This month I am taking a look at a subject not often discussed but one a lot of people are clearly very involved with, namely livery yards from the perspective of both the livery yard owner or manager and their livery yard guest, and looking at how to avoid getting into petty disputes or full blown conflict, which is a lot more common than most people realise. Serious problems are rare but can explode from time to time into major disputes, which can even result in court proceedings, which I have been called in to give witness over the years. It can get very embarrassing when people realise too late who really knows what and who does not.
Responsibilities for both proprietors and their clients
The yards that run most efficiently in my experience are the ones where peoples’ expectations of each other are clearly understood. Who is responsible for what is simple to understand and a good stable routine is established and followed by all or at least most of the people on the yard. The horses pick up on this harmony and are happier. The opposite is the case when people do not get along and the trouble sometimes starts for all. This is to be avoided.
Children on yards
Children are often a major cause of disputes on livery yards. I am not talking about toddlers but young early teenagers. It is imperative that they are well behaved, respectful to other people and do not treat livery yards like playgrounds. There are health and safety issues and I am currently involved as a professional witness in one such case which is going to court, where ponies being ridden stupidly caused a serious accident to another rider. This can be very unsafe, as well as grossly inappropriate and on yards where the behaviour of children is a problem it can lead to serious safety issues and unsavoury disputes. Of course not every yard with children on has issues but what I will say if there are issues involving children, particularly if the parents are poor at managing their children think about moving to another yard. It can get very nasty. Poor parenting, leads to poorly behaved children and in my opinion livery yards are no place for children to be unsupervised and out of control. I work at a number of yards where there are children and they are managed impeccably. So it is possible to get it right and there is no reason whatsoever why the children of people on livery should have their children misbehaving, especially when riding ponies. The message is simple if you take children with you to livery yards ensure they know how to behave. In my experience yard owners are very good at sorting issues out if people are grown up about things and talk things over. Nipping things in the bud and acting early can be a very wise move and avoid a potential problem.
Value for money
When considering value for money it is essential to remember the yard owner or manger is probably covering many issues that some people do not even think about. They have a life to lead and cannot do everything. Give and take is important. An example of this might be horses that are unruly when turned out. Horses who do not get enough ridden exercise are often the biggest trouble causers and this can be a big headache for yard owners who often have the thankless task of keeping the yard safe for everybody. Mending fences can take forever, is often costly and this should be remembered. The devil is often in the detail, so if your horses is trashing fences and running amock it might need more work. It is unreasonable to expect livery yards to build field fencing that is ten feet high and ten feet thick. Think on, manage your errant horses if you have one of those naughty when turned out tykes. This is just one example but bear in mind yard owners and managers often have very long days and a lot of their work goes unnoticed.
Restrictive practices and bullying
An increasing problem with a lot of yards is restrictive practices when it comes to people being free to choose what farrier, vet or riding professional they employ. Clicks can form on yards and groups of people who have one particular service provider (who might not actually be that good) often coerce or even bully other people into having the same ones as them. This needs addressing. Everybody should be free to select the service provider of their choice. Too many yards simply ban certain practioners on the basis of nothing more than their limited opinions of people and of course in some cases who is prepared to pay them a backhander. Not good. Restrictive practices are a very bad sign at any yard.
On a positive note livery yards tend to have there own unofficial way of ensuring most horses are properly looked after and cared for. People are always watching each other and comparing who does what and when etc. Yard gossip can be very harmful and bullying can occur and should be challenged where appropriate, however, horses that are perhaps not being looked after as well as they could be get spotted and the issues get addressed. Again competent caring yard owners in my experience are very good at having a quiet word as and when required and serving polite notice on matters related to equine welfare, giving people time to sort issues out.
Just some ideas for you to reflect upon and I think if we are all aware of our own behaviour and the effect of it on others problems should be few and far between.
Next month I will be writing about an NHS nursing hero who has completely upskilled her riding ability which has resulted in her horse being massively more rideable and healthy, all set against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic. It really is a fantastic story.