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.


  1. I love this so frigging much. It is spot on!!! I sometimes would like to not calculate care of the horses into my day but then I miss it when I'm away. The only thing I truly wish I had is an indoor. Otherwise I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    1. I wish I had access to an indoor that wasn't as much of a drive. It would be so nice, especially on the cold rainy days!

  2. There's a level of reward and a depth of relationship that doing all the care yourself brings that I wouldn't give up for anything, even if it means riding far less than my friends who board.

    1. There really is.
      There is so much work involved, but the opportunities for learning about horse management more than make up for it.

  3. Aw this is so sweet. And holy crap that last snow photo is both my dream and my nightmare. 😂

    1. That was the year of Snowmageddon!! And believe it or not, that was in February. YUCK.

  4. Right now I have a low-maintenance boarding situation. But as someone who has self-boarded and even worked as a stable hand before I owned a horse, I feel this at a personal level. There is nothing quite like the moment your fingers go from bone-piercing cold to warm numbness.

    1. Ugh, winter is the worst. Changing blankets in the midst of a snowstorm makes you really curse whoever invented buckles and snaps, especially when you have to remove your thick gloves to do so! haha.

  5. Oof; I feel you on this. We self-boarded in the past and it was tough, then we had a sort of half-boarding/half self-care situation that was great for years. Now we do it all ourselves and as I still cannot find someone to house sit, we haven't left the property together since we moved in. Also, that snow is nightmarish.

    1. I honestly think the optimum thing is boarding horses at home. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the fact I have so much say over my horses where they are right now, but I would LOVE not having to drive to and from the barn multiple times a day (esp in the situation of a hurt/sick horse). Being able to see them out your front door and being able to walk outside and check temperatures, blankets, or do a nightly check on a colicking horse is so much easier when they are home.

  6. Parallel lives :) I was in tears last weekend given the rotten weather and the enormity of the self boarding horsey chores I had to do. Still, at the end of the day, I like the day to day care as much as I like riding (just not three hours in a monsooning windstorm pushing wheelbarrow number 7 or 8 through the mud and up the giant hill. Apparently that is my limit:D)

    1. I thought of you as I wrote this. I feel like we are long lost sisters, haha. Living in similar sections of the rainforest and with the same amount of obstacles in our way.

      Ughhh, the Spring clean up of winter poo and hay is the worst. Every single year I look forward to the snow because it means I don't have to pick poo, but then it all melts and disappears and layers upon layers of poo is littered about the pasture :'(

  7. Replies
    1. Hahah.
      It is not for the faint of heart - I know a lot of people who haven't had a vacation in years simply because of the animals they have at home. Of course, the majority of horse at home owners also have chickens, goats, or some kind of other hobby that takes up an exponential amount of time.

  8. Replies
    1. :D
      I can't wait until I have my horses at home...

  9. Great post - I tip my pitch fork to you as well - it is hard work taking care of these beasts we love, especially in crazy weather.

    1. Winter is the worst, especially here.

      But at the same time, I've got things down to a science now that I can minimize my time doing repetitive chores - it's all about making life easier and spending more time with the horses themselves and in the saddle. For example, I feel round bales where I can (esp in the winter) to cut down on winter driving on bad roads and to ensure the horses have an endless supply of calories to consume should they get cold. It also means that if, for some reason, I can't get to the barn (bad roads, sick, etc) I know the horses have their basic needs and I don't need to hire someone or ask for help from neighbors.

  10. UGH catching up on your blog posts and as much as i love/hate having Remus at home at least we dnt get winters like you. But since Remus is now at a boarding barn I do stress more than I did when he was home. So i am just batshit crazy no matter....

    and neither Mark and i go together anywhere just cause of the animals. It is so hard to find people to take care of animals esp in the high bar we have set ;) HA

    You must be a total pro by now! Kudos to you!