Friday, November 22, 2019

An Ode to the Self-Boarding/ Non-Boarding Rider

Maybe it was out of necessity, or maybe it was out of sheer need. Whatever the circumstance, some of us are living the dream of a 10 year old, horse-crazy kid who has several Breyer collectibles and draws elaborate plans of a 20 stall barn with chandeliers, velvet drapes, and automatic feeding systems.

In some ways, we look back on our childhood memories with a great sense of accomplishment or pride.

But sometimes, it doesn't always feel that way.

It is no secret that I've been a self-care boarder for the last several years - having delved into smaller-scale part and full board scenarios, my immediate area does not have the luxury of boarding barns or rolling hills of vacant land. And when I had to relocate Suzie from yet another private barn, I knew that although I had a list of wants and needs, I would also have to sacrifice a lot the "wants" and focus on the necessities.

Necessity numero uno -  happy horses.
It was on pure chance that I stumbled onto the current digs we're at. And it is interesting to look back and see how far I've come and how differently I run and manage the barn and associated land since I first started. The area is mine and mine alone to cultivate, shape, and mold. While I cannot make immediate changes to the current structures, I have free rein to modify or rearrange pre-existing elements. It's a freedom few have, especially when it comes to circumstances of a boarding barn.

Despite this, there have been several occasions where I have glanced longingly in the direction of my friends and fellow equestrians with jealousy, wishing that I could have a simplistic barn-routine where heading out to ride my horse was less of a game of chance and more of an expectation. 

The roles and responsibilities of a self-boarder (or non-boarder) are tenfold, and the to-do list grows ever-long.

The reality of horse ownership.
I've sat there, in muted silence, as friends proclaim eagerly that they had just bought another saddle pad, or brush set or helmet, while my latest exciting purchase was salt licks and electric fence insulators. 

It can be difficult, watching as the Winter engulfs every inch of pasture, knowing that my mare's hooves won't set foot in a ring again until it thaws and drains while friends have the luxury of an indoor arena. 

Oh how to arrive at the barn after a long day of work to actually be able to ride. But as fate would have it, I arrive to the barn greeted by a slew of other problems - perhaps its a faulty gate latch, or a leaky water trough, or maybe the electric fence isn't working yet again.

No, the laundry list doesn't stop.

Annie, trying to lighten the load and help.
My time and energy is dispersed amongst these many chores - I simply cannot sit and tell you the last time I just went out and rode. Because even after a ride, the pastures need to be picked and the horses need to be fed. 

And it doesn't stop at the day to day routines.

I've poured hundreds of hours worth of anxiety, stress, and thought into the entire concept of hay. 

But who else will find a supplier? Ensure it is delivered/ picked up? Stack it? Ensure it is stored appropriately out of the elements? Who will figure out exactly how much hay I need and what hay is best for each horse I own?

Haying Season 2019 was one of the craziest ones... good lord.
A waste management protocol must be considered - what often happens to the large, immeasurable mountain of manure and hay? What are the best times of year to remove it and where will it go?

All of these things take time, energy, and commitment. 

And what if I am sick, busy, or have plans?

The reality is - the horses still come first. The chores wait for no one, and they cannot simply be wished into disappearing.

And then come the appointments.

When the farrier arrives, I am there.

When the chiropractor arrives, I'm there.

When the vet shows, I'm there.

Every single aspect of my horses includes me, and while it may mean I miss Sunday brunch with friends, or have to cancel that after work hair appointment, my animals come first.

Since self-boarding, I have learned to become a multi-faceted woman. 

I am an electrician and I am a carpenter. 

I am a vet assistant and I am a groom. 

I am the landscaper, and I am barn maintenance.

I am a nutritionist and I am a protector.

Some days, I long for the ability to be free from the responsibilities of mucking, feeding, fixing fences, and tidying the barn. And selfishly, I long for the the ability to turn it off and ignore it for a day or two.

