Can a barn tell me what I can and cannot post on my social media account(s) about my riding, horses, training, and other things pertaining to the barn?
Social media limitations. I have to admit that I had never heard of this type of limitation until last year due to someone I follow on Tumblr. She stated she wasn’t allowed to post much about the barn at which she rides because of its “social media policy.” I thought this was quite interesting as it was something I had never experienced in all my time riding.
Last year, I took some videos of my trainer riding my horse and riding my old barn manager’s horse. My old barn manager’s horse threw several bucking fits during the approach to a small oxer, and I got them all on video. My trainer was never unseated. In fact, it looked like her ass had superglue on it. I posted the videos to my Facebook page as a way of showing just how badass my trainer was. My Facebook was, and is still, completely private. In fact, it’s so private that you can’t even find me if you do a search for my name, so there was really no risk of the video being seen by anyone other than my friends.
I received a text from my old barn manager a few days later asking that I take the video down as she did not want it “all over the internet.” Aside from the fact that there was no possible way it could be all over the internet given that my Facebook was private, and that was the only place I had posted the video, I was a bit taken aback. Was she really trying to dictate what I was allowed to post to my private social media account? I told her that a. my Facebook is private and that no one who wasn’t my friend could see it and b. I didn’t really appreciate that she was telling me what I, an adult, could place on my Facebook page. I did oblige and take it down, mostly because I said to myself “would I rather be right or be happy?” Since I was already having issues with her, I decided I would rather be happy, and I removed the video.
I also pointed out to her that other riders/boarders at the barn had made videos in the past and published them to public YouTube accounts. These videos didn’t just show them riding but also showed things such as bad behavior of lesson horses that they rode and some falls by other riders at the facility who were also riding lesson horses. My old barn manager’s response was that I was more associated with the barn since I ran their Facebook page, website, and worked for them (on a free, as needed basis – I was never actually employed by the barn).
When I moved barns, I moved to a place that was originally built private facility, no boarders at all. However, the owner decided to start a very small boarding/lesson business, and he opened his property to, for all intents and purposes, complete strangers that wanted to keep their horses at his barn. On the rule sheet that is handed out to each boarder, there is an explicit rule stating that boarders/riders are not allowed to take photos of the owner’s house. This is understandable. When I decided to move there to get away from my old barn, I saw the rule and asked the barn manager if I was allowed to take photos in and around the barn. I asked this question because I love taking photos of my horses and having videos of myself riding. Additionally, I often posted those photos/videos on my social media accounts – some of which are public. The barn manager said yes. Additionally, she followed me on my public Instagram and was friends with me on Facebook, so she saw me frequently posting photos/videos I had taken to those accounts.
Not once was anything said to me about this.
I published a post a few weeks ago about fancy barns and how sometimes they are not functional or suitable for horses. (Editor’s Note: I took that post down due to the events that transpired below. I have decided not to republish the post. See below as to why.) The post was mostly inspired by what is now my old barn. I used photos I had taken in/around the old barn as part of the post. Not one photo contained a picture of the house. I truly believed I was well within my rights to post the barn photos as I had never been told otherwise. However, I received a text from my old barn manager who was tipped off about the post from a friend of hers who reads my blog. She told me that the barn owner would not want photos of his barn on such a well-known site, and she asked me to take the photos down.
Now, I was under no obligation to take the photographs down. She was well within her rights to ask me to remove them, but I was also well within my rights to post them. I ended up taking the post down because, to me, the post was not worth the potential trouble and drama I would have to go through if I said I wasn’t going to take the photographs down. However, my taking the post down was not, in any way, admitting I was wrong – because, to be frank, I wasn’t wrong.
After speaking with some of my Twitter followers, I found that some other barns have these social media policies in place as well. Some of my followers were completely okay with them while others found them to be unnecessarily limiting. What struck me the most was that no one was asked to sign anything stating that they agreed not to post anything regarding the barn on social media.
I hate to break it to these barns, but the social media policy they have in place, that their boarders/riders have agreed to, may not be enforceable without a signed document. I know that a lot of times the horse world operates differently, but when it comes down to it, say I wanted to challenge the request for me to take down the photos of my old barn… I could simply say that I didn’t agree to not post photos of the barn; I was told that I could take photos of the barn; I posted photos of the barn previously and was not told that wasn’t allowed; and, most damning of all (in my opinion), I didn’t sign anything.
So, if you’re a barn, and you want to limit what a boarder or rider can post on social media, you need to think carefully about putting that request and policy into a writing that must be signed by the boarder/rider. Otherwise, you may one day get one that wants to challenge you – or a lawyer, like me – who says, “well, I didn’t sign anything with that policy on it, so I’m under no obligation to honor your request.”
The reason you will need a signed writing is because you are essentially asking your boarders/riders to give up their right to post things on social media regarding one’s horses, riding, lessons, and showing. To me, memorializing this in a signed writing is the best way for both parties to be clear on what’s expected, on both ends. It can also minimize or even prevent any misunderstandings in the future.
So, if you are a barn that wants to implement a limitation on what someone can put on social media, what should you do?
- Outline the policy in writing. This is the number one reason that boarders and riders could dispute a request to take down a photograph – it’s not in writing. You must delineate the policy in writing including what it covers and what mediums are covered. You may also, if you wish, state why you have this policy in place. It may help your clients understand why you are limiting their right to post things on their social media account(s).
- Get a signature. A written policy taking away or limiting someone’s right to do something is useless if it is not signed by that person. If the person is under 18, you need to get the signature of a parent or guardian. If the person is over 18, that person’s signature will suffice. Without a signature, the written policy really is useless if the individual chooses to post anyway.
- Recognize that some clients will fight you on this. Some clients will take great offense on being told they can’t post certain things to their personal social media account(s) especially if those account(s) are private. As a result, be prepared to experience some pushback, and be prepared to explain why this policy is beneficial to both your business and to the client. You should also be prepared to lose clients over this. To be perfectly honest, if I visited a potential facility that had a policy where I could not post things about my horses on social media, I would put that facility at the bottom of my list and only go there if I was really desperate. But again, that is just my own feeling on the situation.
- Get the advice of legal counsel. You are limiting someone’s right to free speech and freedom of expression here, so you may want to get your policy reviewed by an attorney. That way, anything that may end up being completely unenforceable in court will be modified or made enforceable. Are clients guaranteed to take you to court? Of course not – but, you want to be prepared, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Be upfront about the policy. You should always be up front about any policy your facility has. That way, a client can’t turn around and claim they were unaware of what they were signing when they signed it. Additionally, your reputation for honesty will stay in tact. You will also get a chance to explain the policy when the client isn’t angry that you said “hey… we have this policy… and you violated it.” Emotions won’t be high, and the situation is less likely to turn volatile and unable to be fixed. I personally think it’s best to always explain any contract you are having a client sign. Even though the client may be “reading” the policy, doesn’t mean they are actually reading the policy.
I have not heard of many barns that have social media policies, but they do exist. If you are considering joining the ranks, following the aforementioned tips can save you some unnecessary trouble and legal fees if a client decides to challenge the policy in court (yes, this can happen).
If you are unsure of how to word your policy or other steps to take, the best thing to do would be to hire legal counsel experienced in this type of policy limitation. The above post should not be construed as legal advice. It is legal education, and it does not form an attorney-client relationship.