Knowledge for the curious rider

What is Barn Etiquette for Boarders? 6 Tips

barn etiquette, respect, support, awareness

Are you following all the barn rules posted where you board your horse? Great! Are you following proper barn etiquette though? Those unwritten barn rules no one explicitly tells you what they are or lets you know if you are breaking them. I cringe when I think of the missteps I have witnessed, and made myself.

If you want to keep the peace and be a person other borders adore, you need to follow barn etiquette.

Adhering to proper barn etiquette requires taking three actions, being aware of what is happening around you, giving respect, and showing support. With barn etiquette you can clearly see the effect you have on others, appreciate different approaches to horse care and training, and support others to lift them up.

Outlined below are six guidelines to follow at stables. Please note that I am not including riding etiquette, as you can find many articles on it.

 Barn Etiquette

1: Avoid offering unsolicited advice | Respect

A major benefit of horse boarding is the opportunity to learn from the community. Observing how people interact with their horse can expose you to new training and care philosophies. Similarly, you may be able to help others with your experience and knowledge.

However, there is a big difference between setting an example for others to learn from, and actively offering advice. If you see another person struggling, your instinct may be to dive in and give them advice on how to solve their problem. But, this is risky even if you mean well. While your intent may be to make their life easier, the other person may not take it that way.

To one person, unsolicited advice may be received as “wow, this person really cares about me.” To another, unprompted advice carries the underlying assumption that you think their knowledge or actions are insufficient. Any advice they didn’t seek out may be taken as criticism, especially if they are frustrated or didn’t see the behavior as an issue.

Unless you are their trainer, waiting for someone to ask for your advice is always the safest option. If you only take away one piece of barn etiquette from this article – this is it!

Worried another boarder’s actions are putting their horse’s health or safety in jeopardy? Bring your concerns directly to the barn owner rather than trying to advise the boarder.

Barn owners are the only ones with the authority to dictate behavior on their property. Since they have the power to ask a boarder to leave if they don’t change their behavior, a boarder is much more likely to take their suggestions to heart. If the barn owner is unwilling to talk to them, or doesn’t see the behavior as an issue, consider whether you want to stay at this barn.

2: See something, say something | Support

While this may seem counterintuitive to the first point, see something, say something, applies when a horse is behaving oddly, and the owner is not around.

The best barns to be at are the ones where the boarders look out for each other. A huge benefit to being at a busier facility is that there are more eyes on your horse. I would rather get a call from a concerned boarder at 11 pm alerting me to a potential problem than arriving the next day to learn veterinary intervention is no longer possible.

If you come out to the barn and notice a horse breathing heavily for no reason, pawing uncomfortably, or laying down (not in a normal way), alert the owner if you can. A quick phone call or text will do to let them decide whether they need to come out or not. If you have the time and skills, offering to help tend to their horse can go a long way.

See something, say something, also applies to people you don’t recognize on the property. I was once at a boarding facility that had a public trail on the other side of the property’s fence. One night I noticed a flashlight on and nearby horses tearing around their paddock frightened. Upon further inspection, an intoxicated man had fallen off his bike and couldn’t figure out how to get home. Thankfully, he was kind, but not everyone is so benign.

If you see someone you don’t recognize, alert the barn owner immediately.

3: Avoid walking away from your horse while they are cross-tied | Awareness & Respect

First and foremost, walking away from a cross-tied horse is dangerous. When they are tied up, they are no longer able to move their head easily. When they cannot see what is going on behind them, they frequently startle at unexpected sounds. If no one is there to calm them, they are likely to injure themselves.

Due to the risk, if you walk away, another boarder may feel obligated to sit and watch your horse until you return. Similarly, if you leave them in the central aisle, you essentially create a living obstacle. If someone needs to get by with another horse, they either have to walk around to the other end of the barn, recruit someone else’s help to unclip your horse, or wait for you to return.

While I acknowledge that sometimes walking away from your horse on the cross-ties may be necessary in an emergency, it should not be the norm. The most common reasons I see people walk away is to grab tack or gear they forgot in their car or to use the bathroom before a lesson. Proper planning eliminates these scenarios.

