Preventing abuse can feel like a daunting and overwhelming task. But there are simple things everyone can do to make the barn a safe space for riders and trainers alike.
Think of the goal as threefold:
Following are five policies that foster healthy and safe barn communities. (A complete list of U.S. Center for SafeSport requirements and recommended best practices are outlined in USEF Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies.)
Embrace the Rule of Three. Grooming happens most effectively one on one. The first step to protecting minor athletes is not putting them in a position that makes them vulnerable to exploitation. The “rule of three” is a simple requirement that stipulates there should always be another adult or two minors present during any interaction. It’s meant to prevent a minor from being alone with an adult; it also protects adults from false accusations.
Don’t transport minors alone. Recruit chaperones for overnight trips. If you’re working one on one, do it in an area where it can be clearly observed and interrupted.
Communicate transparently. In an office setting, it’s common practice to be cc’d in group emails. Apply the same standard in the barn workplace.
For parents, be on a three-way text chain with your child and their trainer and ask to be cc’d in all email communication. For trainers and barn staff, make a barn group chat on Whats App to communicate ride times, lesson schedules and barn news. Limiting private communication by text or phone goes a long way in protecting the reputation of the trainer and the safety of the athlete.
Educate and empower athletes. It's never the victim's job to prevent the abuse. Still, educating athletes about the dynamics of sexual exploitation and equipping them with the tools to intervene can make a world of difference. Teach athletes to trust their feelings and to say "I don't want that, don't do that” in response to any words or actions that make them feel uncomfortable. Empower them to speak up and check in regularly.
Enlist parents. Waivers are required paperwork in order to ride at most barns. Make a signed agreement for conduct, interaction and reporting rules as well. If, for example, an underage athlete is texting, communicating or meeting with the trainer after hours or out of program, require that it be reported and immediately follow up on those reports to correct potentially problematic behaviors before an issue arises. When you make enforcing the rules everyone’s job, you protect the mission, the trainer and the athlete.
Post conduct rules. Rules of conduct not only have to be mapped out, they must also be easy to understand and widely distributed. Just as helmet use and riding rules are often posted in the barn, your barn’s behavioral rules and code of conduct should also be prominently displayed to ensure that everyone is working from the same playbook. (The USEF Safe Sport Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies outline requirements for working with minor athletes. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Code of Ethics is another great example.) Empowered oversight is clear oversight. Make the rules clear-cut and visible.