You Can Give Yourself Permission to be a “Bad” Horse Owner Right Now

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

Typically, I am pretty hard on myself. My plate stays full, and I tend to beat myself up if I don’t keep all the plates spinning at the same time. Instead of looking at a sink full of dishes and thinking, “It’s okay. I’ll catch up later. I’ve been cooking a lot,” my brain tends to say “Omg! You’re a slob!” I get upset if I feel like I’m “failing” in any certain area of my life, and that includes the barn.

Like many equestrians, I take a pretty active role in my horse’s life. My ideal week involves riding 3-4 times, and I tend to get a little obsessive about spending forever grooming and taking care of his feet before a ride. Though I board at a full care facility with a trainer who does rides on my horse, we’re more on the DIY end of the spectrum. We’re a group of hard working amateurs on a budget, and go the extra mile for our horses. And usually, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Then the pandemic hit. Barns across the country are closed or began operating under extremely different circumstances. Limited numbers, avoiding the crossties, wiping everything down with rubbing alcohol—these are the standards we’re all adhering to now. Once the hand sanitize, Clorox wipes, and shifts at the barn so no one overlaps started, my desire to go almost completely disappeared.

It’s not because I’m a germaphobe or terrified of getting the disease. It’s not because of the #stayhome hashtags and memes, although I’m certainly staying home even without the social pressure to do so. I simply don’t want to go right now. After slogging through a stressful time at work, trying to have a social life amidst separation, and keeping myself fed and bathed and given appropriate hours of sunshine a day going on lord knows how many walks with my dogs I have nothing left. The thought of driving out to be a confident leader for a green horse doesn’t inspire me currently—it exhausts me. Barn open, barn closed, it doesn’t matter for me right now. I’m depleted.

This isn’t an unusual reaction. Trauma, shock and grief—all things we’re collectively experiencing as the pandemic unfolds—take a physical toll on us. We’re fatigued, short tempered, anxious, emotionally exhausted. For some, the barn rejuvenates and fuels them to tackle the evening news. But for me, right now at least, it feels like too much.

At first, I fought this. Shouldn’t I be dying to go spend my time out there? Wasn’t my horse suffering without my devotion? What kind of equestrian was I if this is how I felt?

I struggled with the answer for a while. For someone raised with a “horse first” mentality, the idea of leaving my horse alone for the foreseeable future felt wrong. They spontaneously combust if we don’t touch them every 72 hours, right?

Then I tried to look at things the other way. My therapist told me to think about the days where I didn’t do all the normal things on my plate as rest. I’m not a lazy slob because I watched Law & Order SVU for 6 hours and took a nap, I’m “resting.” My horse isn’t being ignored, he’s on a vacation. He’s getting basic care and occasional rides from the trainer, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to go feral. We don’t have to emerge from this pandemic jumping a baby green course. We can stay just where we are, even backslide, and that’s okay.

Though to me, having a horse that I’m not actively riding and caring for feels like being a bad horse owner, there’s nothing bad about sitting back and letting everyone have a little rest right now. We not only need it—it’s a privilege to be able to do so.

My job isn’t to tell you what to do or not do with your horse. That’s a decision that involves many different factors. I can only share the reasons behind mine. For now, I’m sitting home, paying my board and training bills, and taking care of myself.

It feels strange, but these are strange times. However you’re handling things, be kind to yourself. Your horse is not holding a grudge. They will be happy to see you when you are able to make it back out. They might even be well rested.


About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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