My former trainer and present good friend wisely said when I loaded the first of five on the trailer, “Welcome to the caring for horses club. You will either love it or hate it.” Whether you are boarding or dedicated to keeping them on site, we all have to admit to day dreaming about what life is like on the other side. I thought I would take a moment and break down the key elements what is coming up on a year of having some combination of my 5 equine friends at home for those of you with a suspicion that this might be the life for you.
Imagine you hose your horse off after a long ride and then put him in a dirt turn out and he rolls. Except that’s you. You are the one coated in a gummy coat of dust. Your house is coated in dirt. Every pair of shoes you swore you would not even consider wearing to the barn are filthy. You get the picture. Cleanliness is lost if you want to do night check, have a peak at water levels in between conference calls, or just decide after a couple glasses of wine that you want to have a look at their smiling faces. I alternate between fighting and accepting the dirt; finding that my position correlates to how recently I have cleaned the house or am expecting any sort of non-horsey company.
There is no doubt that you could do this without letting it consume your entire life, but let’s be honest with our ambitious ammy selves -- this is a childhood dream realized; time ceases to exist when you are tinkering with timers on fans or soaping up your unicorn’s tail with blue shampoo for the 3rd time. And that’s on top of the riding time. It’s JUST YOU: 5-6 days a week depending on the horse. You are the trainer and the groom, you are also the student, sponsor, vet tech and arena crew. (I do have a very supportive spouse with dodgy gate locking skills that will do turn out if time allows and does most of the constant arena dragging required.)
This will NEVER make financial sense. With 5 horses built in to my math, my initial ROI is some time past never. Not like “wink wink”- never. Actual never. In a currency we all understand, this has cost what a very made hunter with solid USEF record and hack winning movement would set me back- and I am not even done with phase 1. Add in the food, bedding, and water bills that could cover the Bellagio fountains and the break-even pushes slightly past never. If anyone tells you it is cheaper to keep them at home they are comparing monthly recurring costs and failing to amortize the up-front capital costs like an arena, a barn, fencing, and footing that won’t make your trainer cringe.
God bless the farrier that will come out for a couple horses, or the rock star vet in town that is willing to come do injections for one horse on site. I am lucky enough to be located centrally and enjoy these luxuries, but I can see how living further out where most horse properties lie would require taking more conference calls while pulling the 3-horse slant than I already do.
This voodoo is not for the faint of heart. It is part atmospheric science, part geology, part engineering, costs part of your 401k and requires an additional investment in some sort of drag thingy and a dedicated gas machine to pull it. Ask anyone about footing and the answer is always “it depends”. What works in California doesn’t work in Arizona, materials you can get in Florida are unavailable in Texas. Chronicle of the Horse Forums provide great information for every single state but your own. I am 300 tons out, 700 tons in, and just getting the privilege of assessing my environment for a brand name “stabilizer” to throw into the mix. I commit to listing my footing secrets on my tombstone- so that others will know what actually worked in summer of 2018 for a split second in Scottsdale. Did I mention the dragging voodoo ritual needs to be done daily?
My current list includes fancy Pro Panel feeders, landscaping, electrical work, a wash rack, something to keep the dust at bay in the turn outs (suggestions?), painting the tack and feed building, arena stabilizer, should I keep going? OR…. I can do some fall shows and have fun with friends. Decisions, decisions.
Getting back to my trainer’s question from a year ago, do I love it or hate it? I love it. I knew I loved it the first or second night of having our first houseguest, Slugger, home. He ripped his face open the third day on something sharp and required emergency stitches while I held him for the vet and tried to manage conference calls, so it was definitely the first or second night!
Here are some reasons why:
Knowing that I can care for them until they cross the rainbow bridge on their respective schedule gives me a great deal of comfort. I retired a horse before and to find him grass turn outs I had to send him so far away that I rarely got to lay eyes on him. I was always fretting about if he had enough fly spray or was getting enough to eat.
Lay ups & set backs
Paying board and training creates a clock that ticks away in the background, there is pressure to make those dollars productive. Time is somehow more fluid at home and the horses benefit when liberated from our schedules, expectations and board bills. Rival the crabby failed hunter prospect got to come home and regroup for 6 months. Landis got an extra 3 months on lay-up from an injury with 30 minutes of hand walking every day. Seven needs a week or ten right now to get her stifle issue managed. No schedule, no rush, no problem.
Sharing is caring
Friends and family appreciate what we do but rarely get a chance to partake in a way that doesn’t involve the torture that is navigating a horse show and its never-ending delays for the first time. Having horses at home has provided lots of pets and photo opps during dinner parties, many smiling pony rides on Slugger the quarter horse, and an easy way to bridge my horse and non-horse lives.
Time in the saddle
I just get to ride more. Period. Early morning hack on the spicy chestnut mare or end of day stroll with friends and cocktails around the neighborhood, I am in the tack every day. I have transitioned from weekend binge rider to daily rider. I doubt the trail rides will help me find a distance come medal finals, but they clear my head at the end of a stressful work day and that serves a purpose, too.
I do hope you choose to bring one home. Or two. Or five. If you do, feel free to reach out to my husband, Bobby, who has spent 13 continuous months researching every single word about footing published online and interviewing experts in person and over the phone. I wouldn’t be lying if I said he is reading “Underfoot: The USDF Guide to Arena Construction, Maintenance, & Repair” next to me as I type this. I am browsing @stablestyle on Instagram and trying to figure out how many dozens of employees I need to hire to keep my barn that spotless. Chores start at 5am tomorrow so I have to get some sleep. Another wild Saturday night in the books…with horses at home.