As the horses came to our barn I was thrilled to have such a diversity in breeds and styles of riding. We had everything from Dressage and Hunt seat to Western riding and Saddle seat. We had people that wanted to jump and others that wanted to drive carts. It truly was a mixture right from the start.
It didn’t take long for problems to start brewing in the riding arena. Before long I started getting complaints from the boarders about different issues that were happening in the arena. I had dressage riders that needed the entire arena to practice their test and Saddle seat riders that needed the rail. The jumpers needed to set up jumps and the trail riders wanted to set up a trial course. Then of course no one wanted the carts in the arena when they were riding! Now I am exaggerating just a bit because the problem wasn’t with everyone but all it takes is a few and you will have issues.
I spent the next couple of months talking with the boarders and writing up arena etiquette rules and trying to work out the problems that were in the barn and arena. I thought the issues were over but they lasted for quite sometime and I even had clients leave because of the chaos that was happening in our barn and arena. They didn’t want to ride their horse in an arena that was stressful and ours was at times. I realized that you can have arena etiquette rules but unless your boarders follow them they are worthless. I had to dig deeper to change things and it needed to start with me.
It comes down to respect and communication
When I look back at that first year and the problems we had with the different riding disciplines and people I believe now much of the issues were because there was a lack of respect. There were people that didn’t have respect for others and really didn’t know how to share or maybe never had to share a public arena before. The other part that was huge was the lack of communication. People were not talking with each other and just doing their own thing without any regard to what someone else was doing at that time.
I truly believe without respect and communication you will have nothing but chaos and friction. It is one of the things that can tear down the atmosphere of a barn and as the barn owner or manager you need to know how to stop it and change it. This was something that took me a few years to figure out and I had to change from within and how I was running the barn. I needed to be in control and not let the boarders run the show.
Safety and common sense
The one thing with a multi-discipline barn is safety in the arena. With different discipline and riding styles will come different needs for the arena. As the barn owner you need to understand this and realize that if someone is jumping then you can’t have a bunch of other things going on in the arena at the same time. It become a huge safety issue. That is where your job as the barn owner comes in. There may come a time when you need to set up designated jump times for people especially during the wintertime if riding outside in out of the question. We have two outdoor arenas and a huge indoor but because we live in Wisconsin the only arena that is used in the wintertime is our indoor. Sometimes we have to do a little juggling to make it all work for everyone and our boarders understand this.
You need to be direct
If you are going to have a multi-discipline barn then you need to be direct on what you expect in the riding arena. You need to be very clear about sharing the arena and if you need to designate ride times for some of the disciplines like jumping or barrel racing then do it. You will go through many changes as your clients change through the years but the one thing that should always stay the same is respect for each other. It doesn’t matter what type of riding someone is doing, there needs to be respect for the other riders in the ring. If you have that than most of your issues will disappear.
Sometimes you have to say no to a certain discipline of riding
I love having a multi-discipline barn but I had to make a decision regarding a couple of riding disciplines. After a couple of years in business I realized that our barn really wasn’t the right barn for speed horses and reining horses. I would have loved to have them at our facility but our indoor footing was not really the best footing for these types of riders. Our outdoor arena footing is perfect for speed and reining but because our winter season is so long here in Wisconsin the owners would have very little time to ride. I have had a couple or reining riders at our barn over the years and they understood they could ride but with some restrictions. In those cases it has worked out fine.
You need to really have an understanding of the types of disciplines at your barn and you need to have a very good understanding of how it will affect the barn as a whole. You might think you have a good understanding about other disciplines but it really doesn’t hit you until you are the barn owner or manager and you become very aware of their needs in riding. It is definitely something that is learned through experience. In most cases it will work out but only if you are diligent in making it work out.
Disciplines come and go
If you are running a multi-discipline barn then your barn might change from year to year. When we first opened our barn we had many dressage riders and few western riders. Now ten years later we have more hunt seat and jumpers and only a hand full of dressage riders. We used to have many saddle seat riders also and now we only have one or two. With changes in clientele comes changes in the arena use. I have definitely learned to handle each issue as they come to me but mostly through trial and error along the way.
Our boarders have great communication with each other now and they respect each other. They will ask before they set up jumps or a trail course to make sure it is okay with the other riders in the arena. There are still little issues once in a while but they are quickly resolved and usually it is just a small misunderstanding to begin with.
If you are having issues in your riding arena and your boarders are having problems with each other than I encourage you to look at the situation and have a heart to heart talk with your clients. They won’t change until you insist on it. It needs to come from you and don’t settle for less. When you lead and lay out the way your barn and arena are going to run than that is when things will change and get better. If you want the atmosphere to change than it needs to start with you.
One thing you need to remember is not everyone is going to like your rules for the riding arena and they might even leave because they are not in control. You need to let them and be okay with that. There is only room for one barn manager and that is you. If you have someone leave because they don’t like your arena rules then you will soon find someone wonderful at your barn that will embrace how you do things and love the rules you have. Once you have a clear direction on how you want your barn to run then the right people will find you and they will stay.
Once you have a clear direction on how you want your barn to run then the right people will find you and they will stay.
After all these years I still love having a multi-discipline barn. Variety is the spice of life and I think our boarders would also agree.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,