Monday, November 29, 2010

How Not to Pick A Barn, or, A Prologue to How I Met Denali's Mom

by Guest Blogger, Ophie's Mom:

When I decided to get back into riding as an adult, I asked some one I
worked with where she rode - and then promptly forgot the name of the
place she told me. Then I went on Craigslist and searched for
"horseback riding lessons". One of the places that popped up had a
familiar sounding name, so I ran with it. For simplicity's sake,
we'll call it Below Average Boarding Barn.

I went out there, had a lesson on one of their lesson horses, and
because I was Riding Horses Again, and simply didn't know any better,
I ignored all the (somewhat glaring) signs that something wasn't quite
right at BABB. I was soon happily working one day a week cleaning
stalls in exchange for lessons and a part-lease on a little arab named

I didnt know it at the time, but the barn manager/trainer (who leased
the property from absentee land lords) was sliding deeper and deeper
into debt. And things were getting worse. So, in case you ever find
yourself in a similar situation here's a handy list of things that
should be big, glaring neon signs of A Problem:

- The boarders never stay for very long. And they get weirder and
weirder as time goes on. We, for example, had a crazy woman who owned
a little peruvian mare. Every time she saw me she told me the story
of how she had a car accident and couldn't ride anymore until she
found the smooth-gaited peruvian. Every single time she saw me. And
we saw each other 2-3 times a week. We also had a divorcing couple
who between them had two stalls and one horse. They would move her
back and forth between the stalls in some sort of passive-aggressive
ownership assertion dance.

- Soon, when I went to clean stalls, there were never any new
shavings. The first time, I figured, whatever - she probably just ran
out and hasn't had time to pick some up yet. But then, there were
never any, ever.

- Horses start appearing and disappearing randomly, without
explanation, and sometimes in really crappy condition. Let me just
take a second to interject here - it's not like I was completely
oblivious, especially not to this last bit - but a horse would come in
looking like shit, and when I asked it was all "oh, he's a rescue" or
"she's being rehabbed" And, being new to horses as an adult I thought
okay, yeah well maybe, but -

- The vet never comes out. Ever. You'd think a place that had 20+
stalls and pasture-boarded horses on top of that would require at
least occasional vet visit. Yeah, no. And let me just say, if you
are "rescuing" horses, but cannot afford to have the vet come out even
once? You are not actually "rescuing" the horse.

- The only people who seem to ride regularly are a swarm of
increasingly feral middle- and high-school aged girls, who form
ever-changing alliances and vendettas with/against each other in a
perpetual battle to make each other miserable. At BABB, their
favorite tactics were stealing, or simply disposing of each other's
tack, helping themselves to the grain/supplements of boarders, and
finally helping themselves to the boarder's horses. Which may not
actually have been as bad as it sounds, because, remember none of the
other boarders were ever actually there, and for a few horses
(including Ophie - but that's another story) this would be the only
time they got out of their stall, ever.

I will not even go into the state of physical decay the property was
in, except to say the toilet was sinking into the floor. Seriously.

But for better or for worse, I was able to ignore most of that, most
of them time. Why? Well, partly because of Najah. When I was a kid,
my fantasy dream horse was a fire-red chestnut arab. He would have a
perfect crescent moon mark on his forehead, and no other white. He
would have a dished face, and huge intelligent eyes. He would have
nostrils that quivered with excitement as we got ready to race through
fields and forests. He wouldn't walk: he would prance, and probably
toss his head impetuously.

Oh whatever, you know you totally had an embarrasing dream horse too.

Anyway, here is what Najah actually was - a chesnut arab gelding, with
a white mark that might pass for a crescent moon if you squinted
really hard, or maybe if you were drunk. He was also in his mid
twenties, and his favorite activity was napping in the sun. The first
time we rode, I went to get him from the field and he, napping of
course, lifted his head up, looked at me, and heaved this huge sigh
like, Okay. Fine. If you insist. It was instant love on my part.

He was lazy, he balked, he was so round that my leg would constantly
slip forward off his barrel, throwing me into a chair seat. He bucked
if you hit him with a crop. He bucked if you asked him to canter.
Sometimes he just bucked for fun. But his favorite trick was to
simply abandon the activity at hand and go stand in the middle of the
arena and refuse to move, which he got away with because he had a
career mostly hauling little kids around. We soon reached an
agreement: I wouldn't haul on his face, bounce wildly on his back, and
would spend lots of time grooming him - in exchange he wouldn't balk
and limited his bucking to special occasions.

You know, looking back at BABB, it's amazing how much stuff I put up
with, or ignored. And I think it has to do with that rush you get
when you're first bonding with a horse. Especially if you've been out
of the game for awhile - it's like: Oh yes, I remember you, I remember
this. How could I have gotten by without this in my life?


Marissa said...

Great post, I can totally relate! One of my closest friends and I met at a barn that was suffering from similar conditions... we look back now and can't imagine why on earth we were keeping horses there, but it did forge a mutual friendship (bonding through crisis?) that has lasted for years....

Dom said...

Brilliant entry.

My totally embarrassing childhood horse was a 15.3hh dapple gray TB named Pepper who did GP dressage... to 'N Sync. I wish I was kidding.

Leah Fry said...

The parts of that that weren't a little scary were pretty darn funny. Thanks for the diversion.

And my dream horse was a black Arabian that also pranced and tossed his head impetuously, and — wait for it — reared on command. Yes, in my clueless childhood dreams!

Now I actually have an Arabian who, though truly awesome, is the last Arabian I'll own.

SprinklerBandit said...

Oh, this sounds fun.

I had a whole stable full of imaginary dream horses of all makes and models. I can still remember most of them. My parent's neighbors probably still think I'm weird because I never walked or ran anywhere; I always cantered.

Can't wait for more!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

FANTASTIC post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. You paint a very clear picture with your descriptive words.
Thanks for sharing,

achieve1dream said...

Hehe I think my first dream horse was a palomino, but I don't remember much of that because I was so young. Then it was the black stallion (I LOVED those books). Then I discovered the Friesian and that has been my dream horse ever since. :)

Great post!

thenamesmarry said...

Hey! Not every feral teenager was THAT bad (ahem). But my oh my, you put it well. Looking back, I can't believe I stayed there for so long. But on the bright side, it's places like this one that help you learn all sorts of random crap, and, in particular, places NOT to board or take lessons from :). Thanks for the post!