One of the most undervalued groups of horsemen is the barn worker. These are the men and women, girls and boys who care for our horses and many do it to the point of utter pampering.
Some are barn owners. Some are hired workers while others are working off their board. Some have lived in the area all their lives, others are immigrant workers working hard to support their families the same way our ancestors did.
They clean our stalls, bring our Pookie Baby in and out of pasture and if we’re lucky change their blankets or sheets, wraps or boots. They water and feed our horses whether it be hot, cold, rainy or snowy. My horse’s worker, a full time employee, calls me to tell me of lost shoes or any other problems. Since I own a ‘delicate‘ Thoroughbred, this means he calls me regularly! He’ll jump into my trailer to add more bedding if I call him. He‘s my eyes when I‘m not there. Words cannot express how much I appreciate him and yes, even though he’s paid to be a barn worker by the stable owner.
I appreciate him because I used to be just like him.
When I was young I had to work in barns in order to be around horses. I did it for little or no pay, and often seven days a week. My reward was riding a bunch of different horses whose owners couldn’t make it to the barn, were afraid to ride or just didn’t want to.
This experience has left me with a bunch of different stories and here’s one of them.
One of the places I worked in was a high end barn with high end horses and boarders. Many of these horses were worth a lot of money and would routinely hit the big shows. Their riders, mostly teenage girls my age, would show up to the barn sporting the latest in equine fashion and sparkly clean equipment.
Meanwhile, I schlubbed around the barn working like a dog, a dirty, dusty, smelly, sweaty girl.
All the girls had these big beautiful custom fiberglass tack boxes in the stable’s colors with contrasting lettering of the owners initials. Those tack boxes were so very pretty, in grey and silver with flashy maroon accents. I coveted…. Yes coveted those tack boxes into my adulthood.
I would come to the barn with plastic bags for my stuff. I also did THAT well into my adulthood.
I’d watch these girls take endless lessons looking flawless as they did their thing, hair perfect, horses glistening but never them.
I once sat on a dead rat while watching them and didn’t realize it for half an hour. When I got up, it stuck to my ass from my sweat.
Their clothing was often custom tailored in various elegant color schemes.
Mine were second hand and during a show the zipper got stuck in the down position. Try showing with your hands trying to hide a busted zipper belly…. And jump!
None of them ever seemed to notice me much less talk to me as I was simply not on their radar. They would however bark orders and the few times one might talk to me for a moment, I would still somehow feel honored. It was as if the Gods had deemed me momentarily worthy to be spoken to.
You see, I was nothing but the barn worker.
So now years have passed and I’m the owner of a show horse. I don’t have a gray, silver and maroon monogrammed fiberglass tack trunk, but I do have a lovely custom wooden one though it bears no initials.
Now there’s a barn worker for my horse and I remember. I remember how it was for me. I remember when I see other boarders really take them for granted or take advantage of them.
So whenever the opportunity presents itself I try to be nice to my barn worker as he is, after all, my first line of defense. My horse’s first line of defense.
If it’s a Sunday morning I might bring coffee or donuts. I tip him very well at Christmas – VERY well. I toss him money for lunch from time to time. I do not make unreasonable demands.
For this, and because he’s a good guy, my horse is happy. They get along great and even when my horse is feeling perky and playful, I know he’s handled correctly and good naturedly – not coddled, but fairly disciplined or just laughed at whatever the situation requires.
Thank you to my horse’s dear barn worker!
(As a side note: In the future the subject of immigration reform in the US will become the topic of the day. I support fair immigration reform as I do not believe in the splitting of families and I know the impact mass deportations would have on agriculture and the horse world. Everything from the production of hay and foodstuffs for both horses and humans to the day to day care of our horses will be affected, something to consider. Securing boarders along with a path to citizenship seems a fair balance.)
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