Essays of an Equestrian

The Art Of Boarding


Welcome back. If you’re still reading I’ll assume you want more!


My previous entry dealt with the phenomenon of Battered Boarder Syndrome. Now, I’m going to flip things a little and talk about the other population in stables across the country. Us. We, the boarders, the unwashed masses of the horse world.


Well, as it turns out, we’re just as nutty as the “pros”. A mish mosh of amateur horsemen who range from saavy national or regional competitors to the backyard bumpkin, who couldn’t tell a horse’s fetlock from a forelock. We have our own issues, apart and different from the pros.


Ours often stem from the following things:


1)     A stunningly painful lack of education


2)     A stunningly painful lack of education (ooh, have I already mentioned that?)


3)     The realization that we suffer from a stunningly painful lack of education (notice a pattern yet?)


4)     Sudden bitch syndrome (the gossipers delight)


5)     Pay-your-bills-aphobia


6)     Realizing that Pooky the Horse is a 1200 lb animal who may love you, but is still capable of squishing or breaking you.


7)     Fear and all it’s wonderful hangups


8)      The inability to mind one’s own business


9)     Greediness


10)  Low self-esteem


Let’s examine them one by one.


After decades of boarding I have come to realize that most boarders run around in various stages of cluelessness. To this day I watch them in silent wonder pontificating as to whether they just don’t know they are so clueless or simply do not care. So many have seemed to cease their ongoing education. Sure, back when I was young, it was hard to find material to increase one’s knowledge. Libraries never seemed to have enough horse books other than Black Beauty or Misty of Chincoteague. And although I’ve read both a zillion times along with the Black Stallion books and every other variation like Old Bones The Wonder Horse and Come On Seabiscuit, they are a not a substitue for a complete equine education.


There were also local horse groups, but for any given topic asked of ten people, you were sure to get eleven answers. Never did understand how that could be!


But now, in the age of the internet, when information and education is just a finger click away, the lack of knowledge still possessed by many ammies is beyond comprehension and it is with this thought that I muttle on, trying to increase my own knowledge every day.


If I could take all my fellow ammies for a group hug, the one thing I would beg them to do is to further their education. Constantly. Have a hunger for knowledge, recent and continuing knowledge and education. Don’t learn something ten years ago, and then never revisit the subject again. Keep aware of developments.


Learn about different horse foods and hays and why one might be better for you and your horse and not another.


Once, I chipped in with another boarder to pick up hay. The first time I went and picked up the hay, the second time she did and she came back with a pickup truck full of moldy, brown hay which stunk of musk. I told her that the hay was bad, and could kill a horse. She looked at me like I had two heads. So then I explained to her about botulism (which reminds me of a botulism story I must blog on) and from our conversation I came to realize that despite her having a horse for TEN years, she had no idea about bad hay.


That is a stunningly painful lack of education.


I remember once stopping in at a barn, just to see if a friend was there to say hello. I entered to find about ten boarders running around the place in a panic, all yelling. A horse had gotten itself cast in a stall, its feet wedged underneath the corner feeder which was bolted in place, and the horse was turned all wrong to free its legs. When it became apparent that no one had a clue, I took charge, something I didn’t really want to do, but in the absence of a person in charge, I decided to do it for the horse.


You see it’s not polite to waltz into someone else’s barn and start barking orders.


I called for a couple of long cotton lead lines and as I positioned them around the horses legs, I explained to the onlookers what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how I was protecting myself (as best as one could).


I flipped the horse back onto the other side and got the hell out of the way, and the horse got up, none the worse for wear. But what would have been if I hadn’t come?


It would be quite a pity if the horse was seriously injured or worse simply because the ten boarders running around screaming were uneducated.


Unfortunately, because so many people DON’T realize that a horse can get cast, they have no way of knowing that they should educate themselves of what to do in case of that type of emergency. One should realize that there are literally zillions of things that could pop up at any time during ones horse existence.


So the only thing an ammie can do is to realize the true depth of their lack of knowledge and as soon as they can, and despite their busy schedule, is to learn. Even if it’s one thing a week. That’s it…. One thing. It’s better than nothing!


As I think of myself as a useless fountain of knowledge, I will share with you one thing for you to learn for this week.


* People have used Ivory liquid dish detergent to blister a horse’s leg*


Who would have thought it, eh? The same product others use for cleaning a sheath can be used to blister a leg! Now, I’m not telling you how to do it as any type of blistering is painful, I’m just saying there is a way to do it. Lord knows some numbnut will go out there and start to try to blister their horse’s legs. Don’t laugh, I once saw a “trainer” (note quotes indicating lack of respect for said trainer) blister a filly’s legs so that they would look tighter for a Halter class.


