The Least Desirable Job in Horses

On the plane back to home, I was dreaming up interesting topics to ponder on this blogspace.

As a kid, I would have happily lived at the barn for free. Of course, this was before the acknowledgment that all my food, clothing, and time costs money. I still might live at the barn, but I would also need to be able to afford toilet paper, pringles… the necessities.

This train of thought, what I would and would not be willing to do as an adult, pushed me into thinking, is there any paying job related to horses I had no interest in due to the nature of the work?

I am a flexible and amiable person enough to see merit in most horse-related jobs. Farriers have a deep importance, vets are a trusted resource, massage therapists encounter dedicated horse owners, barn managers care deeply for their herd, show officials create these fabulous events….

The one I was actually stumped on was a trainer.

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The brilliant Charlotte Dujardin; Photo by Allie Conrad.

To me, nothing sounds better than riding horses and getting to teach interested students. That aspect of the job creates community, and positions you to watch progression. Notwithstanding difficult clients (of which, there are a number in this industry), I could jive with this part of the job.

What I think would be hard is selling horses for profit. It carries a lot of risk – financial and reputational. The people you are selling to are often your competitors (fellow trainers). It’s a people business, but also one that feeds on gossip.

I think the stress of pushing horses out the door would get to me, as I am a softie that builds connections with each of these animals.

I will be the first to recognize many trainers look out for their sale horses welfare in such a way that commands deep admiration. But, to do this requires extra effort and honesty. And you have to be, at times, willing and capable of taking a loss.

What do you think is the least desirable job in the horse industry?

Trajectory

There can be real frustration in riding so many horses over your lifetime. Sure, it is really wonderful and valuable to sit on a lot of different types and get to refine the asks.

But, sometimes there is not a sequential progression as a rider. I step into bad habits on specific horses and jump to another before I fully resolve them.

Because of that, I feel as though I am a library of slightly-aggressive, make-it-work methods. In fact, my recent solo hacks has been really restorative for me to focus once again on the fundamentals.

In my collegiate and early adult riding, much of the focus has fallen on the needs of whatever horse I was riding, and you can see the evidence of that in my weaknesses.

A dirty stopper encouraged me to drive with my tailbone.

A heavy mouth gave me broken wrists and open fingers.

A speedy, flat jumper gave me quick, over-active shoulders.

All of my mishaps originate from poorly-executed attempts of correcting a behavior or dealing with a quirk.

 

Some flavors of this definitely happened.

I’ve become this patchwork of the past horses I’ve ridden. In turn, this has made me cautious, skeptical, and untrusting.

I need to become a better partner in the future, because they do not deserve to be haunted by the horses of my past.

I continue to struggle with linear growth as someone who, by the nature of my circumstances, will always be hopping from horse to horse. I can ride almost anything, but I want to excel and really communicate better with the animals that I sit on.

I do think I am getting more opportunities for specificity now, and I am hoping that when I one day own my own horse, all my tools and tips will help that horse as a well-rounded rider that can handle curveballs.

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Loved this horse, and trusted him wholly. I am hoping to return to that.

 

 

 

Is Horseback Riding a Sport?

So many of us equestrians have been in conversations with a skeptical and bombastic uncle that assures us that “horses do all the work”. I don’t even engage these people anymore as most of them introduce the topic with a smile on their lips and watch for a theatrical reaction (nice try, you are talking to the person who after hours on hold with customer support will still use “sir”, “ma’am”, and “please”).

It does bring into the forefront why we treat horseback riding as a sport, and also why it even matters how it is defined.

There are two main ingredients to the definition of sport – skill and physical exertion. Skill is less arguable. Because my general practice is to keep my passion for horseback riding quiet around new acquaintances, I’ve managed to shy away from stories of disastrous trial rides on family vacations. But most are willing to acknowledge that they could not imagine taking the quarter horse they rode in the Rocky Mountains over a course of 1.60m jumps. Skill brings tact, and both are necessary inputs.

Skill is undeniable. But physical exertion remains a question mark.