If you do need to walk away, make sure someone else can watch your horse. Do not assume that just because someone is present, they will look after them. Ask someone directly if they can watch your horse for a set amount of time (e.g. 5 minutes).  If no one else can, untack your horse, and secure them safely in a stall or pen until you can return.

4: Ask before watching someone else’s private lesson | Awareness & Respect

While this is not the case for everyone, some riders do not like an audience while they are riding. New riders may be embarrassed if they are having a hard time grasping a concept or if their horse is acting up. Others may be distracted by spectators moving around.

If someone has paid for a private lesson, ask first if they are comfortable with you watching. Aim to ask BEFORE the lesson begins. If the lesson is already going, ask when they are giving their horse a period of rest, and the trainer is not actively giving instruction.

If they allow you to watch, refrain from talking, or asking questions unless the trainer welcomes it. This ensures everyone can focus on their job, and the person paying for the lesson gets the most out of it.

This may not apply if you specifically board at a riding school or at a very busy barn where someone is always at the facility. But, if you are at a small stable, people likely chose it so they had the option to ride in the ring without company. Respect their space to train without onlookers.

5: Keep your belongings in your dedicated spaces | Respect

When your horse enters a facility, you often have spaces set aside for your supplies by the barn owner. This can include space in the feed room to store grain, and space in the tack room for your gear. If your horse’s accommodation is a stall, this space usually includes the area spanning its entire width.

Be mindful that how you keep your space affects those around you. I have had experiences where other boarders will hang their blankets on my horse’s stall, or put their items so close to my horse’s door that I could not get it open. Did they mean ill intent? Probably not, but when you put your gear in someone else’s space, you are essentially saying you do not respect them.

To avoid any unnecessary drama, keep your belongings in your dedicated spaces. This applies to blankets, fly spray, tack trunks, halters, etc.

If you find yourself slowly creeping into other areas of the barn, consider going through your property and seeing what you can part with. If space is still an issue, ask the barn owner if there are any other storage sheds on the property that you can use.

6: Go outside to take a personal phone call | Respect

If you are at a barn where you are friends with the people present, and they know the intimate details of your life, this might not apply to you. But if there are others around that you don’t know well, refrain from taking personal calls lasting more than a minute or two in the barn.

Why you may ask? Well depending on what they are doing, they might not be able to walk away from your conversation. Many boarders use the barn to “get away” and simply want quiet. Picture someone cleaning their horse’s stall and you come in on the phone. To get out of ear shot, they now have to find another task to complete. If their horse is already on the cross ties with all their gear set up, they’d have to untack to go somewhere else.

Also consider the nature of your conversation. Simply talking about the groceries you need to pick up on the way home? Probably not an issue. Talking about whether or not your boss is a total jerk for not giving you a promotion? Now you might make someone uncomfortable.

To avoid potentially interrupting others with personal calls, take a short walk from the barn to answer the phone. If you drove, sitting in your car is also a great option. Do this until you are positive others don’t mind overhearing. This way, those who want peace and quiet in the barn can have it.

Final Thoughts

The longer you board at a place, and the more comfortable you feel, the less likely you are to consider barn etiquette. Admittedly, etiquette is not hard and fast rules, and these six guidelines may not apply in all situations. Nevertheless, periodically reflecting on your behavior can help you realize how you can best serve the barn community.

Although I only mentioned six guidelines above, there are many more to consider. Other actions to ponder include:

  • Communicating and being upfront when your horse is sick
  • Introducing visitors to the barn community
  • Admitting when you make a mistake
  • Avoiding startling someone if they are in the barn alone

When in doubt, air on the side of caution. Ask yourself how you would react if someone else did the same thing. While our horses don’t always mind their manners, there is no reason for you not to!

Share this post

Related Articles

Jen & Indigo

Horse owner & educator

Hi, I am so excited to have you join me at Good Old Horse! When I retired my horse (Indigo) in 2016, I switched from spending time in the saddle to spending time around the barn. Caring for an aging horse has taught me more about soundness, commitment, and care than I ever thought possible. I am definitely the owner and he is the educator! At Good Old Horse, I am sharing what I have learned from owning Indigo for the past 16 years.


My Personal Favorites