Light Horsekeeping

It’s Sunday, my favorite day of the week. Instead of just a quick feed and clean for the citizens of the backyard, Sunday mornings are when I do my light horsekeeping.

It starts in the garden, with shears and a cardboard box for the clippings. Then we move to the horse yard (we being little Joe in his stroller, and, recently, Hunter the kitten) and start with manure. All week, it’s been collecting in my fleet of two plastic contractor wheelbarrows, and now, our barrows runneth over. Screened with landscape cloth to keep flies away, both containers make it out to the dumpster today, get a quick rinse with the hose, and return to duty.

Then, we de-web and blow. With an old straw broom, I knock down the fresh spider webs that have been spun this week, always feeling a twinge of guilt- Charlotte’s Web casts a big shadow, from my childhood to the present. If the spiders would make their tapestries in trees, or in barns and buildings in the neighborhood that are never used, they would remain undisturbed. I apologize and sweep away their homes, then reach for the fabulously useful barn tool, the shop vac. Reversing the power so it blows, I use air power and the long nozzle to dust the barn’s walls and floor, ending up with a spotless aisleway and just one small pile of hay and dust to pick up.

Next, we take out all the other trash from the feed room, the barn aisle, the tack room. It’s surprising how baling twine, grain bags, cat food tins, horse hair, and other stuff can accumulate in just a week, but it all fits in one wheelbarrow then rides to the dumpster, up the ramp, and into the great beyond. Empty trashcans in the barn make me feel virtuous, like Martha Stewart when she’s just cleaned a chandelier with a toothbrush.

We check the fly spray system to make sure it’s working right, then use an old towel to wipe grit out of the automatic waterers. The horses prefer a deep plastic tub for water in the summer though, so we clean and refill those too. It seems the horses drink more when they can go snorkeling at the same time, and when it’s hot, sinking their face in the tub must feel as refreshing as splashing our legs in a swimming pool.

A quick tidying up of the feed room follows, with loose hay swept into a snack pile and grain storage bins topped off. I straighten up the cupboard by the wash rack, and hose off the slab and rubber mat that create the equine shower and spa. When it’s hot, I usually find a lot of other things to hose off, like the horses if they come to visit, the metal roofs of their sheds (which elicits mock hysteria in the horses and squeals of delight from the baby) and the cats, if they’ll let me. