We all have livery clients who visit the yard, and sometimes visitors tag along… parents, partners, kids. But when do you need to draw the line for your yards security or welfare of the horses on the premises?
First things first, a livery yard is YOUR business, often on your own property so you make the rules. It is often a misconception by yard owners that livery clients have the say so and they may feel embarrassed to question clients about visitors they may bring along with them. There are some visitors you need to make allowances for- equine professionals such as vets or farriers, for example- who need to visit the yard to carry out their services, or people who may be viewing horses for sale or loan. And whilst a vast majority of owners just want to show off their beloved animals to visitors with entirely honest intentions, it is always best to have a visitors policy, especially on private yards, and make sure all clients are aware of this.
Yes, the visitors may be clients friends or relatives but to you, they are most likely complete strangers. One some occasions- such as people coming to view a horse for sale- they may be complete strangers to your client too. Do you want these people having a guided tour of the yard, or free access to a ‘secure’ tack room, sat drinking a coffee in the tea room or contact with other horses on the yard in your absence? It may seem over the top but we’ve all heard of ‘stranger danger’ and that should apply in any situation. It’s not uncommon to hear of issues arising in all manner of forms from unwanted visitors on land and business premises so it’s worth giving a thought as to the precautions you currently have in place.
The best way to eradicate, or at least reduce, these potential issues is to have a visitor policy everyone is clear on. You can just say ‘no visitors’. You could enforce all clients use the same farrier, vet, dentist etc and coincide appointments, and add a no visitor policy but that may seem a little strict- albeit one way to deal with the risk. So to find a happy medium for all parties is the best thing to do. Such rules are much easier to enforce on smaller yards, especially those that are not already high-risk and open to the public such as riding schools or competition centres, but there are still rules that can be put in place. If you look to change the rules, its best to have a yard meeting or to communicate on paper such changes to the owners. This makes everyone clear, and then any newly arriving clients will know from their first visit what the expectations are.
There are several reasons it’s an idea to consider a visitors policy to your yard, and many ways in which these can be reduced. Below are some suggestions as to the potential risks, and the steps you can put in place:
- Security of the premises. Rural crime is a big problem these days, and the last thing a yard owner wants is for someone with the wrong sort of contacts to pass on details of expensive tack, horse trailers or farm machinery that you may have innocently sitting around. Now i’m not saying the next visitor to your yard will make off with your quad bike in the dead of night but it’s worth reducing the risk of anything like this occurring. On your own property, you should not need to keep items under lock and key or hidden away in case there are visitors having a snoop but it is worth keeping any high-value machinery and equipment out of sight. Perhaps a locked storage barn or outbuilding not accessible to clients, or maybe your own tack room for your private equipment would be something to consider. It is worth having visible security measures in place so visitors are aware you are safety conscious- wheel locks, hitch locks, padlocked doors and dummy CCTV cameras (or even the real thing) are all proven deterrents.
There may be insurance implications if you have no control over who is visiting the property and effectively making it free and open to the public to access your land and outbuildings. As the person responsible for the premises, you need to know who is visiting and when they are visiting, even as far as finding out the details of the car they will be visiting in! You shouldn’t need to be there to supervise them, that is not your responsibility nor part of the service you offer. Make it clear the areas any visitors are allowed to access, and the areas that are strictly out of bounds. Visitors should not need to roam anywhere in the yard that is not in the course of undertaking care for the horse or necessary for the purpose of their visit and certainly should not be left unattended.
You also need to ensure that visitors respect your property. Basic things like closing gates or stables doors may be overlooked if they are unaware and not supervised by the client. This is necessary for both safety and security. It is very easy for a minor mistake to leave to a bigger problem in its wake such as escaped horses or injuries being caused. In addition, sitting on fences, swinging on gates, dropping litter, smoking or general lack of care and respect for your property should also not be tolerated. Nor should you, or others, having to tidy up if people fail to leave things as they should, or not put things away where they belong. It should be explained to clients that their visitors are expected to follow the same rules as they are and to show courtesy, care and respect when they are at the yard.
