Saturday, February 6, 2016

10 Things I Learned While Working at the Barn

I don't know what possessed me to begin picking up shifts at the barn.  Maybe it was because I needed something else to do--you know, I already teach full-time and take two graduate courses each semester so I might as well add something else.  Or maybe I just wanted to be with the horses, since I just love being at the barn even when I don't ride.  Or maybe I needed to work so I could ride more, or show more.   Maybe it was all of these reasons.  Either way, I've still learned a lot.

Here are all of the things I've learned from summer camp, pony parties, school groups, and working as a lesson helper:

1. Our lesson ponies are priceless.
I didn't realize how much we rely on our "bombproof" lesson ponies until I watched them faithfully carry nervous riders who were learning how to post.  These are the same horses that work all day and don't fuss too much when a child decides to hang all over them at the end.  They are the horses who let children paint them all the colors of the rainbow.   They are the horses who listen to the excited squeals of little girls who are finally living their dreams.   They are also the horses who are loyal, especially to those riders who come from tough backgrounds and may be experiencing turmoil in their own lives.  These horses are truly the gems of the lesson program.

2. Raking barn aisles is an art form.
I was taught by one of the greatest (I am looking at you, Anna!), and this is one of my favorite things to do at the barn.   Usually, raking happens when the barn is empty and the horses are quietly chomping on hay, which makes for a soothing, zen-like experience.  There is a specific calculation of lengths, angles, and timing, but I love it.  It's like my own little zen garden.   I don't care that it takes me 10 minutes longer to rake than everyone else does, I make mine look GOOD.

3. Don't ever say "This is going to be an easy shift"
I made that mistake once and precisely 12482988 unexpected things happened that night.  Sometimes, people just show up.  Sometimes, a horse discovers its reflection for the first time.  Sometimes, the power goes out in the middle of the lessons and leaves everyone in the dark.   Sometimes, the barn decides that it doesn't want to hold snow on its roof anymore.   If you can think of it, it has happened at some point.

4. There is a special place in the afterlife for those who don't roll run-downs/polos correctly.  
There is nothing worse than  tacking up a horse just in the nick of time and getting to the last run-down and then realizing that it had been rolled incorrectly and that the velcro is on the other side.  You have two choices: twist it and velcro anyway, or re-roll it.   either way, you are going to get a stern "hurry up" but one of those options will be a little more intense.  You guess which one.

5. There are ways to look busy when you have 5 minutes of breathing time.
We've all been there.  Exhausted, hot, cold, worn out, whatever.   When you have five minutes to finally breathe (or use the restroom), you can find ways to look busy which include but are not limited to: walking with "purpose" while looking straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with anyone, and disappearing into the hay trailer, camp room, storage closets, stalls, etc.

6. A lesson is pretty valuable.   
I think everyone should be required to work for at least one lesson at one point in their lives.   You value your lesson so much when you know what it is worth.   It's the same thing as paying for your way through college; you'll work harder and know exactly how much it is "worth" when you are responsible for paying/working for your own way.   I think I always ride the best when I work a shift that day, because it reminds me just how valuable a lesson really is.

7. It will start raining on your way to the hay truck.  Just accept your fate.
Oh, the weatherman didn't call for rain today?   That's going to change.

8. Working at the barn is an endurance sport.
The first time I worked a shift and then rode at the end for my lesson, I was exhausted.  It's no wonder that our lesson workers are some of the best riders in the barn-- you have to have some mad endurance skills in order to feed, water, get horses ready, take out trash, sweep, etc., and then ride at the end.  If you're looking for ways to burn calories, this is the job for you.

9. We run on "barn time", not real time.
Your watch says it is 1:30? No, it is midnight.  The show was supposed to start 30 minutes ago?   We run on BARN TIME, people.  Show up early, but don't expect to do anything on time.  Things just happen (see question #3), and there is nothing you can do about it.  

10. A barn is a family.
When I normally ride, it is one of the least busy days of the week.   But through working, I have gotten the opportunity to work when the barn is teeming with clients, and little girls lead their ponies into the arena and seasoned riders chat by the stalls.   I am reminded of how much we really are a family, and how everyone works together and appreciates one another.  It may be something as simple as showing a young rider where their horse's stall is located or lending a helping hand in the tack room, but it is those small acts of kindness that bring us together.

There is so much laughter and joy and friendship in this barn.

And that, my friends, is the most important thing that I have learned.