend some time at the equestrian facility to get the feel of the place and to get some information about rules and the conditions for the horses. If you are in a stable in which you don’t like the atmosphere, you now have a lead to figure out why you don’t like it there.
Here are a few ideas about how you can help to establish a pleasant atmosphere at your stable. Some things cannot be changed easily, but it’s always good to try:
- Talk to people, not about them: Refuse to gossip and instead say something nice about the person.
- Organise a grill, a picnic, a hack, a fun competition. Bring people together.
- Be interested: we all like to share stories about our horses and it’s an easy way to connect.
- Be inspired by other stables and see if you can help to improve conditions for the horses at your stable. Small improvements can mean a lot to the horses, such as building a hay feeder, putting up a water trough, or extend turnout time.
- Don’t close your eyes when you see abuse at your stable. Horses suffer in silence and they need our voice!
- Be a good example. Be fair to your horses and always try to find a peaceful solution.
- Go somewhere together: Sometimes it helps to gather everyone for a bike tour or a trip to a local competition.
- Maybe it’s possible to have monthly meetings with the owner, clients and staff in order to discuss problems, set rules or decide about improvements. Instead of bringing your suggestions only to the owner try to establish a forum and see if more people would like to be engaged. Regular meetings help to avoid situations in which a problem or perceived problem gets out of hand, and in a group everyone feels more encouraged to speak up.
Do you have any activities that you do together as a stable community? I would love to hear about it in the comments!
P.S.: This article is dedicated to the wonderul Asia, Dominika, Ewa, Beata, Ola, Gabi, Robert and everyone else at Universe Horse Center ❤