Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An unusal set of standards makes horse boarding difficult!

There are been times in Deli and my shared life where we have been surrounded by people, who, though they did not have the same approach to being an equestrian, were accepting and inclusive. We liked that. I think getting back to a barn like that would be the best I could hope for in a boarding barn.

On the other hand, I have boarded at, worked at, and taken lessons at a wide variety of barns. Since I truly got into horses I have spent significant time at 16 barns. These included western barns (of both the “pleasure” and “gaming” varieties), show barns, and training barns of various English riding disciplines. I’ve boarded and worked at barns that cater to children or beginners. This included lesson barns – one of which had nearly 50 school horses (a herd I helped care for!). I’ve also taught lessons, from raw beginners to getting students comfortable with cantering. I’ve also been at two small private farms, both of which take the prize for offering the best horse care for Deli.

What have I learned from all these different barns?

That my equestrian style does not particularly fit within the normal ranges of either "pleasure" or "show" riders. Recognizing that my horse and I don’t fit into the common equestrian groupings is another thing that makes boarding difficult for both of us. Now, as mentioned earlier, in some cases it does not matter. A good group of sane equestrians, as rare as they are, will not begrudge someone for having different goals than they do. People that wouldn’t care, as is often the case, that I’m too poor to have fancy tack or have the funds to have my horse in full training. 

I don’t fit because my standards for horse care and maintenance are (apparently) unusually high. Many horse owners are more hands-off, putting their trust in “professionals” or barn managers rather than investing the time to learn this care themselves. In the resent past I’ve had people tell me how “spoiled” Deli is because I put a cooler on her after a workout on a chilly day. Or worry about her weight. Or take an interest in hoof biomechanics. Or make sure her Calcium-phosphorus ratio in her diet is properly balanced. Not to mention the fact that when she is unsound I get her checked out by a professional if it’s not something that is obvious and within my skills to correct.

Deli lost a signifigant amount of weight at our last barn.
Okay, so some of these things relate to my type-A personality, but I’m more than a little disturbed when someone shrugs off a girth sore, or ignores signs of fever or physical distress in their horses or, in the case of barn workers, other peoples’ horses who they should feel some responsibility toward. I have often found myself calling an owner or vet when a clearly injured or colicy horse is in need of attention, and barn workers are aware of the problem but do not feel the need to act. What the hell are people paying you for if not to look after their animals?

Owners with poor standards of care are still the most common occurrence, however. There are just too many people who ride their horses when they are clearly in pain or injured. I do feel that we have a duty to our horses, as their guardians, to make sure they are comfortable, happy, well-fed, and mentally prepared for the work we ask them to do for us. While I believe most horse people would agree with this statement in general, they also seem to have far different standards than I do.

On the other hand, I also feel that anthropomorphizing horses overly much does them a great disservice. We should allow them to be horses. In their down time they should be able to exhibit their natural behaviors as much as possible. I’m also the kind of person who does not get into the “show world” and all its niceties. I'm not going to balk at walking my horse from her pen to the arena during a storm because "she might get wet". I’m not going to comb all the mud balls out of my horse’s mane on a day when we are doing a light hack. Guess what? It dosn't hurt her. Notice how everywhere her tack is touching is curried and brushed clean? Yeah, that's important. Not a whether my horses whiskers are trimmed or her feet polished.

And yet, here is still the other end of the spectrum where I get odd looks because I do make sure Deli's coat is cleaned where ever I'm putting her tack. You just can't win, it seems.

I’ve also been told my horse is “spoiled” because I pay close attention to her nutrition, make sure her teeth are floated and her hooves trimmed, and will not ride her when she is seriously underweight (especially when I'm overweight!). She’s also spoiled, apparently, by a lot of the other things I do that I would consider necessities. Like having my saddle fitted regularly. Or coming out on a rainy day to work her and groom her (this one is even more ridiculous because we live in northwest Oregon, where rain is commonplace).

Deli's wieght is coming back slowly. Getting her back in shape is another story.
So what it comes down to is that I’m a pleasure rider with competitive-rider standards for horse care, but without the glitz and primping of show-horse life. I think this suits Deli as well as it suits me. But it's not common in the majority of the barns I have kept my horse at in the past couple years.

This reality does make talking with fellow boarders a trial. Every day at the barn means questions about why I am doing this or that. It gets quite annoying. Annoying to the point that I avoid interactions with other people at the barn whenever possible. For example, last time at the barn I was asked why Deli had her wool fleece cooler on while I was hand walking her in the covered arena, with the added comment that I must be one of those “fancy-pants” horse people. Nope. Actually I went out to the barn during the first real rain storm of the year and found Deli was being kept out of the shelter of some tight-knit trees by the rest of the herd she lives with. She was shivering quite badly and unhappy, so I immediately went to work getting her warmed up (luckily, I got to the barn at the right time and she probably hadn’t been uncomfortable for long).

Hey, maybe your horse does not get cold when they are soaked on a chilly day. Mine does. I hope that you at least know the signs of a cold horse and would react accordingly, even if you don’t own a “fancy pants” sheet like the one I bought in the bargain bin at the local feed store for 75% off.
I mourn the loss of top line and round bum muscles. Seriously.
All of this is just another reason, among the many, that I long to have a barn of my own. Deli would be happier, and so would I. This longing feels like a constant ache in my chest. I spend my time fantasizing about how I would build or fix up different types of properties. Or discussing the kind of feeding program I would have if I was able to purchase (or grow!) my own hay with my partner. I have farm-lust. Bad.

Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets.

In the meantime my radar is constantly open to finding a boarding situation that suits Deli and I better.

1 comment:

  1. Your goals for the maintenance of your horse are certainly not unreasonable. If fact, they are commonplace in my area. We have a lot of endurance riders here and I think these people take better care of their horses than many 'pleasure riders'. Our goal should always be for a fit horse, good weight, healthy hooves, UTD on vet care including dental, eating clean fresh low-sugar forage with lots of turn-out time and shelter from the elements. How hard can that be??