But as fate would have it, on the off chance I am out of town and have left the care and control of my barn into the hands of another, I cannot help but spend my time consumed with thought and worry about how my animals are.

It may be a busy life that results in fewer rides and less showing opportunity, but I have become richly saturated with knowledge and memories I would not have had otherwise if not for those darn "chores" at the barn.

I can arrive at the barn on any given day and just by glancing at where the horses are in the pasture, can tell you what kind of ride I'm going to end up having (if I'm lucky enough to find the time).

I can tell you exactly where Spud prefers to poop, and by the deep hoof marks in the soggy ground who was galloping and who simply trotted quietly beside.

I can rattle off each horses's regular temperature and what each of their legs feels like.

I can tell you that introducing too much of a new concentrate to Annie's diet will make her go off her feed, and that if it is too wet, she won't eat it at all.

I can tell you that Spud knows how to steal Annie's mash from the hanging bucket I set up, and how I have managed to solve the problem.

I can tell you how long a round bale lasts and which horse doesn't mind chewing the thicker stalks.

I can toss manure from several feet away and still get it into the wheelbarrow.

I know how to string electric and can make temporary grass paddocks with a string and some posts.

I can build a temporary paddock and know how low to attach the bottom rail so Spud can't get under.

I know how to care for a sick horse, on my own, in the middle of the night when cell service is poor and I cannot reach anyone.

I know the prime spots the horses will lay down and rest.

I can tell you that despite the fact he's a wooly mini, Spud does in fact, require blanketing in the winter months.

I know how to make shavings last longer.

I know how to keep feed, hay, and tack in good condition, and stored properly.

I know all of this, and more. And the beauty of it is that I am still learning.

It's hard to believe that it all started with a fiery red mare.
I've come a long way in learning about horse husbandry, and I
owe it all to her <3
Thank you for letting me learn, and for forgiving my mistakes.
I feel connected to my horses in a way that would never be possible had I had the ability to board. I would not have the ability to tailor their diets to ensure they are receiving all of the nutrients they require. I would not have the ability to understand the shape of the hoof, or why Spud's left front has a very minuscule flair. I would not have the ability to advocate wholly for my horses and change anything in their routine that I felt was not satisfactory.

The freedom I have to make these choices can seem a bit scary at times (and I will be the first to admit I have had made the wrong, or uneducated choices), but my horsemanship has grown exponentially and I feel that riding is a shared part of that. We learn to thank our horses after a good round or a good ride, but do we learn to thank our horses for just being?

The amount of time I have spent simply surrounded by the smell of green hay and horseflesh has tamed my soul. And I can say that although the feelings of jealousy still pop up, I feel richer for knowing all that I do.

So know that we aren't alone.

Know that as the Winter darkness engulfs us and the chores don't stop, I am standing alongside, still feeding and watering as snowflakes dance and twinkle to the stage set by my headlamp.

I can feel the strength and radiance of each and every soul who is spending yet another Saturday evening picking manure. And I feel the panic and frustration of every single person who has had to speed out to the barn after work to throw blankets on before a colossal Winter storm hits.

I see you.

And I salute you with a tip of my muck fork.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Waning Hours

My girl <3
T'is the season of waking up in the dark and leaving work in the dark - and I'm really not mentally prepared for it.

In the weeks leading up to the time change we continued to slowly roll ever forwards - the days of legitimate schooling are off the table until 2020, and despite not having heard Annie cough in a while, I'm promptly following our Veterinarian's guidelines to ensure a healthy and healed horse for next year. So, we've kept up with hacking 1-2x a week (some weeks not at all), mostly just walking with some stretchy trot and a slow, bounding canter for good measure where the footing is good.

Since the whole riding thing has fizzled a bit since October, I've been busying myself in completing some final "Winter is coming" chores at the barn. Over the last few weeks I've slowly crossed them off of my list and am pleased to see there are only a few things left to pick away at. The majority of the "outdoor" chores are done, aside from fixing some wry electrical fence insulators and double checking the electrical fencing once a week. The remainder of "clean up" will come in the tack room where I have to still get my pads washed and put away, and tuck away my bridles for warmer days. With recently having +13 weather tho, I have a hard time putting things away for the season. This long weekend I plan to finish up the horse laundry and get the tack room cleaned up a bit.