I don’t know about you guys, but a day spent at the barn leaves me feeling tired. When I owned my horse, I did everything myself. Turnout, tack, cleaning, grooming, feeding, picking stalls, etc. The work does not stop there, once you swing your leg over the saddle, it is pressure, release, softness while strong. Most people recognize the effort involved in dancing with a 1,000 lbs+ animal.

This, Stephen Colbert, does not qualify as a sport.

Playing devil’s advocate, when watching a cross-country course for instance, the horses physical feats are very clear to an uneducated eye. Foaming, sweat, leaping over obstacles. What is not present to these new observers is the rider’s fitness. Let me say, their stamina is no joke.

Not shockingly, I claim we check boxes of skill and physical exertion (and danger, which may bump it up from a hobby level as well).

Why does it matter? Who cares if it is not a sport? Whether we qualify horseback riding as a sport may be phrased as whether what we do is worth-while.

Often my “is horseback riding a sport” or “does it belong it the Olympics” will eventually boil down to us explaining why we our commitment meets the minimum threshold of worthiness in the eyes of others. Equestrians dedicate hours to bettering ourselves and advancing in our passion, and it invalidates our time by dismissing what we do as “not even a sport”.

There is a lot of sleep to be lost if you worry about the opinions of naysayers. I don’t allow those dissenting thoughts to affect what I love and how I spend my time, but as we advance this sport, it may be a valuable to consider the barriers we face in the general audiences.

Why do you categorize horseback riding as a sport? Or, better yet, why do you not?

We are the Lucky Ones

I am so grateful.

Thanksgiving is one of those underrated holidays that sneaks in without much fanfare, but brings warm feelings. I am leaving its questionable origin out of the equation when lauding the day for its whole-hearted moments with family and appreciation for life’s blessings.

Since I primarily write about horses and riding here, I will keep my list to a strict equestrian theme.

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Exceptionally thankful for this peeking derp.

This year, I am thankful for –

  1. Riding Regularly. I get to spend time with these magnificent and kind creatures that center me and generate giddiness.
  2. Good Education. I am so happy with the instruction I am receiving. Objectively, I am doing more simple work, but focusing on so many details that I had let slip. It feels good to progress.
  3. Bystander Support. My friends and family, bless all of them, will continually ask me how my “horse races” are going, and I love them dearly for inquiring about my passions.
  4. Online Reading. These days, you can learn so much about horses and horseback riding online. Whenever I feel stuck, it seems like someone online had a similar problem and mapped out solutions.
  5. Happy Horses. All of the horses I ride have not been over-worked or unsound. They have guardians aside from myself looking after them and that can be elusive in certain areas.
  6. Black Friday Deals. Okay, I know we are thankful for what we have and all… but it doesn’t hurt to get some deals too!

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What are y’all thankful for?

What Makes a Good Barn Manager?

Though my job does not involve horses, it is pretty heavy on management. Organizing people, activities, thinking future, and making sure everyone is happy. Managing a barn is a quasi-dream of mine, but I fully recognize it is a challenging undertaking.

There are many types of “barn managers”. At my new barn, each trainer that leases space at this facility runs their own barn and then there is overall facility maintenance, which is probably nice for the type of trainer that wants to focus on their clients and horses.

Other barns I have ridden out of had one true barn manager, in charge of ordering hay, fixing fences, putting blankets on Dobbin, and billing boarders. She/he is a jack of all trades (and master of MANY).

Spend enough time in the horse industry, you see a share of good and bad barn managers. I’ve been blessed that, to the large majority, I’ve met mostly good ones.

Though in my recent experiences, I have elected not to ride at a place because the barn manager rubbed me the wrong way. It is probably an underrated and thankless role at times, one that rarely gets praise when everything is running smoothly and gets a lot of flack when things go wrong.

But their responsibilities are so important to the success of the business, environment, and health of horses and humans alike.

In my estimation, a good manager is made of many parts.

