Why I’m still a barn rat

A friend shared an old George Morris quote recently about how kids these days don’t learn enough about the work behind horses. They may learn to ride or the mechanics, but they don’t get the down and dirty work that actually goes into taking care of your horse.

My experience growing up with horses was very different than many who had the funds. My parents paid for every other week lessons for me. (So 2 a month) But for a horse crazy middle schooler, that wasn’t enough. The barn I was at allowed me to work to get extra free rides and work I did.

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(12-year-old Kaitlyn with a lesson horse who taught me a LOT.)

My parents would drop me off at the barn early in the morning on Saturdays – or really any day I could wiggle out of them. Reporting in to our barn owner, me and any other girls doing the same thing would get a list of chores to complete. We did everything from turning the horses out in the morning (many of which were show-level Arabians that REALLY wanted out!) to shoveling pile after pile of shavings from the shavings pile into our wheelbarrows and then to the stalls.

Since we were kids, we would get the jobs no one else wanted. We got to de-ice and clean buckets in the middle of winter (when you then had to decide if it was worth wearing wet gloves or being cold.) We would lug the hoses out to the fields to fill the water buckets (and remember to take them in!) We would clean tack, groom horses, and really anything that our small selves could do.

It wasn’t just the lesson barn either. For about a year in high school, I volunteered at a therapeutic riding center. Did I ride? Once. Did I do a lot of mucking out the paddock, grooming horses, side walking and leading horses for lessons? Yes. Did I love every minute and every smile and change over each rider that would come through? 100% yes.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now realize how important that experience was for me as an equestrian. I knew the hard work behind the horses. I had to – or else I couldn’t ride. I had to earn that one little half hour that I could walk/trot/canter around on my own. My ride was the reward of putting the hard work into taking care of these beautiful creatures.

Even now, I’m still a barn rat. On the weekends, I do chores with my husband to help pay the bills. On Fridays, on my day off from work, I’m frequently found at the barn. My duties may have changed now that I have my own horse, but I’ll still be found holding horses for the chiropractor because my barn owner was needed with another horse or helping our barn manager toss hay at mealtimes. I’ll still be in the lounge cleaning my tack. And I still enjoy every moment. I cherish every second of taking care of the horses. I know the work behind the reward.

Horse showing may be about riding, but being an equestrian and a horsewoman is about taking care of them too.

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