The therapeutic riding barn where I volunteer runs its lesson program in seasonal quarters, and I am proud to say I survived my maiden assignments over the long, hot summer. I’m back for the fall session, and in the mood to reflect on the experience.
I went a-volunteering when my last horse retired, because I wanted to be around horses. Oddly enough, at the therapeutic barn, we leave the horses alone as much as possible. The barn is a busy place, and if everybody who had a mind to petted every equine nose in sight, those equines would have no bodily privacy.
Before I started this volunteer gig, I hadn’t really considered that Thunderbolt sticking his head over his stall’s half-door isn’t a license for me to make free with his person. If my job is to groom and tack, well, yes, then I have a reason to intrude, and I’d best do it as politely as possible. If not… then it’s not the pony’s job to accommodate my need to pet him.
This is an aspect of being around horses I hadn’t really considered before. This barn also turns horses out between lesson sessions for as many consecutive days as the calendar (and severe weather) allow. Meals are brought out to the pasture on those term breaks, and the horses have no work stress put on them whatsoever. They graze, swish flies, play with their buddies, and nap in the shade or the run-in shed for days on end. A true vacation from the downsides of domestication.
Which has prompted me to wonder what a true vacation at home would look like for me?
I’m also learning horse stuff I haven’t come across before, and I have been a horse lover since wee pals. I did not know, for example, that if a horse for some reason falls, and it’s necessary for him to stay down for his own safety (tangled harness, for example), then I can keep that beast on the ground by bringing my weight to bear (carefully) on the top of his neck. If he can’t toss his head up to begin the getting-off-the-ground process, he can’t get off the ground. Might have to use this in a book!
I’ve known for some time that I missed the social aspect of being part of a horse barn. The timing of my rides at my last billet (weekday mornings) meant I hardly ever saw another rider, much less an instructor, and the barn help was generally too busy to shoot the breeze. At this barn, I have yet to meet a volunteer or staff member whose company I don’t enjoy. My Friday morning gig in particular is full of older ladies whose years in the saddle are mostly behind them. Some of these women have been volunteering with this organization for thirty years.
We have fun, we commiserate, we tell our horse stories, and we cooperate around the challenge of making sure every lesson goes as well as it can. I hadn’t anticipated that I could find my horse people tribe at a place where I’m not riding, that I’d still be learning horse stuff even in a volunteer capacity, and that appreciating a horse might mean leaving him the heck alone.
Hmm. Have you learned any new tricks lately?