The No Airpods Rule: Is it a Pro or a Con?



My friend and co-worker yelled down the aisle to me. “You better take that out before you get to the ring!” she adds.

“…What?” I say, stopping dead in my tracks, jaw-dropped as I put down the whip in my left hand and take out my earbud to make sure I heard her correctly. 

She clocks my surprise. “You didn’t hear about Izzy getting reprimanded by a steward at WEF for having an airpod in while lunging?” 

I hadn’t. But then again, I had stopped listening completely after she told me the details. Instead, I started agonizing about how I was about to stand under the hot sun spinning in a circle watching a pony run around me for 20 minutes without music playing. 

When I was out there, as miserable as I imagined I would be, I started thinking about how sensible it was, albeit oh so annoying, that USEF had prohibited the use of earbuds while lunging and exercising horses. 

I’m sure a lot of people could share my sentiments of despair that the constant party in my ear had turned into monotonous silence at a single gesture from a steward. However, I felt a special sympathy to people like my barn manager, Izzy, who had integrated her airpods into part of her work routine. 

At a previous staff meeting, we calculated that she received 75 phone calls on average from other staff members, vets, chiropractors, property managers, and other industry professionals — especially on horse show days. Texts are harder to count, but her messages notoriously have “sent with Siri” scripted beneath them, and when she taps her airpod twice and starts talking, I know not to disturb her. 

Being able to communicate with, and manage, so many contacts without even pulling out her phone extremely efficient for Izzy — especially considering another significant portion of her job includes lunging. 

The USEF rule about earbuds, designed with safety in mind, can actually have counter-productive consequences for people like Izzy. Now, she has to manually pull her phone out to answer the questions pouring in from other people. What is really more of a hazard? Having only half your ears worth of hearing, or having all your attention being pulled into a screen and needing one or both hands to do so? 

Maybe there’s no changing this rule, and maybe I can learn to embrace the quiet. And, perhaps Izzy can adapt her system for the sake of our horses and their welfare.

However, this would hardly be the first time in the horse world that something was used inappropriately or irresponsibly by a small percentage of people with consequences that the greater majority then have to face. 

Wearing airpods while handling horses may not be fully safe, but in some circumstances, it’s the best alternative.

It’s a choice that should made at the discretion of the handler, but sometimes, that choice gets misused and accidents happen.

These rules are made and enforced, but in the back of our minds, we should all be thinking of ways to make this sport safer and more sensical for the horses, riders, and workers.