Alright, now we’re up to Sudden Bitch Syndrome. This arises when ammies fall into the trap that gossip offers. Pure word vomit. They watch what others do, criticize that person and others and soon everyone is yapping about one another. They worry who is doing what and why, and they notice everything about people’s horses and habits. They judge others constantly and often start trouble. If you’re unlucky enough to be stalled right next to one, she’ll take up your valuable time and energy at the barn by bitching about others. And they’ll keep at it until you leave.


Then she’ll turn around and bitch about you.


When you get a bunch of ammies all getting infected with SBS (it’s like a virus really) then before you know it the barn is in an uproar and it’s an uncomfortable place to be. Many an ammie hubby is left wondering how the hell there could be all this drama in such a silly place as a barn.


One word about gossip: Don’t do it, or at least try not to. I know it is hard, but maybe try to find one close trusted friend to spew to.


It is also considered bitchy to constantly tell others what you think that they should be doing. Sure, you started with the right intention – to help them. But then you go and on, and soon you’re telling everyone what to do.


Newsflash: No one wants to hear it.


Personally, my policy is to walk down the barn aisle looking solely in the direction of my horse. As much as is practicable I really try not to listen to others conversations or butt in. I pass someone and say a polite hello but I try not to notice too much, because I’ve found that when I do, I get annoyed with people and the stupid things they are saying and or doing.


Does this make me antisocial? Perhaps in a way, yes. But I also do not get in the fray of boarders fighting. I’ve learned the lesson well of MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.


Nor do I “tell” on them. Only once in the last ten years did I go to a person in charge to bitch about what an ammie was doing, and that was for the protection of the barn owner. This ammie boarder put their 18 month old child on top of a spooky horse with no helmet or any other protection. They weren’t even really holding the kid on. Well, the inevitable happened and spooky horse spooked. The child flew off and landed about twenty five feet away. I mean that child was catapulted and landed with a heavy thud! At first, the child just lay there, motionless, but then began to cry. I was glad to hear the crying because for a few seconds, I thought the kid might be dead.


I thought the barn owner might want to know about that so that they might tell that ammie “Don’t do that”.


The next item which surely your barn owner/manager/trainer will enjoy is the urging to pay your bills and to pay them on time. Sure sometimes things happen, but they don’t happen every month. And the quickest way to get people pissed at you and talking about you is to not pay your bills. In the horse world, the last thing we need to do is to GIVE people reasons to talk about us. Plus, if you’ve noticed, everyone seems to know each other. Reputations can follow you in ways you do not imagine.


Next, we’ll discuss the tendency for many ammies to think of their horses as big puppy dogs. And as much as I call my own horse Puppy as a loving nickname, I do not for a minute confuse him as one. Horses are big powerful creatures and if they really want that clump of green grass thirty feet away, and you’re leading them with a leadline with no chain, well guess what? You’re going to that clump of green grass thirty feet away whether you like it or not.


A pet peeve of mine is watching dog owners taking their dogs for a walk, or should I say drag. The dogs drag the owner from place to place and the owner does this weird getting dragged walk. Surely we’ve all seen it.


Well worse than that, is the horse owner who mindlessly walks their horse the same way. It doesn’t matter if your horse never spooks (yeah right) or is always perfectly behaved. The day will come when they aren’t perfectly behaved and you can bet on it. Also, I would mention, when lunging, or leading a bad horse, or loading a horse into a trailer, will ammies PLEASE remember to put on gloves?


All it takes is one nylon lead burn along the width of your palm to learn that lesson! That sucker burned for a week!


The next topic is fear. Fear that lurks in the hearts of many middle aged women. Fear of getting hurt and losing income because you can’t work. Fear of looking not as good as other riders. Fear of riding poorly. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of being judged. Sound familiar?


Yes, even I, now deeply emerged in middle aged protruding belly and a gas problem that just won’t quit have got to face fear in the face.


It is fear that drives so many middle aged women to flock to Natural Horsemanship gurus and their clinics so that they can better manage Pooky, though they never do seem to ride Pooky. Ever notice that? Why is that?


I dislike……. No I hate, Natural Horsemanship gurus. Some are complete idiots for sure, but what irritates me is not really them per se. It’s the ammies flocking to them. The things these gurus teach is stuff that should have been learned when a child, or even when first purchasing or learning about horses. The fact that ammies are willing to spend their money on crap like carrot sticks.


The only good thing about a carrot stick is that it gives you something to whack the person who just bought it with.


