“Good luck with keeping the place up and finding any time to do anything with your horses!” Those were the parting words of the previous tenant of the first little barn that we rented. We’d been boarding our horses at the same stable for ten years. When a little barn became available, and the boarding stable owners said we could use the facilities for all if we kept one horse there, it seemed the perfect way to save costs with our growing herd. Fortunately, the former tenant was proven wrong, as we kept that barn going for a few years while I also competed, had students and horses in training, and went to university full time. But I have to admit that her words have been on my mind far more in recent years.
For many years after that first little barn, we rented facilities and kept everyone in work at the same time. We made repairs, planted gardens, cleaned our own stalls, and still had time for my horses and my students. But all of that changed when we decided to buy our own place. Now life is a balance that often doesn’t tip in our favor.
One thing that changed is the house. Before we bought our place, we always rented our own abode as well as the barns. For most of my life we lived in apartments. No grounds to keep, no painting to worry about, no roof to replace, etc. If the faucet was dripping, a report to the manager was the extent of our effort. Before the house, we rented a trailer on the same property as the barn we rented. The hot water heater went out, it was someone else’s headache and expense. Ah, those were the days!
We did have barn repairs to worry about, as we do now – but the barn owner often pitched in the materials if we did the work. Now it is all us, all the time. Add to that the obvious point that my mother and I are both now older than we were thirty years ago, and it definitely increases the burden. If I didn’t have the horses to feed, I could afford to hire help – but if I didn’t have the horses, I wouldn’t need the help. Such is the conundrum!
There is another key difference between now and then – the commute. When we were renting, I was never any further than fifteen minutes from where I worked. My commute is triple that now (or more with traffic). It often leaves me tired at the end of the day – and it definitely adds hardship as daylight hours dwindle.
Yet, with all of that, most of the time I would not trade what we have here (short of winning the lotto and getting to quit my job, of course). But there are always ‘those days’, when the weather cooperates, you have the time set aside … and the realities of home horsekeeping smack you upside the head! Yesterday was one of those days …
It actually started Friday, when my mother discovered that our gander Thorny had died. He was fifteen, which is a pretty good age for an African goose (not as long lived as some varieties). But, it left us with two dilemmas – what to do with his body, and what to do with his companion Granny Goose. My plan for the weekend had been to finish one project, make progress on another, and work with the horses. But, Death doesn’t take a number.
Our habit is to bury the smaller animals under a shrub or tree on the property – many a chicken and rabbit are resting under plant life in our back field. But, it is the middle of summer in the valley – meaning the packed clay soil is like concrete, and the planting conditions are generally too hot and dry for giving a new plant a good start. Still, off we went in search of something to plant. At the third nursery we finally found a lovely rose.
As for Granny, she is not actually ours – we borrowed her from my vet to keep Thorny company when his family was killed by raccoons. But, she has gone blind since living here (she is older than Thorny, but a longer lived variety), so dislocating her seems unkind. So, the search for a companion has been ongoing since Friday.
None of that would have been enough to ruin my weekend, all by itself. But, Roxie had to remind me several times that she likes to destroy things – as her door is barely hanging on, and now she has some of the wall boards pushed out by rubbing her substantial but on them. That girl has no problem putting all of her weight into a wall! Several stalls are in need of repair, as well as there being several projects in need of completion before the rainy season. I still have two months, but that will go by quicker than I realize. The deferred maintenance list also includes cleaning the solar panels, finishing the new chicken coop, and putting in the fencing and panels to keep the dogs from annoying the neighbors. Of course the neighbors had a party, so the dogs gave me many vocal reminders of why that project needs completing!
After running around to nurseries, and getting a few things done at home, I finally went out to the barn with enough daylight to ride Coffee. Of course, when I turned on the sprinklers in the arena, one of them was broken. So, an extensive search around the property finally uncovered a replacement and that repair was accomplished. By now I had less light, but still enough.
I’d finally ridden on Friday, for the first time since injuring my knee. It was a nice ride, but brief, as the wind was blowing and the Eucalyptus lining the arena were making suspicious noises. We’ve had many a tree or limb down in our arena, so my mother and I are always a bit leary. Coffee wasn’t too bothered, but I couldn’t concentrate as well as I should, so we did a bit of nice work and called it good. With no wind, but still mild weather, I was looking forward to a nice ride last night. But it was not to be …
Just after I mounted, the neighbor decided to throw metal objects into their metal trailer. Coffee was a doll, in that his spooks amounted to a full body wince with each “ka-bang”. He never threatened to bolt or shy, but it clearly was affecting him. It seemed unfair to ask him to concentrate under those conditions, so we bagged the whole thing. I end the day wondering why I ever stopped boarding my horses – where someone else has to fix broken boards, and where there are always riding-ready facilities without neighbors who make a practice of banging metal about.
But ‘those days’ are inevitably followed by days like today. There was enough nip in the air to remind me that fall is not far away – with days cool enough to allow both riding and projects to span the entire day, and still enough daylight at night to motivate me to get out after work. I take the dogs out for their morning run, and smile as they explore traces of the night visitors to our back acre, Jakey running between the rest of us barking his approval.
The neighbors were not yet out when I got on Coffee. His “Do I have to?” response to going to the grooming area on Friday had been replaced by a purposeful stride where he nearly led me there. He looked lovely right off, no laziness or need to drive him. The ride that followed was a lovely dialog – shoulder-in is coming easy, walk pirouettes are starting to come more easily, and all requests were willingly answered in the affirmative. It was a light workout, because his feet are long and the arena needs work (more deferred maintenance), but every minute was a lovely dance.
As I walk through the barn I don’t see the broken boards – I see the heads all asking for attention and a nice face rub or neck scratch. I see the lazy Frappuccino kitty sprawled on the dried grass, grooming his belly fur after a satisfying breakfast. I walk out to the back and lay Thorny to rest under the little rose bush, then look around at all the trees and shrubs we’ve planted – under many of them lies a being who enriched our lives on this property – and I feel at peace.
In the end, those prophetic words did ring true – I have not been able to do all that I once did with the horses, now that I have the burden of upkeep on the house, barn, and property. Home horsekeeping is not for the faint of heart – of riding is your focus, but all means board your horses! But keeping the horses at home has enriched my life in ways that boarding and living in an apartment never would have. For however long it is practical, I will enjoy the days like today, and try not to dwell on ‘those days’ too much.
Be good to your horses!