The other day, I was chit-chatting with another mom at my kid’s school and I happened to mention that I needed to hurry home and take care of the horses before the bad weather hit. She got the most adorable little look on her face and squealed, “Oh my gosh, you have horses at your house?! I bet you ride every day!” (Obviously, she was too polite to turn up her nose at my reeky mud boots, horse-slime smeared sweater and vest which appears to be made entirely of corgi hair. Bless her.)
Which got me thinking… I literally couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually rode my pony. Was it a week? Two weeks? Who knows. My days at the barn have been a shivery, sloppy blur lately.
For those who don’t have your own farm, I’ve come up with a few pros and cons of taking care of your horses at home in the wintertime. Or, if you do have your own farm, maybe these hit a little too close to home… send me an email and let me know which I’ve missed!
1. #&*@ing!!!! Winter Weather – I remember when I was little and I would get so excited about seeing snow in the forecast. No school, woo hoo! Now, nothing makes me crankier than having to prep for a big storm or a solid week of freezing rain. Say goodbye to your pretty fields and be prepared to have a mud farm for the next few months. I tend to bundle my ponies up and kick them out of the barn – most of the time they’re happier that way and half the time they won’t even use the run-in sheds, but will happily piddle around their slop fields with the snow piling up on their blankets. Of course, there are times when I keep them in (ice storms, etc.) and I’d always prefer to do a bit of extra mucking than deal with an injury. Also, invest in good muck boots… be prepared to do a lot of squelching around your farm.
2. Time Management – If you’re like me, you have a busy career and family life. Getting out to the barn used to be a daily routine for me, but nowadays, especially in the holiday season and lack of sunlight, trying to get a few decent rides in from November to March is tricky. Most of my time at the barn is spent feeding, mucking, fixing things, tidying up and a list of other things that need to happen on a daily basis. Riding, which used to be the number-one reason I went to the barn, is now put on the backburner. Luckily, my ponies don’t seem to mind the break… and seem happy to see my face as long as I have their feed buckets in my hand. And speaking of time management... ask me the last time I went on vacation and didn't have major anxiety about what's happening back home?
3. Expense – Someone once told me, “Having your horses at home is way cheaper—think of all the money you’ll save on board!” After I finished wiping my tears of laughter off my cheeks (which was probably kind of rude, now that I think about it....), I had to restrain myself from pointing out the obvious (well, to me at least) expenses that farm owners have: hay, feed, bedding, fencing, farm labor, farm insurance, farm maintenance, etc., etc. Fixing fences, building new jumps, putting in arena lights, buying more footing and all the other necessities that go into a decent little farm ain’t cheap.
1. Micromanagement – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a micromanager when it comes to my horses. I’m obnoxiously picky about the feeding regimen, routine and overall care of everyone here. When you’re hands-on with your own horses each day, you notice if you should up a horse’s grain a bit (or cut back… or if he didn’t finish his dinner, etc.), who's missing a shoe, if there’s a fence in the back pasture that needs repair, if you should possibly switch to a heavier blanket for your old pony, if an unhappy pony needs to be moved to a different field with new friends (because ponies are dramatic little creatures) or if the stallion’s stall is latched properly (obviously, this is pretty high on the priority list.) I double-check, triple-check things even, and have no qualms about that… because if something goes wrong, I know I’m the only one to blame.
2. A quick ride is better than no ride – I’m lucky that I not only have my horses at my farm, but I also work from home as well. If I can scuttle down to the barn for a quick hack on my pony during my lunch break, then I feel much more productive and, well, altogether happier for the rest of the day. And if I only have time for a 15-minute grooming or bathing session, that’s worth it for preserving my sanity. Because we all know that even a very short time spent at the barn is better than no barn time at all. Just enough to have a bit of pony smell on you and some good horse dirt under your nails.
3. Seeing this little face every day – I think it goes without saying that just being able to see your horses is usually one of the highlights of one’s day. Had a crappy day at work? Laundry and dishes piling up? Kid being a little grouch? You’ll find me hiding out at the barn, mindlessly scrubbing tack or grooming my pony or just escaping reality … even if it’s just for an hour or so.
Sure, having your horses at home is a lot of work, expense and frustration sometimes... but for someone like me, it works. Just being able to putter down to the barn and see my horses and knowing they're okay gives my poor little micromanager self a bit of peace of mind. I hope you've found a situation that works well for you and your horses!