I would like to request to the instructors reading this to please take the time to properly instruct your ammies and juniors on how to handle and care for horses. I know everyone wants to ride blah blah blah, but can’t you at least TRY to teach them ground things as well, like maybe how to properly lunge?


Of course I say this hoping to heck that the instructors know how to properly do things themselves!


Do I sound jaded?


If an ammie is fearful one must logically question the fear. Is it a fear of getting hurt? If so, their horse should be rock-solid and steady and if not, perhaps a new horse might be in order. If a discipline is in question, like jumping, then perhaps it is time to stop jumping.


There is nothing wrong with being afraid.


It is my belief that if a rider is fearful of injury, he will likely induce injury by being fearful. Horses pick up on that stuff, and if fearful and falling, a rider will tense up as they are falling and that leads to greater risk of injury than if someone did a more relaxed topple.


If the fear is of performance or ridicule or anything to do with being evaluated, judged or along those lines, then the rider must remember my own personal mantra:


There is always someone better than you, and there is always someone worse


Sometimes as ammies, we are so fixated on being the best we forgot that for all of us, riding is journey.  No one ever reaches the pinnacle, the point when no more learning can be done. And few if any of us, become Olympic champions.

 Although I embrace and admire being competitive, there becomes a point when it becomes self defeating. If you’re worried about people talking about your riding expertise remember:


It’s a lot easier riding from the other side of the arena fence


There’s a girl at my current barn who talks, talks, talks, about other peoples riding yet when she’s riding, she’s hunched over like Quasimodo humping a coconut. She also is deathly afraid of her horse and makes sure she schedules her lessons in the very early a.m.. She does this so that no one else will be riding while she’s in the indoor. But not just for lessons. She NEVER rides her horse when anyone else is in the indoor. In fact, she’s asked the barn owner if others could be precluded from riding when she is in there. Yes, that’s right, her own private indoor riding time, in a forty horse boarding facility. What makes this more ludicrous is the fact that she watches others and constantly talks about and judges them.


I find that immensely funny, in a “that’ll be fun to write about in my blog” kind of way. I guess I’m not yet totally immune from Sudden Bitch Syndrome myself!


The next subject is greediness. Greediness in a barn is more subtle, but it still exists. When I think about it, it’s not as bad as some of the other things I’ve mentioned but it still affects relationships between those in charge and the boarders. Ever notice what happens if a really nice stall opens up and everyone wants it? What about the best saddle rack or place for your tack trunk?


I’m not going to say much about greediness other than it’s there, and just be wary. Of course we all want the best for our horses… best stall, best turnout or pasture, whatever it may be.


But I will ask you to consider that if you’re not paying an extravagant amount for board, don’t expect the type of services you’d get from a barn that is priced extravagantly. Don’t expect (for $500 a month in board) to get the barn help (remember to tip your barn help if they’re good) to have Pooky’s blue sheet put on when it’s 75 degrees or higher, and the white one from 55 to 75 degrees, and the purple sheet from 40 to 55 degrees, and the red blanket from 30 to 40 degrees, and so on. If you want that kind of treatment, you can expect to get it paying $1,000 a month but not for $500!!


The last item on our list is low self esteem. I think in some way we all suffer bouts of this, so don’t worry, it’s normal. Even though most of us don’t live to have constant reassurance of our equine abilities, it sure is nice when it happens. But what do you do if it doesn’t happen? What do you do if you go through a bout (or a decade) of feeling like you’ll never be as good as others.


What do you do? You don’t worry about it.


You’re not performing brain surgery, so you just don’t NEED to be that good.


Other than being able to puff your chest and feel really cool about yourself, there is absolutely no redeeming value to being the best on the block. Sure, an Olympic winner gets all sort of endorsement deals, but that just doesn’t count in the average boarding situation.


Even if you’re a competitive rider, there are many positives to looking at things this way: I am content as long as I am better today, than I was yesterday. That doesn’t mean you have to learn piaffe today because you didn’t know it yesterday. It means that you should go out, ride your horse, enjoy your horse and be in harmony with your horse. And while some rides will be better than others, as long as you keep a sense of light and positivity, increase your education, and remember that you ride because it is fun, you’ll be just fine.


It’s not like you’re performing some life saving function. You’re not working at world peace. You’re not saving the world from destruction or the apocalypse. All you are doing is riding a damn horse.


Now go out, shut up and ride your damn horse.


And remember how lucky you are to have a damn horse to ride and that neither you, or he, are starving.


I wonder how many people in this world are lucky enough to have a damn horse! Consider yourself blessed.


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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.