Dear Jessica, please help my family! My husband and I moved to the country last year with our two daughters. One of my daughters is horse-crazy like me; the other one is passionate about soccer and not at all interested in horses. We have three horses on our four acres. Soccer daughter brings her friends out here to practice on the lawn, which is fine with us, we like knowing where the girls are (riding daughter is with her horse whenever possible) at all times. The problem is that the other kids sometimes bring their younger brothers and sisters out because they're supposed to be babysitting them, and they feel that the little ones will be safe at our place. But none of these kids know anything at all about horses, and neither do their parents. It seems like every day I rescue some kid or adult just before there's a serious problem. We finally had to put up signs saying No unaccompanied visitors in barn or pasture. This is working out pretty well. But now there's another problem. Some of the kids and parents are more than just curious about the horses, they want to RIDE them and they don't seem to feel that they need our permission. We've tried to discourage them by saying that the horses are in training or that they aren't fit enough for a lot of riding yet, etc. etc., but now some people are basically telling (not asking) us when they want to come out and ride our horses. I don't want to insult anyone or be rude, but I don't want them on our horses. Am I making too much of a fuss about this? Please help, it's been a nice quiet winter, but with summer coming, I know this is all going to start again soon! What can I tell people that will make them understand that they CAN'T ride our horses?
For responsible horse-owners, one of the most annoying things in the world is being pestered like this, so I do sympathize with you! I think you've been trying too hard to be "nice", and ended up taking the wrong approach to the problem, and that's making the problem worse.
You've already discovered just why avoiding the issue and talking around the issue are useless techniques - the people who are told "we don't ride them in winter, it's too cold" or "not today, the horse has a headache" will just keep on coming out and asking to ride - after all, it's spring or summer or fall, not winter anymore, so they should be able to ride, right? And horses can't possibly have headaches EVERY day, so it's always worth asking for a ride, just in case the horse doesn't have a headache today...
There are two issues here.
First, people are rude - and don't, obviously, have any idea that they're being rude. "May I ride your horse?" is, to a horseman, an appallingly rude question - on a par with "May I sleep with your wife/husband?" But most people are not brought up with or around horses, much less horsemen, and simply don't realize that people with good manners don't ask to ride someone's horse. Since you aren't the manners police and don't have a badge, you can't do anything about this.
Second, you haven't been truthful - which is why you're running into more trouble instead of less trouble as the weeks and months go by. When you tell someone "You can't ride my horse", then you've made yourself clear. When you tell someone "We don't ride in the winter", the message you're sending is "We don't ride in the winter, but you'll be welcome to ride our horses in the spring, summer, and fall." When you tell someone "Not today, the horse has a headache", the message you're sending is "At any OTHER time, it would be FINE for you to ride the horse." You can't blame people for hearing what you're saying to them. You CAN do something about this - for example, you could say "No" or "Sorry, but no."
Why shouldn't you let them ride? Well, two obvious reasons are that they can hurt your horses, and they can get hurt. You may not feel that you're responsible, but you will be - and you will also be liable.
Third, the potential for trouble is much greater if you allow people to (a) ride your horses, or (b) think that you will let them ride if they keep pestering you. If you make it clear that the horses are off-limits, that will be that.
Fourth, there is a very real potential for damage - both to your horses and to the people who want to ride them.
So the best and easiest thing to do is JUST SAY NO. You don't have to explain if you don't want to. However, since these are your friends and the friends of your children, and what you're really looking for is a way to say "NO! Absolutely NOT! NO WAY are you riding our horses!" whilst making it sound as though you're saying "I'm so very sorry that you can't ride our horses"...
The two easiest ways to say "No" if you just can't bring yourself to be totally honest and say "No" are these:
1. "Sorry, but our insurance policy isn't set up for anyone outside the family to ride the horses."
2. "Sorry, but the way our insurance is set up, we'll need a letter from your insurance company that guarantees that you'll be completely covered for any injuries resulting from riding or handling our horses."
The best part about these answers is that they are not entirely untrue. ;-) If you check your insurance carefully - as every horse-owner should - you may very well discover that you are NOT covered in case someone is injured whilst riding one of your horses. The second answer is a little more inventive, but certainly your insurance company WOULD be happy to receive such letters - and equally certainly, their insurance companies are NOT going to issue any such letters. ;-)
As a variation on the first option, you could talk to your insurance agent about exactly how much it WOULD cost you to have coverage that would apply to other people coming in and riding your horses - and then just cite that amount when people ask if they can ride. Most people will understand if you tell them "Sorry, our coverage will go up by $2000 (or whatever the amount may be) a year if we let other people ride the horses."
Try one of these options, or use them as inspiration to help you come up with your own definite (but friendly) reason for saying "NO" to those requests. And try not to be annoyed with the people who ask - they really don't understand that there's any difference between asking to ride your horses and asking to take your golf cart or ATV or scooter for a spin in your driveway. They really, truly don't KNOW that they're being rude or driving you crazy. As for the ones who don't ask you if they can, but try to tell you WHEN they are coming out to ride, the same explanations should work... but the bottom line is that either way, whether you are clever and funny about it or sharp and direct about it, you need to protect your horses, your family, and your home by saying "NO."
Back to top.
Jessica Jahiel's HORSE-SENSE is a free, subscriber-supported electronic Q&A email newsletter which deals with all aspects of horses, their management, riding, and training. For more information, please visit www.horse-sense.org
Please visit Jessica Jahiel: Holistic Horsemanship® [www.jessicajahiel.com] for more information on Jessica Jahiel's clinics, video lessons, phone consultations, books, articles, columns, and expert witness and litigation consultant services.