I did something this weekend that I’m sure most people have dealt with at some time or another, but that I have been lucky enough to avoid for a very long time. I moved boarding barns.
The good news is, I don’t have some horror story of neglect by a barn owner, or a story of bullying by a catty boarder, but rather my old barn simply got out of the boarding business. Which I can totally understand, honestly. Boarders must be a total pain. We have a million different requests, we come with weird horse-person baggage (either actual baggage, or the emotional kind), and we all think our horse is a unique and special butterfly.
“Oh no,” we say. “He never bit and kicked the wall repeatedly at his old barn! Surely it must be the sun angle through the barn door bothering him. Also, he doesn’t really like Tuesdays.”
Anyway, I left my last barn on good terms, with a teary goodbye and arms full of all the bits and polo wraps that I somehow collected (hoarded) over the years. And off to my new barn I went! Which was, conveniently enough, located about 50 feet away from my old barn. Winning.
As I walked across the street though, I immediately started to worry.
I was at my last barn for five whole years, which, in horse time, is like a century or something. (I’m not exactly clear on the normal-person year to horse-person year conversion). I had a whole groove thing at my last place, a rhythm. I knew all the boarders, the lesson kids and the parents, and most importantly, where the good snacks were hidden in the kitchen.
What if life at other boarding barns was completely different? What if there was a whole set of barn rules I didn’t know about, like you have to sweep the barn counter-clockwise or you can only feed hay on even numbered hours? What if the other boarders were mean to me? What if there was a secret handshake that everyone knew about but me?
Basically, I had the same concerns moving to this barn that I did going into Junior High. Real mature, Aubrey.
Not to say I wasn’t totally excited about my new boarding situation. The barn is great, it’s got a lovely arena and large pastures. The horses are extremely well-taken care of, and I even know a few of the boarders, since one is a fellow Horsemaster.
That last fact I’m very excited about, by the way. I’m looking forward to getting our third creepy-lady Musketeer over to the barn and going to a few shows and on a lot of trail rides in the coming year. But all this was not enough to put a halt to my fears.
I arrived at my new barn, wandered around with wide eyes and took in the new sights. In addition to my arms full of bits and polo wraps, I also happened to be flying a Thoroughbred kite.
Flynn seemed to think our new adventure required him to puff up and snort at scary things. Scary things like fenceposts. And rocks. Way to make a good first impression, Flynn. To his credit, he kept all four on the ground and only stepped on me twice, so he’ll maintain his Saint Flynn status. For now.
I met up with my awesome new barn owner and got a quick tour of all the basic barn stuff like the tack room, feed rooms, and most importantly right now, where the heaters were. I put Flynn in his stall where he proceeded to stare into a corner like he was the kid from the Sixth Sense, and could see the ghosts of all the horses who had been there before. Whatever, I was just glad he wasn’t stepping on me anymore.
The barn owner and I went over his feeding plan, his rank in the pasture. (“Low on the totem pole,” I described him. “Like the very lowest part. Like the base.”) We talked about any eccentricities he might have, which is a nice way of asking if he there was anything he was psychotic about. And then the owner set off on her way, and I went about organizing my tack and leading Flynn about his new home, in order to get him better acquainted with the previously mentioned fenceposts and rocks.
And you know what I realized while we wandered around the property? This was just a barn.
A nice barn, but a normal barn, filled with boarders and the horses they love. The horses eat and poop, and run around the pasture like maniacs. The boarders groom and ride, and we talk across the barn aisle to each other about how we went on a lovely hack today, or how we’re not sure the new bit is working out and maybe we should try a French link instead.
Sure, the locations of the light switches may be different, the horses may be of a different color. But it’s still just horses and riding as I know and love them.
As soon as I walked into the aisle today, the scent of leather and horse sweat arose, and the sound of horses quietly munching on flakes of hay filled the air. It all greeted me like an old friend. And I think this is an important moment to remember when we get too caught up in the fear and anxiety that somehow, we won’t measure up, either as a new boarder or as an adult amateur. Or really as anything else in riding.
How often have you compared yourself to another rider at a show, a lesson, or even when you’re simply watching videos online?
I may not be able to understand when someone talks to me about their difficulties in running a barrel racing pattern, and they might not understand me when I describe my 20-meter circle as “floppy,” but the very basics are something every one of us can understand and relate to. Like the scent of horse. Or the way we all settle into a saddle and suddenly, nothing else matters. Some things in our horse life are universal.
In a way, I suppose you could say that our mutual understanding of that is the ultimate secret handshake. But not from each other, it’s our secret from the rest of the world.
So remember that when you find yourself worried that you’re not good enough. From Olympians to Pony Clubbers, to new boarders at barns everywhere, we all share the same love of the horse.
About the Author
When Aubrey Moore isn’t riding her horse Flynn or doing near-constant maintenance on her truck, she can be found with a glass of wine in hand, chatting happily with her cat Frankie.