One of the things people love to say about horses is how much work they require. I remember hearing it from every non-horse person, before I rode, when people found out I love horses.
“Oh horses? They are so much work!”
I’m not sure when it was universally decided that everyone whos interested in horses must be told that they are so much work, but that’s what we’ve been going with for years now. I’ve found that despite it all, it doesn’t really feel like work because I still love the horses.
Another aspect of the work that people love to mention is that it still needs to be done, regardless of sickness, weather, or holidays. I hope it’s not surprising to too many people that, yes, horses still eat even on rainy days. Hopefully this doesn’t blow your mind.
But holidays are particularly interesting because no one wants to go to the barn on a holiday, they want to be with their human family. This can mean a complicated feeding arrangement for barn managers.
When I was a kid, I worked at a barn about a mile down the road from my house. It was a huge lesson barn, with 30 or 40 horses, and was the most efficiently run barn I ever worked out. Everything had schedules and simple procedures, making little possibility for even making an error. Working there was actually one of my favorite memories, with lots of great friends, and fun times.
Christmas was on a Saturday one year, which means all the barn kids would be there working. There were no lessons, the owner explained to us that we could come a little bit later to do the chores, and she’d even help herself. Now, being a teenager, my trainer was my idol. It was as if the queen herself offered to do barn chores with us. I could hardly believe such an event was taking place.
So the day arrives, and I’m having Christmas morning with my family when my phone rings (ah, the days before texting). My best friend at the time was calling me, asking why she was the only person at the barn. Somehow the wires had been crossed, and she didn’t realize we were doing chores later that day. Her dad had driven her to the empty barn, dropped her off, and left. She was standing there, confused and alone.
I went to fetch her, and she had Christmas breakfast with my family. Unfortunately though, there were some more wires crossed with her family, and they thought she planned to skip out on working to go have breakfast, purposely avoiding her own family, so they were picking her up shortly after we returned to the barn to do chores. There was a lot of confusion in that family that morning.
But there were still chores to do. I did them proudly that morning, so honored to have my trainer cleaning stalls right next to me.
It’s weird to think that a morning spent feeding and cleaning stalls could be a perfect Christmas morning, but it actually was. I spent time with my family earlier in the morning, and then I spent time with my equestrian family – My trainer that I idolized, my horse friends (minus the one that got snatched away), and horses themselves. It didn’t feel like work that day, it felt like a whole day spent with family.
But that’s not to say that every Christmas morning doing chores feels that way. I’ve also had the complete opposite. Another barn I worked at had an empty slot in the Christmas scheduling. That trainer wasn’t offering to come in and help. She just tried to convince me that it would be a lovely quiet day at the barn, and everything would go quickly. Spoiler: chores there never went quickly. It was a poorly run barn that I didn’t want to be at. I also quit before Christmas actually came, so I have no idea what she did.
So much comes down to how the barn is run. At both barns, I was a paid worker, but I had no problem doing chores at the bigger barn, because it was run so well, I felt appreciated, and my idol was right there with me, willing to do chores. At the other barn, I felt like a servant, doing the dirty work that the trainer wasn’t even willing to help me with. It literally felt like she was trying to trick me into coming in to do the work while she got to enjoy her Christmas.
And then there’s just the neutral requests, which I have no strong feelings about. I’ve boarded at places where the owner asked if any of the boarders was willing to come in on the holiday to feed. I get it, it’s a holiday for the usual workers. It’s a hard day to staff.
Horses are a lot of work. Most people understand that, without being told it 40-50 times throughout their childhoods. And horses still do need care on holidays. But so much of people’s willingness to help out depends on how they’ve been treated. If they have been treated like family, they are more likely to help out. If they’ve been overworked and underpaid, and just treated with disrespect, they probably aren’t going to want to come in.
So here’s to you, holiday barn workers. Whether you’re working at the barn regularly, or just coming in for the day, thank you for throwing in a helping hand. Thank you for continuing to care for the horses. Thank you for knowing that horses need care, even on holidays, although it’s probably because you’ve been told hundreds of times. You might not have realized it before that.