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, bonding at the barn and having friends and acquaintances who support you in a sport you’re all passionate about can make that riding time even more meaningful.
Whether your stable is a big operation or has just a few boarders, here are a few ideas to consider for bonding at the barn.
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.
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 fi nally 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.
This article on bonding at the barn originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!