Bond­ing at the Barn

Ideas for get­ting to know the peo­ple you see ev­ery day as a part of your horse life.

Horse Illustrated - - Content - By amy hempe

Ideas for get­ting to know the peo­ple you see ev­ery day as part of your horse life.

Rid­ing can be a soli­tary ac­tiv­ity. For some of us, ad­mit­tedly, that’s why we love it. We wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to leave the of­fice, so­cial me­dia, and un­nec­es­sary drama be­hind when we tack up and go on a hack. But the barn is a part of our life, too—not just an es­cape from it. Build­ing a com­mu­nity can im­prove our ex­pe­ri­ences with our horses and deepen our sense of be­long­ing. From teen barn rats to re­tired ca­reerists, hav­ing friends and ac­quain­tances who sup­port you in a

sport you’re all pas­sion­ate about can make that rid­ing time even more mean­ing­ful.

For many rid­ers, bond­ing oc­curs at com­pe­ti­tions. While there is noth­ing like the buzz of ex­cite­ment from hear­ing your fel­low barn mem­bers cheer you on or the ca­ma­raderie that fol

lows when they cheer you up, many more op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­ist to forge con­nec­tions. Whether your sta­ble is a big op­er­a­tion or has just a few board­ers, here are a few ideas to con­sider.

potluck Fri­days

Bring peo­ple to­gether once ev­ery week or two to share sto­ries of fel­low horses. Break bread with the per­son who owns the horse that lives in the stall next to yours. “This is where we build com­mu­nity,” says Cor­nelia Gor­don of Bel­laire Farms in Mil­ton, Wisc.

Learn about one an­other’s kids, jobs, and back­grounds, or just talk about how both of your horses spook at the same tree branch, even though you’ve taken pains to point out that it isn’t a mon­ster. Set up pic­nic ta­bles in a field or meet at some­body’s home—there are plenty of op­tions!

pi­lates/Yoga for eques­tri­ans

Lest we for­get that we en­gage in a sport in which we’re pushed, pulled, bruised, stepped on, dropped, and/ or thrown, this op­tion can not only help us with so­cial con­nec­tions, but can also mit­i­gate pain.

Mid­dle-agers love to joke that we know we’ve lost our youth when we re­peat­edly dis­cuss our phys­i­cal ail­ments with friends. We can’t set the clock back, but we can ease the in­flam­ma­tion.

De­vel­op­ing an equestrian-fo­cused Pi­lates or yoga pro­gram can help you grow stronger and more con­fi­dent in the sad­dle. There may even be a yoga or Pi­lates in­struc­tor at your rid­ing club who’s will­ing to lead classes. You’ll find that your con­ver­sa­tions evolve from “Oof, my back,” to “I’ve never felt bet­ter!”

Jessie Som­mers of Cot­ton­wood Rid­ing Club in Lit­tle­ton, Colo., stresses that th­ese are very sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ments. “Th­ese are non-judge­men­tal sit­u­a­tions and ev­ery­one knows what oth­ers have gone through. Ev­ery­one in th­ese groups are peo­ple I count as friends.”

book club/movie nights

There are so many good horse books and movies avail­able that it’s a shame to ex­pe­ri­ence them alone.

Read about Se­abis­cuit and Sec­re­tariat. Per­haps some­one in your group had a con­nec­tion to th­ese horses way back when. The same goes for movies. Host your barn bud­dies with big bowls of pop­corn and watch doc­u­men­taries such as Buck or Harry and Snow­man.

Watch some fic­tion and laugh when the non-horsey ac­tors pre­tend they know what they’re do­ing, or bet­ter yet, watch real horse movies where the horses act like horses and the peo­ple in the film re­spect that: The Black Stal­lion, In­ter­na­tional Vel­vet, or War Horse come to mind.

field daYs

Pre­pare to have loads of silly fun with your horses while you en­gage in low-stress equestrian games.

Com­pete to see who can com­plete an ob­sta­cle course with tasks thrown in for good mea­sure. Walk around the ring with a glass of wa­ter bal­anced on your horse’s hindquar­ters. Trot over poles while bal­anc­ing a cup of tea (or a mar­tini) in one hand. Com­plete in a puis­sance in cos­tume. Bob for ap­ples while in the sad­dle.

Con­sider let­ting some kids who only ride les­son horses try your horse out for an event, such as fastest mane and tail braid­ing. They’ll get to know you and your horse, and may stop by his stall to give him ex­tra love and at­ten­tion af­ter­wards.

Heather Wallace re­cently moved her horse Fer­rous to a new barn in

New Jersey and found it dif­fi­cult to make friends at first. For­tu­nately for her, the new barn of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties for board­ers to in­ter­act so­cially.

“The new fa­cil­ity holds reg­u­lar bar­be­cues and equestrian games. For some­one in­tro­verted like my­self, this of­fers a great way for me to in­ter­act with new peo­ple with­out a lot of pres­sure to per­form. It’s just fun and games.”

Spend­ing time with other horse peo­ple can open up new worlds for us. New friend­ships can give us the boost we need when we fi­nally com­plete a jump­ing course with­out re­fusals, as well as sup­port us through rough times that are in­evitable.

Th­ese so­cial con­nec­tions can turn a barn from just a busi­ness into a tightly-knit group of horse-lovers. Pro­vid­ing your fel­low rid­ers with the chance to get to know one an­other is a cru­cial step in mak­ing a board­ing op­er­a­tion a special place for ev­ery­one.

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