Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Barn break: work vs. play

Decided to take a break from the barn today. Going from riding 2x/week with an occasional run thrown in to riding 4x/week with an occasional run thrown in has my legs about ready to mutiny against me.

I love being at the barn and teaching but I do think it is important to keep riding from being work. I've thought about this issue a lot, especially one summer when I had a part-time job doing the evening feed and Sunday chores at a field board barn.

I was caring for 20 horses, a couple cats, and four goats on a tiny, laid-back (read: rarely mowed) farm that was set way back from the road on a long, windy gravel driveway. One of the goats, Red, became a constant companion while I cleaned tack when the horses were eating or when I mucked out stalls. He would call for me with a "BUUUUH!!! BUUUUUHHH!!!" whenever I was out of sight. I thought his serenade was hilarious.

I ended up only riding at that field board place once because I was usually alone when I did the evening feed. (Also, trails are full of evil horse-eating monsters. Like deer and suspicious-looking twigs.) But one day when the owners and one of the boarders came out for a weekend trail ride, they invited me along. This particular boarder, Lynn, had two horses--a retired gray mare, and a flashy Paint gelding she would trail ride a few times a week.

I rode a chunky, short-strided little QH named BJ (with creepy blue eyes...eugh!). I'll never forget when Lynn asked if we were all up for a little canter out on the trail. BJ threw a couple little yippee fat pony bucks when we started, but otherwise it was no problem. I just had to keep up with everyone and keep an eye out for the log jumps. Then Lynn turned around--completely ignoring the trail and any upcoming jumps--and asked, "So Carla, what do you study?"

I was convinced she was going to die, but she didn't have a care in the world during our conversation. She had a very good seat; she knew the trail; and she knew her horse would take care of her if it came to that.  Oh yeah... did I mention that she was over 70 years old?

I hope one day to be like her-- a total badass, looking like I'm 40 at age 70, and still enjoying my horses.

When I was looking for a job, and again when my company laid off a bunch of people, I wondered if I should just pursue my passion and work at a boarding farm or down at the Laurel Racetrack if the whole editor thing didn't work out. If there is one thing I've learned from the zillions of creative writing workshops I've done, it's that writing really isn't my first love. Horses are. In fact, a friend of mine wants me to join an online writing workshop she created, but I find that when I sit down at my computer, I don't want to dig through my past and come up with some poetry or creative nonfiction. And I've always been terrible at fiction. What I want to write the most right now is this horse blog.

I loved that summer of mucking, mixing feed, and goat-herding. And I love teaching and figuring things out with the students (more on that later because our 'school horses' are not exactly push-button). But I think it would be different if my 9 to 5 was a horsey job. I would come home exhausted, ready to veg out and unwind like usual--except that my way of unwinding would already be my job.

Is that good, bad? I think it depends on who's talking. I don't mind some barn work, but I think that if every day I had to care for and ride other people's horses for them and be on the line for their progress (or lack thereof), it would become a point of stress. I've definitely had some days of volunteering, especially during the winter, where the morning chores wore me out so much that I just didn't have the energy to ride the horses I wanted to. Riding is supposed to be my escape from real life, not just mere exercise or one more thing to check off on my to-do list.

What do you think? Have you had horsey jobs? Did they feel like work or  play? All I know is that I feel lucky to ride, and I want that feeling to stay.

P.S.--Well hey, from that last sentence, maybe I can combine this blog with poetry!
P.P.S.--Dear Writerly Friends, not really. I am fully aware of how awful any poem that rhymes, is about horses, and has the word "feelings" in it would be. Never fear.


  1. I have the same reasons for not pursuing a horsey career when I finished school. I never want horses or riding to become a chore to me. It seemed perfectly sensible to relegate them to the 'expensive hobby' category of life. The plan was: study, get a well paying job that I enjoyed, spend all free time and money with ponies.
    This only succeeded in making me miserable. I'm far happier now that I work, study and plan in the horse industry. I can't even lie and say that I wish Plan A was still an option.

  2. I think some horses are more chores then other, currently I am working a pony and she is cute and I like riding her, but it is work, compared to my own horse, who I ride after, and I always look forward to riding my own horse!

    If you are really, really passionate about something and work it as a job you'll always find some parts of it are work and others are purely joyful. Thats what I realized when I became a Graphic Designer, I love art, I love designing, working for clients sucks but thats what pays the bills. My own projects though (which I have many) aren't work and I rotate them regularly to keep myself fresh and interested.

  3. Thanks for your comments! Really enjoyed hearing both perspectives. I like my job (though of course a lot of it is more work than fun) and I just started, so I'm not really at a point where I want to take the plunge into a full-on horse job. But of course I won't ever know if that would make me happier than my non-horsey job till I try it.

    And I agree with you, L...the "work" part of riding is when I ride horses that I am not in love with. I just don't look forward to it as much--rather than, "Hooray, today I'm riding Joey!" it's more like, "Okay, I have to ride this lesson horse so I can have another horse that will actually canter reliably for a beginner."

  4. I think 'L.Williams' has hit the point dead-on. Even doing something you love can have things that feel like a chore, but those are just the parts which pay the bills. It's a rare privilege to be able to make your living without ever feeling like you're doing work.
    Stick at it Carla, you've going absolutely the right way about it. Have you thought about trying to become a Blog writer at somewhere like anythingequine.co.uk or http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/blogs ??

    1. Nope, I hadn't read those sites before you mentioned them, but maybe I'll check it out. Email me at collegialequestrian [at] gmail [dot] com if you have a contact for them. Does it matter that I don't live in the UK?