You see it all the time: trail riders fiddling with their iPods and arena-users taking phone calls on their headsets, ears plugged with plastic, cords dangling. Somehow it’s become normal to tune out the world, even while sitting in the saddle. That’s not just sad—it’s impolite, disrespectful, and potentially dangerous.
Sounds are all around us, and they provide a wealth of information. The crunching of leaves can tell us that a deer is about to cross the trail. The sound of a gate banging can warn us that someone else is entering the arena. A clicking in your horse’s fetlock joint, a far-off siren, the clink of teeth against a bit, the creak of stirrup leather—all of these things can mean quite a lot to an intelligent rider. Don’t endanger yourself or your horse by not taking full advantage of all of your senses. Of course, wearing earbuds can also affect the safety of others. You could miss an all-important “on your left!” or “watch out!”
Maybe you think that you’ve turned down the volume enough to hear warnings and be aware of your surroundings. However, people riding with you may not be so convinced. Respect their concerns. If you refuse to take those colorful plugs out of your ears, you’re sending the message that you care less about potentially endangering (or even just ignoring) other people than, say, Beyoncé’s latest hit. This is particularly rude at shows and competitions. Frustrated ring stewards, judges, and competitors have pushed the U.S. Equestrian Federation to consider banning earbuds at shows. Although this rule is still under consideration, some facilities have banned earbuds on their own.
The danger of distracting music can be mitigated. If your arena doesn’t have a sound system, consider buying wireless speakers that connect with your iPod. You can place these somewhere on the sidelines and still get great sound. Some speakers are even water-resistant and have recordings that talk you through the setup process. If you absolutely can’t bear to give up your earbuds (or you’d be too embarrassed to subject other people to your custom “Best of the ’80s” mix), try bone-conduction earphones. Unlike traditional earbuds, these devices rest on the sides your face. The sound is conducted through your cheekbones, leaving your ears unblocked so you can better listen to your surroundings.
There’s another price to pay for plugging your ears with plastic, though: personal connection. Have you ever gotten frustrated with someone who won’t turn off their music to talk to you? Imagine how your horse must feel when you’re trying to give him cues while listening to Bon Jovi at full volume. No matter how well you think you can multi-task, your concentration isn’t fully on the ride when you’re wearing earbuds. That’s not fair to your horse. If you’re looking to zone out and multitask with a pet for company, a goldfish might be a better choice. Your horse is a sensitive, intelligent friend that deserves your full attention, especially when you’re asking him to work for you.
Wearing earbuds at the barn isn’t being fair to yourself, either. Too often, we spend all day being bombarded by phone calls, texts, emails, ambient music, and the chatter of others. For many of us, it’s gotten to the point where if we’re alone in a quiet place, we actually feel anxious! Fight this conditioning. It’s not healthy to hate being alone with your own thoughts. When you’re at the barn, don’t subject yourself to sensory overload, and remember that this is a special time. Let yourself to be immersed in the experience of riding, or of just being with your equine friend. The barn should be a sanctuary of peace—a place to relax and focus on one of life’s greatest joys: listening to the gentle breathing of your horse.
LAURA ROSE lives on a farm in Wisconsin where she blogs, paints and sometimes rescues horses.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!