Setting the Standard

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Have you ever tried looking at your barn through someone else’s eyes? If not, try taking in your surroundings from the perspective of an inquisitive child or the physical level of a wheelchair-bound adult, and you may see your own barn differently.

That’s what the therapeutic riding centers around the nation have to do to accommodate the special needs of their riders. The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) guides these centers with a set of thorough and time-tested standards geared toward the safety of staff, riders, guardians, volunteers and horses that are common-sense guidelines for any barn that caters to the public. Those facilities seeking or maintaining Premier Accreditation must comply with the NARHA standards.

But, there are some things we all could learn from the NARHA standards, and the facility standards particularly, to help make any barn safer and more usable. Take a look at this simple sampling of just a few of the 30 NARHA facility standards and see how and why you should apply them to your own barn, regardless of whether you offer therapeutic riding.

Posted Emergency Contact List

What it is: A working phone with a posted emergency contact list near the riding area is a mandatory requirement in the NARHA facility standards. The phone makes emergency calls quick and easy, and the phone list provides easy access to important numbers in case of a panic.

How it applies to your barn: You may assume that in an era of cell phone abundance, you don’t need to provide a barn phone for your boarders and clients. But a land-line phone and posted contact information can save valuable time in an emergency. In your posted information, include specific directions for a caller to read to an operator or fire department and the barn’s own phone number, along with numbers for local emergency services and your veterinarian.

Accordance With ADA Requirements

What it is: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. NARHA requires a barrier-free, accessible entrance to any building to be used by individuals with disabilities in accordance with ADA requirements and state and local building codes. Handicap-accessible bathrooms and reserved parking are also required. For more information about ADA, contact your local building department.

How it applies to your barn: Barrier-free design creates an easily accessible barn for all of your clients. Providing reserved handicapped parking and a handicap-accessible bathroom is civically considerate as well as functional. And, while it’s possible that none of your clients are disabled, they may have parents, grandparents or siblings with impeded mobility or disabilities. By meeting ADA guidelines, you’ll create a welcoming atmosphere that meets the needs of a wide variety of clients, as well as create a safe and open stable environment for the horses. What’s good for people is also good for horses.

Fire Extinguishers

What it is: NARHA barns should have visible and usable fire extinguishers in compliance with local fire regulations.

How it applies to your barn: Barns are filled with combustible materials, including hay, feed and shavings. In case of a small fire, a fire extinguisher can help put the flames out and possibly save the barn and its inhabitants. Make sure your barn fire extinguisher is easy to access, adequately sized and designed to fight the types of fire that could break out in the barn (such as electrical and solid combustibles).

Off-limit Areas Clearly Posted

What it is: Signage indicates areas that are off limits to the public, including tool and machinery areas, feed rooms and residences.

How it applies to your barn: Using signs to designate off-limit areas helps keep people safe in the barn and allows for a sense of privacy in areas such as apartments. By clearly posting which areas are restricted, you eliminate any ambiguity about where visitors should or should not be.

Designated Area for Spectators

What it is: Students in NARHA classes often come with an entourage of parents, family and caregivers. The standards require that facilities provide an area that keeps visitors and spectators safe and out of the way of moving horses. “The sessions should be about the riders and are their time for special attention, so the instructor and volunteers need to be able to focus on the riders,” says Jenny Epping, head instructor at Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center, a NAHRA Premier Accredited facility in Bend, Ore.

How it applies to your barn: People love to bring visitors to see their horses. Give these visitors a place to sit and watch riders while staying a safe distance from the barn’s regular activity. Not only will visitors feel safe, they will also feel welcomed.

Arena Gates Are Securely Fastened

What it is: Arena gates must be shut during NARHA classes to ensure the safety of the riders, horses and volunteers. Also, a system is in place to minimize distractions around the lesson arena.

How it applies to your barn: Make sure all riding arenas on your property have gates that are easy to close and secure. It’s easy for riders to get lazy and leave a gate open, so make sure your clients know to always keep gates closed when the arena is in use.

Distractions around a riding arena can spook horses and cause dangerous situations. Plus, when lessons are in session, students deserve a quiet atmosphere where they can concentrate on themselves, their horses and their instructor, so make it a barn-wide policy to stay quiet near the arena, and institute a no-running policy in aisles adjacent to riding arenas.

Designated Areas for Equipment

What it is: All cleaning tools and grooming supplies must have a permanent storage area. Keeping things tidy and in their places prevents hazards and allows volunteers at a NARHA center to easily find the tools they need to help their students.

How it applies to your barn: Creating a designated area for supplies helps ensure that tools always return to their original locations, especially in busy barns with lots of traffic. Consider investing in hangers for shovels, brooms and apple pickers. That way, you and your clients will be able to actually find your barn tools when you need them.

Minimizing Dust in the Arena

What it is: Constant exposure to dust creates respiratory problems for humans as well as horses. “A lot of our students have conditions such as asthma that can be inflamed by dust,” Epping points out. To keep everyone in the arena healthy, NARHA recommends creating a specific procedure for limiting dust in riding areas.

How it applies to your barn: Horses with heaves and people with asthma or allergies sensitive to dust are commonplace. Consider a regular watering program for your riding area. Or, if your budget allows, invest in a dustless footing or one of the many dust-reducing treatments available on the market today.

Walking Surfaces

What it is: NARHA encourages even and easily traversed footings for human and horse walkways in a facility. Good surfacing allows for wheelchair access and eliminates tripping or slipping hazards.

How it applies to your barn: Maybe you’re not likely to have wheelchair-bound clients, but you never know. Plus, an even, non-slip walking surface is safe for any horse or human inhabitants of your barn. To ensure the safety of your clients, make sure the wash-rack drain stays clear and that water doesn’t overflow the walkways. Cover any particularly slick areas with mats or shavings, and keep dirt floors evenly graded.