Late last week I sat down in my barn aisle and cried.
I had just finished my morning chores—feed, turnout, clean stalls, water, set stalls for the night, sweep the aisle—and I was frankly overwhelmed by what I had taken on in my life and how I was going to make ends meet in another few months.
I made mental plans to sell my green OTTB. I sent texts to horse friends and my girlfriend, riddled with uncertainty and anxiety. Then I dusted myself off, headed out to my boys’ paddock, and started to pick up poop because, as it turns out, no matter how depressed you might be about the state of your life, horses still poop what might be their entire weight every day.
Let’s back up for a moment…
I’ve been riding since I was three and started showing hunter ponies by the time I was five. I have never had the opportunity to so fully immerse myself in the horse life, however, as I did during 2020.
I wholly acknowledge I am among the very privileged few who had the ability to continue doing what I love the most in my life throughout this pandemic.
The summer of 2020 may not have been what I thought it would be, but it was just what I needed. I rode lots of horses, showed with great success, taught endless lessons to all levels of riders at the barn where I kept my boys, and got to see my horse friends—outside, socially distanced, and masked—every single day, all summer long. Talk about making lemonade out of a dumpster fire that was 2020!
Smartly I had made some very wise financial decisions and paid down my credit cards, so I was ready for what was next in store for me.
Or so I thought…
Late in the summer of 2020, as our compressed, yet crazed, show season was winding down, I was given the chance of a lifetime—start my very own program at a dear family friends’ farm.
I was PUMPED! I wrote a nine page business proposal, outlining extensive plans around shoveling endless tons of poop and hopefully making enough money to fix broken fences.
I know what you are thinking: opening a hunter/jumper barn in the Wisconsin winter in a pandemic was a guaranteed grand slam. Luckily the owners of the farm agreed with my clearly insightful equine logic and crazy horse girl-based common sense approach to running my own lesson/training/boarding facility and away we went.
In the month leading up to move-in date I dreamt of lazy afternoons watching kids wear the legs off ponies while their parents and I sat in lawn chairs sipping fruity cocktails, laughing, and preparing a checklist for upcoming Pony Finals. I thought about how nice it would be to see my three horses first thing every morning, to greet them with their grain and tell them how loved they were, knowing just how much a horse appreciates daily affirmations while you are holding a bucket of sweet feed he desperately wants to drop into his water bucket. And I envisioned a bustling arena full of talented juniors riding my string of green OTTBs I had started as sale projects, just like I used to do for my trainer.
The reality? Horses poop. And break things. Then they eat your money, maim themselves for funzies, poop again, eat some more, gnaw on the fence you just fixed, and while you are repairing it yet again you realize they’ve POOPED MORE, defying the laws of gastro-physics in relation to body weight. Finally in defeat you put them in for the night—where they will absolutely trash your carefully cleaned stall—swearing you’ll totally ride tomorrow.
While I had always appreciated barn owners and those who worked at the places I’ve boarded prior to this, it turns out I hadn’t truly understood what it all entailed. Every horse owner should have to take care of their horse morning and night for one week.
After that week, I bet you can tell me about how your prominent pitchfork arm is sore, just what a slob your horse is in its stall and how you obsessively attempted to save every single clean shaving you possibly could, and that you don’t understand why it is necessary to chew grain over water buckets.
You likely would relate tales of fretting over how much hay you gave him—was it enough, do you have enough hay in the loft for the next few weeks, what if it snows and the farmer down the road can’t get here to bring more?
You would for sure tell me about poop, what your horse’s poop looked like and why you think it is loose/less than the day before/hidden under the clean shavings (but HOW?!?!).
I 100% guarantee, if pressed, you would tell me you stood outside his stall or pasture for at least 10 minutes every day, watching him blissfully ignore you, while you promised yourself you’d ride tomorrow. And maybe you will ride tomorrow, but likely not the day after ;). Then you would go home, worry about him until you passed out after a hot shower, and do it all again.
I do this now for my horses and those who live here with us every single day for the rest of eternity, regardless of rain, snow, sleet, heat, hurricanes, tornados, derechos, sand storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, and yes, pandemics.
I no longer plan any vacations. I’m too tired to drink most nights. And I cannot tell you the last time I wore anything other than riding breeches, let alone brushed my rat’s nest of hair—hell, my girlfriend is lucky I showered two days ago—or ate anything remotely considered healthy.
I’ve turned my new Jeep Compass into a barn car as it can fit 15 bags of shavings plus four bags of grain in the back, as well as gets used regularly to drag the arena. (You hear that Jeep Brands? You should sponsor me with an ad campaign—Jeep: Horse Girl Tough.)
Do not get me wrong, I am completely living the dream.
I make every single decision about the type of care my horses and boarder horses receive. I decide what type of personality fits in with our atmosphere and barn family. And I choose how to run my own business.
It is an amazing feeling, enveloped with anxiety about whether I am doing the right thing or if I will make ends meet. But every night before I walk out to head home, I yell into the barn that “I love horses—even these ones!” Because I do. I love horses. All of them, all the time. And generally horse people. Especially these horses and these people who trust me to make those decisions in their best interest, to help them reach their riding goals, to listen like an untrained, often unwitting, therapist to their problems.
So really, in every single way, I’ve never been happier.
My advice? Live the dream. Buy the pony. Take the chance. Lean on your emotional support system. Cry when you need to, but get back at it. Sweat the small stuff, because it matters in the long run whether or not you paid attention to details. Stand at the paddock gate and watch the horses for at least 10 minutes every day. Know your limits and ask for help as you can. Be gracious and grateful for the moments you spend with these magnificent creatures.
But also, invest in a good pair of winter boots. And gloves. Bring a coffee maker to the barn. Don’t beat yourself up for not riding today. Fill the water tank to the top on the warm day even though it is a sucky chore. Make sure you have snacks handy. And cups for water. Poultice is good for bee stings. Don’t use your hand to test if the fence is on.
And be prepared for poop. My god, more poop than you could ever imagine!!!
Good luck out there. Stay safe, stay sane, and work toward living your dream, whatever it may be!
PS. The greenie is not for sale. I love him too much. Turns out I might actually suck at this whole “running a business” thing…!
Follow Jorna Taylor’s journey on the Avalon Equestrian Center Facebook page.