While I am fortunate enough to be able to keep my horses at home with me, this is not the norm. Many horse owners have to entrust the care of their equine friends to someone else. Normally, this isn’t an issue, but lately, with the outbreak of the Novel Coronovirus and new social distancing regulations, things have gotten a little tense in the horse boarding world.
Boarding facilities are not considered essential businesses and, therefore, should remain closed. Suddenly, the horse owners have been cut off from their four-legged loved ones. And while nursing homes must prohibit outside visitors to protect the health of the residents, it is a little difficult to Skype with your horse.
Choosing to close the boarding facility is not easy. The owner of the facility isn’t doing it on a whim. It will mean a tremendous amount of extra work for her. She may choose to continue to pay her staff, even though they are no longer able to come to work. She is now doing the work of several people- alone. To make matters worse, boarding is not profitable. Income generally comes from lessons and training. No students = no income. So to recap: more work, less money.
The training horses still have to be ridden, the stalls still have to be cleaned, the horses fed and turned out, the arenas maintained, the feed purchased and stored, the list continues. Trust me, the facility owner will do her very best to update you on what your little Snookums is doing, but suffice it to say, Snookums is eating and pooping. A lot. And if he isn’t, trust me, you will be the second person she calls- right after the veterinarian.
I have had several calls this month from individuals asking if I had stalls available. Horse owners all over the region are beyond upset that they are not being permitted to see/ ride their horses at their current boarding facilities and, well, they feel that is simply unacceptable.
Seriously? If the barn owner were to get sick, well then, who would care for their equine friends? What if, God forbid, that virus were deadly? There goes the nice arena, the pastures, the trainer.
Here is the big take away from all of this. YOU chose the facility where your horse is. YOU chose that person to care for your horse. If you chose that particular facility because it was close to your house or had a fabulous arena, or you loved the trainer, I think you just now realized what is actually important- THE CARE.
I thought long and hard about this. I cannot remember a single place I ever boarded that I would have had a second thought about the care my horse was receiving if I had not been able to visit for any length of time. As a matter of fact, that was always a big consideration for me when choosing someone to care for my horses- the “what if” scenarios. And while fabulous indoor arenas and excellent pastures are certainly nice, nothing- absolutely nothing- takes the place of the primary caregiver. When you board your horse, you are NOT his primary caregiver. Sorry, but you aren’t.
I have a small, private facility where I choose to care for horses I do not own, as well as my personal horses. I struggled and struggled with how to handle this COVID business when it comes to my boarders. It caused me a great deal of anguish to tell the owners they could not see their equine friends. I knew it would upset them and I hated being the cause of one more anxiety in their lives. But, you know what? Every single one of them reached out to tell me that it was for the best and they understood. And, you know why? Because they trust me. They chose to leave their horses in my care, not because I have a fabulous arena (I do) and terrific pastures (I do) and am a good teacher (I hope I am), but because I give those horses the very best care I possibly can and my owners know it. And while spending time at my farm with their horses would normally give them an escape from their daily stress and may help relieve their anxiety during this strange situation, they are finding some relief just knowing their equine friends are safe.
Everyone is in the same situation. The horse shows are cancelled until further notice. The clinics are cancelled. The rodeos are cancelled. The parades are cancelled. The Olympics are cancelled. EVERYTHING is cancelled. Your horse is not going to die if he doesn’t get ridden for a month- or months. In all actuality, he will probably be better for the time off. My veterinarian once told me that rest is the hardest prescription to fill.
What I have seen at my own little farm, is a return to “natural.” The horses seem so much less anxious and freer in their movements. They are able to spend even more time in the pastures grazing and socializing. Without the feeding/ turn out/ bring in/ treats/ tacking up/ grooming/ standing still anxieties, the whole place has breathed a giant sigh. With fewer people around in the day, I have seen much more wildlife. And while I know that people need their horses, well, the horses don’t need us. Not really. They need one other. Humans need humans. Horses need horses.
So, for just a little while. Let’s focus on that. Let’s take a deep breath and know that our horses will be fine. We will be fine. And we will all be together again, soon.