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When people don't get along: how it affects our horses

An equestrian barn should be a place of tranquility, where both humans and horses can experience joy and connection. But what happens when there are conflicts between people? Unfortunately, our four-legged friends are not immune to our behavior. Problems can arise between people, whether it is a difference in opinion on training techniques, barn chores, management preferences, or even something personal. Horses will always bear the brunt of these disagreements, whether we realize it or not. Let’s explore how the actions of humans can affect our horses, and why it’s so important to maintain harmony in the barn.

Horses Are Highly Sensitive Animals

We can all sense a negative atmosphere when we walk into it. Even though horses are large, seemingly oblivious animals, they are still incredibly sensitive and can read human emotions and behavior. They know when something is off, and can become stressed or anxious when people around them are not getting along. As prey animals, horses are always on edge, constantly looking for signs of danger or changes in their environment. This means that even the slightest tension or negativity in the barn can be upsetting for them.

You know how stressed you feel when you witness two people arguing? Now, put yourself in your horse's shoes when they are exposed to people not getting along and then have to interact with that person. Horses are intelligent creatures that pick up on tension, harsh language, or aggression in humans. Horses react to our emotions, and if they sense that we are upset, they become anxious and distressed as well. Studies show that prolonged stress can even lead to decreased immune function, weight loss, colic, muscle wasting and many more health issues.

Conflicts Can Lead to Changes in Routine

Horses need consistency, familiar routines, and a predictable environment for their wellbeing. When horses are exposed to conflicting opinions, which happens when people can't get along in the barn, it can lead to an inconsistent approach to their care. Whether it's a change in diet, turn out scheduling sudden moves, or even medication regimens, horses can become confused and stressed with the inconsistency.

When people in the barn are not getting along, for example, if two riders are feuding, they may avoid using the same arena together. This can disrupt the horses' training schedules and limit their access to exercise. Or, in worse cases, if people are not communicating effectively, it can mean that horses are not receiving proper care or attention. Neglecting our horses' needs can lead to health and behavioral issues down the line.

Horses Pick Up on Body Language

Horses are incredible body language experts! Even if people are not openly fighting, horses are very adept at picking up on body language and subliminal messages. If two people are avoiding eye contact with each other and become awkward, for instance, it can signal to horses that something is wrong. In some cases, horses may even start to mirror the behavior of their caretakers. If anyone around them is tense or in a bad mood, horses may become agitated or act out defensively.

When humans can't get along in the barn, safety concerns can arise. It happens when people aren't paying attention to their surroundings, whether intentional or not. When horse handlers are distracted, their horses become unpredictable and can lash out, which leads to dangerous situations. Things like focusing on avoiding others, not paying attention while handling horses, or even not following basic safety protocols can lead to disastrous results.

The Barn Should Be a Safe Haven

At the end of the day, we all want our horses to feel safe, happy, and loved. The barn is not just a place to ride - it's a sanctuary for both humans and their horses. When people are not getting along, it can compromise the integrity of that sanctuary. We should strive to maintain a peaceful and positive atmosphere, where everyone feels welcome and respected.

Our horses are sensitive creatures that need understanding and consistency to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. When humans can't get along in the barn, it causes a ripple effect that negatively impacts our horses in many ways.

However, all is not lost…

What’s the Solution?

So, what can we do to ensure that our horses are not affected by human conflict? 

Respect, open communications, and professionalism should be at the forefront of every human interaction in the barn. We must be willing to put our personal feelings aside because ultimately, it's the horse's wellbeing that is of utmost importance. If we can all work together and put aside our differences for the love of our horses, we can create a peaceful environment that engages all of us.

It all starts with good communication. Whether it's a feud between riders, staff members, or the barn owner, it's important to address issues openly and honestly. This means actively listening to each other, considering different perspectives, and finding common ground. When we work together to create a harmonious environment, everyone benefits - especially our equine companions.

We all have bad days, arguments, and disagreements - that’s just part of being human. But as equestrians, we have a responsibility to our horses to make sure that those negative experiences don't affect them. By being mindful of our behavior and communication, we can create a harmonious environment that benefits everyone in the barn. 

Let's work together to make sure that our horses always feel safe, comfortable, and loved.

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