Is your barn located in 1997?

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Note: This is day 15 of my 30-day blogging challenge. What the heck is a 30-day blogging challenge? Read about it here.  

I probably spend more time looking at professional stables’ websites than the average horse person, in part because of my job, sometimes, but also because I’m sort of fascinated about what life is like for other horse people around the country and the world.

Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes I browse websites of horse farms that I will never need to interact with or know anything about. We all need hobbies.

There was a time not that long ago when all horse farm websites fell into one of two categories. They could be Geocities-style DIY sites with dizzying tiled backgrounds and clashing text colors. They probably had a scrolling marquee at the top and that same tiny cartoon horse animation that was on every horse website in the 90s.

Cartoon Horse

What they lacked in aesthetic appeal they made up for with pure enthusiasm. A farm owner willing to come indoors long enough to put up their own website had to be pretty proud of her operation; most farms didn’t bother back in the day.

On the flip side, a slick, professionally designed site told you right away that this was a place that probably bred some type of German warmblood and you could not afford anything they had to offer. Go back to your AltaVista search results and try again, my friend.

Today both of those types of sites still exist in the horse world, though most DIY website templates are much better now than they were a few years ago, which lifts the bottom rung of the site design ladder considerably. But there are still some things that show up in otherwise decent horse farm websites that I really think we, the equestrian community, need to work to eradicate.

Using Photo Proofs.
It’s bad enough when you see some kid ripping off the show photographer to post a clearly marked proof on Facebook instead of purchasing the image. But when you see a photo with a watermark across it on what is supposed to be a farm’s professional website, it’s appalling. I suspect in a lot of cases it’s ignorance, not maliciousness. Who would advertise that they steal photos if they gave it half a second of thought?

But still. It’s time for everyone to invest that half-second.

A professional photographer took the photo. If you like it enough to use it on your website, pay for it. If you don’t think it’s worth paying for, don’t use it.

Copyright

A Lack of Information
I get not wanting to post your full address online, but what’s with these business websites that don’t even indicate the general geographical region they’re in? If I’m looking for boarding, the first thing I want to know is where the farm is located. Don’t hide this info. Put it in the header that appears on every page. They call it the World Wide Web* because it reaches everyone, not just your neighbors. Visitors have no idea where you are if you don’t tell them.

In this same category are the mysterious lesson programs. I have often seen programs that advertise lessons for “beginner to advanced riders,” but they never specify what discipline they teach. This happens way more often than you might think.

Dubious Claims
Related to the mysterious lesson program is the unlikely lesson program. They say “all disciplines” and I have to wonder if they employ 20 instructors of they’ve really found some master of all trades who teaches dressage, cowboy mounted shooting, polo, carriage driving, western sidesaddle, drill team…you get the picture. No one farm teaches all disciplines, and if they try, they’re going to be really lousy at some of them. Just list what you teach, guys. It’s not infinite. You can do it.

Also, if a stable claims to offer advanced instruction in any discipline but don’t share who the instructor is or offer some idea of what their credentials are, I have to wonder what kind of advanced student they’re attracting. I don’t need a detailed biography, but some indication that they’ve trained under someone at some point and a few of their competitive highlights would be helpful.

Music or Videos That Autoplay When I Load the Page
No one should do this on any website ever. What is this, MySpace? Please stop.

**Awaits snarky comment with link to some page on HorseChannel with a video that autoplays.**

Time Capsule Syndrome
We have a bunch of old issues of Horse Illustrated from the 80s and 90s in the office, and it’s fun to look back to see how things have changed in the horse world over the years. But I don’t want the same experience from a farm I’m considering for boarding or riding instruction. If all of the photos on a website show hunter riders in rust breeches and non-approved hunt caps, I have to believe the farm is frozen in the previous century. Worse yet is when there’s a “recent news” section and the last update was years ago. How do I even know the farm still exists? If you’re not going to update it, just take that section down.

**Awaits snarky comment with a link to some neglected section of HorseChannel that should probably just be taken down.**

My favorite example of Time Capsule Syndrome was a site whose owner advertised their status as a USA Equestrian certified judge. USA Equestrian, as you may remember, was the name of what used to be the American Horse Shows Association and is now the United States Equestrian Federation. The organization was called USA Equestrian from 2001 to 2003. That was a long time ago. I have to assume this person judged classes full of Eohippi and had to carve their marks on to judges’ cards made of stone.

Horse-Related Quotations Incorrectly Attributed to Winston Churchill.
I don’t care if you’re the best trainer in the tri-state area. If your website leads off with that “outside of a horse…” quote and attributes it to Winston Churchill, I will take my business elsewhere.

This also happens way more than you might think. What’s with that quote?

All this aside, there are a lot of good horse websites out there. What makes them good? Primarily, they have the basic information: Where they’re located, what services they offer, what breed and/or discipline they specialize in (if they do training or lessons), and the qualifications of the trainers, instructors and/or barn managers. If the site doesn’t have a regularly updated news/recent events section, they at least have a link to their regularly updated social-media-of-choice page so visitors can determine if the place is still alive and kicking. If photos are used, most of them are recent and if professional, they’re paid for. That’s it, and it can all be done without any real technical skill.

*Nobody really calls it that anymore.

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Leslie Potter is Sr. Associate Web Editor of HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.

 

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