- Bio-Hazards. It may seem an overly dramatic term but how do you know where visitors to your yard have been? Do they have their own horses elsewhere, have they visited other friends horses recently, do they have contact with other equines or livestock through work? If they have come into contact with other equines there is always a risk, however slight, that they could be bringing diseases and illnesses onto your premises and putting your livestock at risk. The days of scrubbing in due to the likes of Foot and Mouth are long gone, but with easily spread contagious diseases such as strangles or influenza causing devastation and disruption to yards across the country on a regular basis, it’s a sensible precaution to take. Especially for yards who take the introduction of new horses seriously, it would be just as wise to monitor those humans who are visiting to ensure the risk is minimised of any cross-contamination that could potentially occur. These risks should be made clear to all owners. There is no need for visitors to go round petting all the horses on the yard so contact between visitors and horses should be kept to a minimum.
Second to this is any visitors who may be bringing along their equine friends. Your yard clients may be meeting up with friends for a hack, being collected for a days hunting or a show, or having a horse delivered or collected with a companion in tow. In which case the visiting horse should not set foot on the yard unless absolutely necessary, or certainly bring in a restriction such as remaining in the car park and not entering the actual yard. Perhaps you hire out your facilities regularly, or a livery client invites a riding companion to the yard to share the arena for a jumping session. How much say do you have in where this horse has come from. The same rules should apply and the horse and rider should only be allowed in the areas absolutely necessary. Unless there is a reason, there should be no need for someone hiring facilities or attending an event to enter the stables or paddocks, especially not with their horses. If you have equines visiting the site that are from another yard, you need to consider potential cross-contamination very seriously and perhaps come up with a procedure dealing with such visits. It is worth keeping an ear out locally and, in the event of any outbreaks of illness or disease at other premises, ensure an immediate ban on visitors both human and equine is brought into place.
- Welfare of Horses. Again, sounds terrible… visitors to the yard, quick call the RSPCA! But again it is worth at least a second thought. Aside from the health aspect, you want to prevent unnecessary contact between visitors and horses, especially those equines under your care and supervision. A visitor may innocently feed a treat or handful of grass to a horse hanging its head over the field gate but is it their right to do that? What implications could this have if the horse were to have an allergic reaction or were on a strict diet? Maybe it’s not your yard practice for hand feed treats over the gate or in the fields and if regularly done this could lead to nipping of hands or aggressive behaviours between the horses. This is where signs may come into place. A simple ‘Do Not Feed the Horses’ sign is easy to make or relatively cheap to buy, and you need to make sure are visible and clear to all. On field gates and stables doors is a good idea, especially for those horses who may be prone to issues if the rule is not followed. A treat ban may also be a way to prevent problems and reduce the likelihood of people whipping a carrot or polo out of their pocket everytime they come across a horse or pony who looks like he may need one!
Similarly with access to fields you really only need one person to collect a horse unless it is a tricky one to catch! There is no need for a group of people to enter a herd, anyone else can watch happily from the gate. No visitors should be encouraged to enter the paddock or stable of anyone else’s horses. There may be all manner of horses at a yard- skittish youngstock, horses on box rest, stallions, mares with foals at foot and even the slightest most innocent mistake could create an issue. If there are any horses prone to being aggressive, or that could pose a danger (such as stallions), again a sign may be the way forward to make it very clear to all on the yard that they need to stay clear.
