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Come the Apocalypse, Consider the Horse Farm

rear view of alone woman walk in the field and looks at the horses that pass

On one of those deliriously early, horse activity-related mornings, my friends and I decided to talk about the apocalypse.

In true, dark, millennial fashion, we somehow conjured up an image of what would happen if a disaster left us stranded at a horse farm.

“Which horse should we barter off for supplies first?” I asked.

“Probably the geldings,” they responded.

Then, we spewed out a plan, selecting which horses were the best for farm work, and which would be suitable for breeding. We considered who would likely survive without modern veterinary medicine, and who was, by the same standards, doomed. We listed the horses we all wanted to keep for sentimental reasons, and who we needed to get rid in a hurry since they would probably try to kill us once the grain ran out.

The level of detail we eventually reached was astonishing. While we may have debated which steeds would make it, I know that if there was an “end of days” of the human variety, my equestrian friends would be some of the last ones standing. The reasons for that are simple.

Often by necessity, horse owners tend to be really, really handy. Most of us can fix anything with a hoof pick and some bailing wire. Everything that can be mended, repaired, or repurposed will be. While I, personally, am the most mechanically impaired person ever to grace the inside of a tack room, I have still helped hold, fetch, and lift things for many other horse people who are more gifted fixers.

A month ago, in fact, a friend came to my rescue after I cracked the top of the plastic tub I use as a tack box. She brought me a beautifully stained piece of wood, complete with bolts and sealant. After a few moments with a power drill—tada!—my sad little trunk looked lovelier than ever.

Many of the equestrians I know are also prolific gardeners and hobby farmers. Boxes of homegrown apples and pears grace the shelves of the boarding barn in the fall, fully stocked for the horses. I have even taken home some beef and pork that was lovingly and locally raised. “Here, Gretch,” my barn friend will say. “Take some—we have more than we can eat.”

But it isn’t just the nuts and bolts of survival that make the horse-obsessed clan well poised to make it through the apocalypse. It is also our temperaments. We can sleep anywhere; go to a horse show or on a backcountry riding trip and you will probably find someone napping on a saddle pad. Most of us had to give up any fear of needles, blood, and germs decades ago, and have the hardy immune systems to prove it. What’s more, our unhinged obsession with our steeds often makes us aware of every potentially hazardous plant or animal within a 50-mile radius.

We also have a high pain tolerance. We know the shock of an electric fence that has been turned way up, the fiery sting of a rope burn, or the sickening thud of hitting the ground too hard. And yet, somehow, we usually stand back up and return to what we were doing. There is also the special segment of our population who, right after surviving a rather spectacular buck-fest, might shout, “Did you get that on camera?!”

In addition, there’s a strange sense of collectivism among equestrians. Despite our dysfunction, we know we can’t survive without one another. Standing at the stall door, or at home on Facebook or texting with fellow horse friends, asking, receiving, and offering help is part of everyday life.

Above all, people who spend their days around horses tend to know a lot about hard things. For the lay person, fear, bravery, love, and having to make heartbreaking choices are things that, at one time or another, most of us will eventually have to face. But these emotions and challenges are distilled and intensified for horse people. We know the terror of trying to ride again after a confidence-shattering accident, or wrestling with that agonizing decision of what to do for an animal in pain.  

In essence, dear reader, I hope you will take this slightly dark-humored and clearly hypothetical mental exercise for what I intended to be; merely a love letter to the crazy cohort that we call equestrians. By envisioning the most desperate of times, maybe we can start to recognize what we, as a community, truly are: tough, pragmatic, forces to be reckoned with—even when staring down the reckoning itself.

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