Checking the misfits
In addition, I am taking advantage of a relatively new program (to our area) that is being hosted at Barn C with Trainer K leading and instructing. While the program has been circulating for a few years now, an opportunity to join into an adult version of Pony Club has finally been made available. "Horsemasters" is a branch of Pony Club which allows adults to follow the guidelines, testing, and activities the younger generations have benefited from for years. Horsemasters have the same routine as the kids do, but the fun part is that you don't have to test if you don't want to. You can also do just flat if you so wish (for those averse to jumping), and they have also started to develop a Western book and subsequent testing criteria.

Growing up I was quite involved in our town's 4-H, but we never had the facility, head-count, or ability to partake in Pony Club (unless we drove to Barn C on a weekly basis). Despite this, us 4-H kids always managed to sneak our ways into PC clinics and camps and several times had the opportunity to view testing, as well as be apart of some of the games and rituals of Pony Club. I'm beyond excited to be able to enter the world of Pony Club as an adult, and still be able to learn valuable information, test mine and my horse's skills, and work alongside some ladies I've known for years through horses. I think it'll be a really great tool in bringing up Maizey too, as Trainer K and the program itself possess a wealth of information.

The OG's <3 
Our first meeting was last weekend and although a large portion of our time was going through expectations, learning opportunities, and "bones" of the Pony Club program, we also talked a lot about feed and nutrition, which is always a topic that generates good discussion. I was able to ask a few questions pertaining to feeding a weanling, and learned a few new things, which is good. A lot of what people learn in our area is by trial and error, books, or from sporadic lessons. So it'll be nice to be part of a "program" where you can ask anything and get real, tangible information that is backed by experience and/or science.

The Winter will be chock full of stable management lessons, which I look forward to. Winter is a dull and dreary time, so attending something horsey a few times a month with other ladies just as crazy as I am will be warmly welcomed and feed my equestrian soul a bit during the down months.

Come Spring, promises of Horsemasters clinics at Barn C and "Ladies Camps" and following that, level testing for those who would like to. I'm still sorting through the level system and understanding what criteria goes where and what is needed for each fundamental block - as each "letter" is made up up a few different criteria (namely, stable management and a riding portion or two). We'll see - my tentative goal is to test at whichever level Annie and I are most competent and comfortable in and to continue from there. Once we start lessoning in the Spring, we'll get a better understanding of where we're at and what level we'd be most suited towards.

You really can't beat the sunshine.

Back at the barn, I've still been getting out and messing around with Maizey, mostly just working on the basics - lifting feet, leading, haltering, backing, turning away from pressure, and some desensitization to prep for blanketing. I also made a very sad and hilarious attempt at ponying her off of Annie, which I refuse to repeat until she is a little more.. erm... halter-broke. Despite her fondness of Momma Annie, she really could have cared less to follow. By the end she was getting it, and Annie was rather dismayed we only went around the street loop before heading home.

Spud is still Spud - I'm trying out a new tactic to eradicate his crestyness, as I've been plugging around some mini Facebook groups and retaining some information I've found on repeat over the last few months. He's been holding his weight relatively well, although admittedly he has chunked up a bit. He still wears his grazing muzzle 90% of the time and he seems pretty content to wear it, unlike when he had previous brands on that limited air flow and/or eating ability.

Maizey says "wut r u waering on ur back mahm?"
Despite all of this Winter prep, the weather has been pretty blissful. Highs of +13C and cool evenings have made chores around the barn (and home) pleasant, and although poor Maizey stood at the feed box sweating in her armpits (because she came from the province of cold and wind!), I think the horses are enjoying it too. The weather forecast this weekend tells of rain, cooler temps, and possibly snow, so we'll see if any of that comes to fruition.