If a horse owner is allowing visitors to care for the horse in their absence, you need to be confident they know what they are doing- how to care for the horse and what its routine is. The last thing you want is an incompetent person feeding any equines dry sugarbeet or muddling up their feeds. Again, it is not your job to oversee this, and not part of the service you offer. It is difficult to check the competency of those looking after a horse until they arrive on the yard. Not to mention the fact that the yard is likely to be pretty unfamiliar to them and they will be unsure where to find things, put things, or know the yard routine. The best way to do deal with this is to request that if an owner is absent, the yard takes care of the horse and charges for this service. This way you maintain the horses routine and are sure that they are being suitably cared for. Of course, the owner may have suitably qualified friends or family to care for the horse or use a freelance groom for these services. Even so, it is important you know the details of these visitors- that you know the days they are responsible for the horse, and that you have contact details for them in the event of any issues while the owner is away, and that the same precautions are considered as above with the biosecurity risks.
- Safety of the Visitors. Of course, one of the main worries is the safety of the visitors themselves. Many visitors to yards are not ‘horsey’ so do not have the same respect or knowledge of the animals to know how to best behave around them to be safe and avoid injury. It is all too easy for a stray leg to kick someone stood in the wrong place, or for someone to be bitten or hurt in some other way. It is important to make all clients know that they are responsible for any visitors they bring to the yard. They should know where they are, and what they are doing, They should discourage small children from visiting and, if this is unavoidable, make sure they are suitably supervised and not left to run wild and explore. There is not just a risk with the horses either, but around the premises themselves. Stacked up hay bales, empty buildings, moving vehicles… everything has the potential to cause injury. Make sure you ar clear on areas that are not safe, or are out of bounds. The clients should be aware of this and communicate this clearly to their visitors.
The visitors need visit nowhere on the premises unless absolutely necessary for the purpose of their visit. Those popping up to ‘meet’ friends horses should be allowed on the yard, but it is not necessary for them to enter or have access to the tack room, or to be looking in outbuildings.One of the worst offenders is visitors being allowed to ride when often they have little or no experience and are not suitably kitted out for the occasion. This can lead to all manner of implications on your own insurance should an accident occur on the property whilst they are using your facilities. You need to be sure that anyone mounted and using your facilities is of a suitable standard to do so, is on a suitable horse, and is fully supervised. They should be wearing suitable footwear, a correctly fitting hat, and ideally a body protector too. Any very novice riders or young children should be kept on a lead rope at all times. In the event of an accident are you confident any visitors would know what to do, can you be sure there would be honesty in any claims that may arise bearing in mind the likelihood is these people do not know you!
- Disturbances to others. There may be a number of reasons why an increase in visitors causes an inconvenience to both yourself or other clients. Noisy children running around or shouting can easily distract riders, cause an inconvenience to staff or cause alarm to horses on the yard. It should not need to be said that everyone visiting the yard should act calmly or quietly. If you have a ban on children at the yard, make it clear that this applies to visitors too. Many riders have limited time to exercise their horses so do not want to be distracted by a busy yard, or ‘have a go’ riders taking up the school. For this reason, it may be worth encouraging visitors to come at quieter times on the yard such as mid-week or on a Sunday when other owners may be at events. This will all depend on the logistics of the clients at your yard. Of course, if you have full livery and clients only visit little and often you can always bring in a visiting time that is suitable for yourself and will not disturb staff or your own routine. Clients and any visitors they bring need to be considerate of the needs of other clients as well to ensure harmony on the yard.
The basics. So, if anything were to come out of this, it may be just a few simple additions to your livery contacts to clarify your position on visitors.
A limit on visitors to the yard (such as number, regularity, ages)
A specific time when visitors are welcomed at the yard
That they must notify you of any visitors whether personal or professional
That anyone caring for a horse on the clients behalf must be of sound knowledge and skill to do so, with contact details provided.
An agreed level of rider who may be mounted on the yard or use the facilities.
The necessity for all riders to be correctly fitted out (footwear, hat and body protector) whilst using the facilities.
That any visitors must obey the instructions of the staff whilst on the premises.
These can easily be added to your agreements and explained verbally to any potential new clients when they first view the yard. You have the reasoning that these rules are not only in place for the security fo the yard, but also for the horses in your care, and the visitors themselves. If they need any more convincing, read out to them the above!