Last week I wrote about how to discipline horses in the midst of a lesson. I find disciplining clients to be a bit easier than disciplining horses. The most important piece of discipline is to start with clear boundaries. It is easy to create these boundaries at a therapeutic riding center because the boundaries are based on safety precautions that are necessary around horses.
Having too many rules can confuse clients and it is best to keep the rules simple. The rules also need to be something clients can understand and follow. Asking clients not to raise their voices and flap their arms may not be realistic for some clients. I have some basic rules for clients such as no running and no hitting.
The next piece of discipline is to follow through on consequences. Lay the rules out for clients and explain the consequences. If clients break the rule, follow through! For example, “there’s no running in the barn. If you run, we can’t give a treat to our horse.” If the client starts running, he or she cannot treat the horse.
Know your clients. Some clients like to push boundaries and might need a clear consequence. Others may get caught up in a moment and broke into a run, but quickly came back to a walk with a reminder. Some clients may not understand the rules or may not remember them. I like to explain why we have rules “there’s no running in the barn because it might scare your horse.” Each time a client comes, I can remind them of the rule, “remember, we don’t run in the barn because we don’t want to scare the horse. If you do run, we won’t be able to give our horses a treat.”
Focus on the horse. Rules are in place at barns to keep our horses happy and our clients and volunteers safe. We don’t run so we don’t spook a horse. We don’t yank on the reins because it’s mean to our horse. We don’t hit because our horse didn’t do anything wrong. We want to be nice to our horses so we follow the rules. By keeping the attention on the horses we are not embarrassing clients or making them ‘bad’, we are simply addressing a situation that makes our horse uncomfortable.
I will usually give clients a warning and then a discipline. Particularly if the client is acting out on the horse (spitting, hitting, swearing, etc.). I explain what the behavior is that is not tolerated, what to do instead, and then give a warning. For example, “Sally, I understand you might be frustrated but we don’t hit our horses. Instead, you can take a deep breath and pat your horse like this. If I see you hit your horse again, your ride will be over and we will dismount.”
What rules do you have at your barn? How do you enforce them?