Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Boarding tribulations, take two.

I haven’t been posting on this blog because, well to be honest, things have been bad for my beloved horse and I this year. Very bad. At the beginning of my last blog entry I noted that “the past five months have been hell for Deli and I…” I’d now like to re-write that statement as, “The past nine months have been hell.” Truefact. Nine months, not five.

I elaborated on some of the problems with the various barns I’ve bounced around in my last post, which I wrote soon after I moved to yet another new barn. As it turned out, my previous new barn (which I had just moved to at the time of my last blog posting) turned out to be a very bad situation for us despite having all the outward appearances of being a great place.

As a reminder, the barn I was boarding Deli at, and liked (though could not afford), became a toxic place very suddenly in late December 2011, forcing me to leave. Since that time I have boarded at FOUR different barns, including the super-new one I moved to just last week. The first three had serious issues that threatened Deli’s health and safety, with the last barn cheating us out of hay we were paying for (and lying about it!), causing Deli to drop significant weight despite my efforts to feed her up. Whether the current barn will work out remains to be seen – so far so good, but as you can imagine, I’m particularly paranoid and jaded after the year we have had.

Deli tied and looking around at the 4th-Try-This-Year barn. The barn we moved to last week.
Given the lack of options in the Portland area for good boarding opportunities (that I can afford with my student loans!), I’ve now tried to keep Deli in a stall-with-turnout at several barns despite my general dislike for box stalls in general. And it does not work. Her body and mind cannot handle it. Right now she is in a large pasture 24/7, but she will be moved to a smaller area, an open stall-with-run style, when the winter rains come. While this situation isn’t ideal, there will be no more enclosed stalls for us, EVER AGAIN.

We've also dealt with injuries, infections (such as the cellulitis), and general issues related to being stall bound that have meant riding this year has been minimal. Another side effect of her being ill at one point and requiring daily medication – and the barn being over 50 minutes away – led to further weight gain on my part (on top of what my accident and injuries led to three years ago)  that I am still trying to remedy with focused exercise. It’s depressing for me to know that Deli and I were schooling upper training and first level dressage in December 2011. We were also doing solid work on her canter (which is historically her weakest gait) that had me excited to ride her even during the winter weather that kept us off the trails. Her top line and condition were the best in her life. Now she is scrawny, under-muscled, and thin. Her top line is non-existent, reminding me of when I first got her (when she was also thin and scrawny) as a more-than-green six year old, nearly seven years ago.

(If only I could give my extra weight to her – we would then both have near-perfect weights! If someone invents that technology, please let me know.)

There are some things I’ve learned about boarding, surviving boarding barns (or knowing when to ditch them), and general truths about the horse community at large:
Deli's 24/7 pasture until the rains start in earnest.
  1.  Horses should not be forced to live in 12x12 boxes, even if it’s just for part of their day. Some horses can obviously handle it, but it's never a good idea.
  2.  The barn owner may be knowledgeable, but unless they are doing all the barn work and horse care, incompetent staff will negate any benefit of that knowledge. And then some. This has been one of the defining issues for my negative boarding experiences since I got Deli, but this year was particularly shocking. For example: barn staff who do not know what colic is!
  3. As a boarder I have much more knowledge about horse care, health, and nutrition than the average barn worker, barn owner, and horse owner. They may be better riders than me, but those kinds of skills are NOT something that you should use to judge how a person will care for your horse.
  4. Horse people and equestrians are, in general, crazy. They do not listen to reason. Often they are not willing to educate themselves or keep up with the new science on horse health and care. If you hand them a sheaf of papers with cited scientific articles on some horse health topic, they will probably choose to hate you rather than changing their mind about something they have an opinion on. I just know all you sane equestrians out there are nodding in agreement to this particular point…
  5. You won’t save money feeding your horse cheap hay. I already knew this one, but it does not seem to be common knowledge in my area. Or among boarding barn owners. For those who don’t know, hay should also be the main part of a horse’s diet (unless they are on grass pasture).
  6. When you find good, competent, sane equestrian friends, don’t be afraid to ask them for help! Quite a few people are willing to abandon their fellow boarders when drama arises. Horse people are deeply tribal and quick to form exclusionary cliques. So when you find those rare gems of people, hold onto those relationships even if you are not boarding together anymore.
  7. I hate boarding my horse (see #3!), and given my knowledge and experiences in general, I will never be truly happy until I have my OWN barn under my OWN care and direction. Call me a control freak, but the simple truth is that I can care for my horses better than anyone I have paid to do so. In fact, I would enjoy that work very much!
In-hand on the new trails.
Given these points, the conclusion I come to is that I really need to have my own farm someday. Of course, this has been a lifelong dream and goal of mine – but now I feel a certain sense of urgency to get to the point where I can keep Deli (and future horses) in my own “backyard barn.” I would be happy to give up amenities to have that luxury, that peace of mind, that ability to have my horse’s health and daily care within my control. She would be happier too, assuming I could provide for her basic needs (such as having a suitable buddy) – and I wouldn’t have her in my backyard until I could provide for her basic needs.

I’m crossing my fingers that the immediacy of our bad situation is helped by this move to our new barn. It’s not an ideal place, but it seems to be a step up so far. And a significant step up, as Deli is already gaining weight and looking sounder than he has in month (simply by moving her to 24/7 pasture from being stalled). And now I have backups – friends and friends of friends with their own property where I may be able to temporarily retire Deli until such time as I have my own place. I can’t continue without backups now considering what we have been through. Boarding my horse is pretty much waiting for the other shoe to drop and for something to go horribly wrong. Or for me to discover something is horribly wrong.

“So far, so good” only gives me some relief from the crushing anxiety of not being able to protect my soul mate from harm. While I hope this new barn works out for the time being, I know I will never be truly happy with boarding my horse. We both deserve better!

With time – and hopefully a good job after I graduate from law school in a few short months – I hope my dreams of having my own place can be realized. Even a temporary solution, such as renting a small farm, would be better than boarding Deli.

In the meantime I’m going to try and get back in the saddle and see where Deli and I are at after this hellish year. We’re taking it slow. Riding is no longer the most important thing for either of us. It can't be. We are wounded emotionally and physically.  Still, there are some good trails to explore at the new place. And new trails to explore in life.

Deli (on left) being herded away from me by her new bossy buddy.