BY SISSY WICKES
Florida has finally succumbed to the better logic of its vacillating leadership and the state is on a “stay at home” order. Barns close their doors to clients and the last vestiges of open commerce shutter. Itchy restlessness settles in on a community used to motion and interaction. For some it is an inconvenience, an interruption of their hobby. Others face a complete cessation of income as the horse show industry slide stops into a halt of indefinite length.
My cell pings with a text from a friend inviting me to a group bike ride at 5pm daily. “It’s a bunch of us girls still in Wellington. Please come. It will be fun and we will stay 6 feet apart.” Wallowing in my own ill temper, I hesitate at the thought of socializing. “Meh, I will sit and lament all of the things that I am missing.” A few more prompts from my friend, and I agree to go.
We meet at a gas station, all of us cycling from different parts of the town. Typical of our horse community, nine people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and attire assemble. A baby blue bike with handlebar streamers and a bell, a bike with an aloof terrier sitting in the basket, a sleek road bike, hybrid bikes as a mixture of the two. Our crew’s attire ranged from neck to toe sun apparel, short shorts and tank tops, and repurposed yoga clothes. Bike helmets, the ubiquitous baseball hat, and ponytails topped the outfits. Unfortunately, the bare heads represent the continued bad choices of riders of my generation with regard to head gear. Further, these guys don’t ride bikes as well as they ride horses and the sidewalk is one hell of a lot harder than the ring. With chatty anticipation, we head out to the open road following our fearless leader- more than half a stride apart.
What began as a random bike ride has become a continuing conversation on the effects of the COVID shutdown on our equestrian world. During the hour ride, I have an opportunity to chat with a small cross section of workers affected by the current state of the world. Trainer, rider, photographer, retail entrepreneur, braider, judge- all with a story to tell.
Day 1 – The Local Trainer
With a strong local business, she and her business partner are busy keeping the seventeen horses in their care in a work program. “We are busy, but we are OK,” she explains. “We put most of the horses on an every other day riding/turnout program so that we can get everyone on a good fitness level.” Asked how the clients are responding to closing the barn to non-employees, she smiled. “Well, you know how clients are. Some are fine with it and supportive because they know that we are following state recommendations. Others are not at all happy and putting pressure on us to open up for them. Like the rules don’t pertain or they will take on the fine for breaking the law.”
I am sure that this is going on throughout the country as horse owners are told not to go to the barn. There is real angst as horses are our hobby, our sport, our therapy. What is better than going for a ride to forget the troubles in our lives? Then, there is the line, “Our horses will miss us if we don’t visit and take treats.”
Actually, they won’t. And everyone can survive staying away from their boarding barn if their horses are not on self-care. Honor the wishes of your barn owner, abide by state mandates for non- essential workers. And at the very least, understand that we all feel shaky and vulnerable personally and economically right now. Do it right so we can emerge from this soon.
As we reached the end of today’s loop, the other riders were stopped ahead of us at the gas station, lined up as if in a hack class. I said goodbye to my conversational partner and to the dog who sneezed at me dismissively. In a soft voice she asked, “I’m not sure how long this will last. Do you know?”
No, friend, no one knows.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Cohost of The Plaidcast. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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