Please don’t suck when you go back to the barn.
These past weeks have been hard. Hard in ways we never thought we’d have to experience in our lives. Not to mention trying to say no to yet another trip from the couch to the fridge and back – god bless breeches with 4-way stretch.
As a life-long equestrian, I deeply feel our collective pain and our collective sigh of relief that in some places (including Wisconsin, where I live) restrictions are being eased to add “care of horses” aka riding, as an acceptable activity as long as you respect social distancing/safer at home rules.
Many have argued against barns choosing to shut down during this time, allowing only those key to the animals’ basic needs (food, water, shelter, turnout) to be at the barn. This camp claims riding and being with your horse is essential and a right. I understand their point, I am a sane, balanced and society-ready person when I am able to regularly be with my amazing equine pals and their keepers.
However, I contend that line of reasoning is also privileged AF. Yeah, I said it. We have horses. We have the resources to pay people to take care of our horses. Those funds may be tighter than they were a month ago, and we may need to cut back on training rides, planned camp-out trips, or other previously pondered equine endeavors. But the fact remains we are so incredibly lucky to have them, and we choose the sacrifices we make for this lifestyle. As such, we are incredibly privileged to now return to the barn – now don’t blow it!
As these barns relax the rules to allow us back to our safe space, it gives me both hope and anxiety. Hope we are on the right path back to whatever the new normal may be. Anxiety that many aren’t taking this as seriously as I am and I’d like to live for many, many horse show seasons to come. So I came up with a few basic guidelines for myself and I’d like to share them so hopefully we can all peacefully coexist under this new paradigm.
And then we can get back to pretending we are going to “pop out to the barn quickly” for the next six hours!
- Respect the rules of your barn owner! If s/he says “no riding, only grooming” just be grateful your precious pony will leave you covered in two tons of winter coat for your drive home – think of how nice his hide will look when you post 2000 pictures on Insta from your time together later that day.
- Pay attention to your allotted time. Many larger barns are going to need to space boarders out during the day and week. You may have only two hours (or less) to spend with your snack-starved bestie, so get all your sh*t done in that timeframe. This isn’t an opportunity to spend an hour grooming, another 45 minutes riding, then an additional hour puttering around grazing, cleaning tack, yacking with barnmates from an acceptable mask-covered social distance. Get your fix and get out so we can get back to normal “barn time” sooner than later.
- Speaking of masks, WEAR THEM when it is not just you and your horse. It will give you a good excuse to not talk to people and only to your horse during your limited time.
- Bring your own cleaning supplies and use them. I don’t know about you, but I stalk Amazon a dozen times every day to see if I can get more Clorox wipes in preparation for reopening day. Remember that coronavirus isn’t your barn owner’s fault so the procurement and financial burdens of sanitization should not fall solely on their shoulders.
- Think about the little things. What are things we all touch regularly and how can we avoid doing so to keep ourselves and those who care for our horses healthy and safe. I’m setting up an extra halter and lead for my use only and it will live in my trunk or car. Does your well trained wildebeest ground tie? Awesome, tack his ass up outside and get yourself some extra Vitamin D in the process – you’re looking a bit pale anyway.
- Thank your barn owner! If you board at a training/lesson facility, remember they’ve also lost out on revenue and will continue to lose out as there were likely planned horse shows, clinics or other outings this summer. The margin on boarding, training and lessons is not one which will make any honest trainer rich, so if you can slip them an extra $25 or more on your monthly board bill, do it.
- Get mad at your barn owner for the rules. They are doing their very very best to give us the opportunity to see our most precious babies. And trust me, they are really sick of them! (Yes, it is incredibly cute when your pony head butts you for a peppermint because he loves you. But the 87th time he did it to the barn owner, not so much.)
- Break the rules. If you blatantly break the rules, expect consequences. Your rebel ways should not impact my time giving my boys their daily affirmations. Again, we all just want to hang out in the barn aisle for hours gossiping and hanging out. I want it so badly it sometimes makes me cry, yet for the time being that is not in the cards. The sooner we respect that, the sooner we get back to standing along the rail critiquing each other for our lack of leg, seat and fitting breeches due to endless quarantine carbs 🙂
- Share equipment. I’ve spent these past weeks screen-shopping every online sale and there are some gooooood deals! (and yes, that new 50% off hunt coat was essential) I get this is an expensive sport but it is going to be even more costly when you get sick because you kept borrowing a friend’s bridle who was unknowingly exposed to the virus and is asymptomatic. This is a FANTASTIC excuse to support a local small business, too, like your local tack shop! (Check out Heels Down Tack & Apparel in Kewaskum, WI which does both online sales and now curbside pick up) See what a good person you are?!
- Let “training” get in the way of just enjoying your horse. Turns out none of us are going to the Olympics this year. We don’t know when the next opportunity will be to chug wine together while watching the jumpers under the lights. So if you want to use your barn time to shovel snacks down his eager gullet and braid flowers in his hair to post to Facebook, do it. He doesn’t care, he just wants your undivided attention. Make sure to use portrait mode, they turn out the best.
- Do not forget to say thank you!!! Thank you to your barn owner, the people who work there, your barn mates (via text, carrier pigeon, signs on your car) for also respecting the rules, your horse for not maiming itself while you were under lockdown, the barn cats for not puking on your winter blanket which has been sitting on your trunk for a few weeks now… be grateful you can be there covered in hair, dirt, and that intoxicating smell of horse.
This won’t be forever, but it is for right now. We don’t know what the future holds, but if we all work together and respect one another, we can feel the breeze ripple through their manes, hear the sweet sounds of a welcome whinny, and smell the aroma of a good quality pile of manure.
Stay safe out there, thank your barn owner, and remember – we are all in this together!