More than a decade ago a friend and I went to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event as spectators. We walked through the fabulous vendor fair, bought too much, enjoyed wildly overpriced food, greeted old friends and marveled at the cross country course.
On that beautiful spring morning in April we found ourselves in a crowd behind the spectator ropes right behind the entrance at A, watching Karen O’Connor enter at A on the unforgettable Biko. As we watched mesmerized, up drove a golf cart with a young driver and not-so-young passenger. They pushed through the crowd with the cart until they were right up front. We could all see over the cart, so it was no problem to anyone. It became apparent that the older woman was the owner as she commented on the test, “Oh dear, a little tight there, wasn’t our boy?” “Oooh, good man, Biko, cookies tonight.” “Wasn’t that lovely. Good man.”
It was charming and it reminded us that even Rolex horses are simply somebody’s love. Her endearing comments made all the fabulous horses we saw that weekend more real and accessible. And in some strange way, it raised my own horses to a more Rolex-like status. After all, the Rolex horses were just somebody’s horse. And my horse was somebody’s horse.
So I went home and unpacked and on that Monday I asked myself what Biko and Karen were doing that day. Obviously, good Biko had the day off after his work at Rolex, but imagining that there was someone who cleaned his stall that morning, and would walk him this afternoon for a stretch, reminded me that the daily work of riding, cleaning stalls and loving attention is what makes a horse and rider great. No rider is alone any day as long as she remembers that thousands of people are out striving, making small changes, doing the deal to make small improvements in themselves and their horses.
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” -Jim Rohn
I run a training barn, so have had horses boarded at my place for a long while. However, usually I am the one doing most of the riding. The horses’ owners show up to visit, observe or take a lesson, but mostly, it is just me and the horses. One of the horses I trained is recently being leased by a person who will be coming out and riding the horse at my place. She asked me if I could provide a list of barn rules.
Barn rules? Hmmmm… Now that’s a good question. I’ve always disliked barn rules that started with “No” and “Do not.” They flash me back to the dour church of my youth that emphasized the “Thou shalt not” commandments and skipped blithely over the “You-shall-love-your-neighbor-as-yourself.-There-is-no-commandment-greater-than-this” passages.
It seems to me that there are two ways to communicate rules. One is to tell the listener what not to do – a written game of “Hot and Cold” with an emphasis on the ‘Cold.’ The other way is to communicate general guidelines to show the audience how to decide what to do. When the rules audience is allowed to take ownership in deciding what to do, it eliminates the need for the myriad “Do nots.” It also encourages the audience to think about the positive results of their actions, rather than trying to avoid the negative result that is associated with breaking the rules. Ahhhh. The joy of clear direction and trust.
In the movie Seven Pounds, there is a scene where Will Smith’s character is watching a hockey practice where a fight breaks out. The coach whistles loudly to get the players’ attention. Then he asks the boys where they are. “This is church sir!” they yell in unison. The fighting ceases and they are back to practice. Where many coaches would have punished the boys for fighting, thus showing them clearly what they ought not to do, this coach simply reminded them of how they should decide what to do – in this case to use the same set of behavioural rules that they would in church. He reminded them of the general philosophy of how they should be, rather than punishing them for being what they shouldn’t. Genius.
So I thought about applying this philosophy to barn etiquette and came up with this to post on the barn door:
Field Day Barn Etiquette
You are entering a sanctuary.
Directive One: Treat all animals, people and equipment with love and respect at all times.
- Treat the lawn as if it was the churchyard. If possible avoid taking horses across the lawn when it is wet. If you must cross it when it is wet, go along the west fenceline where the ground is a little higher and dries out more quickly.
- Bring cookies.
- If possible, leave things a little nicer than when you arrived.
- Pitch in where you can.
- Praise often.
- Change the radio station if you like. Be comfortable.
- You can ride on our land. Let us show you where our neighbors have said it is ok to ride on theirs.
- Enjoy your horse fully and love on the other ones if you like.
- If you borrow something, return it promptly in clean, working order.
- If you borrow supplies, replace them promptly with somewhat more than you borrowed.
- If you mess up, fess up, quickly and fully. It probably can be fixed if caught early.
- If you need help, ask.
- If you can give help when asked, do.
- When alone and in doubt, ask your Higher Self.
- If the gate was closed before you went through it, close it behind you
- Communicate quietly and privately if you have a critique or request.
- Communicate as enthusiastically and publicly as seems appropriate to you if you have praise.
- Greet people.
All rules are subservient to Directive One.