  • Sense of humor
    • Required. Horse people are crazy, and there are times when you have to laugh of the day.
  • Compassion
    • These animals need our eyes looking after them, and who better to watch over and care for them then someone who sees them on a daily basis? If you think about it, your barn manager sees your horse more than you do and will be the first many times to know something is wrong.
  • Detail-Oriented
    • Especially given the size of some facilities, it helps to remember all the intricacies of each member.
  • Authoritative
    • There is a fine line between too harsh and being a push-over. This is a challenging road to walk, especially if there is a staff of people to oversee and rogue boarders to deal with. Barns need rules for the safety of all, and someone needs to enforce them equally.
  • Energetic
    • Barns tend to deteriorate at a shocking rate, and horses get themselves into trouble. Someone needs to not give up on fixing things and putting it all back together.

My favorite barn manager also happened to be a life role model. A mix of people-person, thoughtful, and flexible. I say here, here to all our wonderful barn managers out there.

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What are your favorite qualities in a barn manager?

Riding Regrets

I am one of those deeply reflective types that still remembers that one awkward time I called a teacher Mom in grade school. Safe to say, I remember lots, and not always for the better.

Riding is an escape for me, and while there is tons I wish I could do better, there are not a plethora of memories that I truly regret.

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I don’t regret touring this spot though. :O

There are times when I wish I had been more knowledgeable at the time, particularly when I was riding with trainers that did not always have the horses best interests at heart. I never witnessed anything truly heinous, but I did see treatment that now leaves me disquieted.

Horse related troubles aside (so difficult to do, may be another post for that), riding offers its own regrets that I have to live with.

I was lucky as a kid that my parents entertained my riding up until I was a certain age. I wish I really basked in the glory of those times, because I don’t think I realized how difficult it would be to afford a daily riding frequency as an adult.

I try to be as thankful as I can be for what I can get these days, because that’s what I should have done back then, rather than wish for more chances to show or more glamorous opportunities.

I also regret not absorbing, writing, and thinking more when I had chances to do clinics with really knowledgeable horsepeople. To an extent, I am still in disbelief that I had the time in front of who I did. I really had no business doing that with my scrappy trakehner.

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Not the Trakehner, but instead my favorite donkey.

I’ve evolved from this thinking. For the better, thankfully.

Watching the big horse shows always challenges my envy, which I have nearly conquered now. I don’t watch with bitterness anymore. Now, I can appreciate great riders at the top of their game without wondering, what if…..

Unless you are an Olympic level rider, there will always be something just out of reach. And even the Olympic level rider have their own troubles to navigate. If we are so concerned with climbing to the next summit, we can never appreciate the view.

So the goal now? No regrets.

 

The Lengths People Go

I’v read recently about a new suspension regarding the falsehoods surrounding a horse sale. It makes me consider the lengths people will go in order to make money in this industry.

Being a professional is difficult.

There are clients who can barely afford quality horse care (cough, me, cough) and will gripe at every additional cost.

There are clients that can buy the moon, but are challenging in temperament and enforce exacting standards.

There is a constant hustle to get NEW clients while still catering to OLD clients.

There are a number of industry competitors who you have to work with to move horses but also work against to win their clients.

There is the cyclical manner that ebbs and flows when dealing with live animals who have their own personalities to contend with.

There are injuries, both human and horses.

There are staff to manage, and the relationships they have with clients and to their work.

There is insurance. And bills. And heaven forbid a day-off comes your way.

I truly sympathize with those who choose to make this their career. Pangs of envy for spending all time with horses are removed when I realize that those moments lose their special treatment as “fun” and become “work”.

That said, horse professionals can be awfully desperate. I don’t know the specific circumstances of the case, I only read the COTH article so I comment only in generalities, but anecdotally I have seen enough tack jumps, ace IVs, and overly-tight draw reins.

It’s ugly. One one hand, if you cannot make “enough” money honestly and are also considered one of the greats, there is likely a problem with our industry.

On the other hand, greed is a weed that grows where there is first a garden. And those in the position of power have the most to lose, but also can more easily gain.

And I am done idolizing the legends that profit from horse pain and client subterfuge.

(End Rant).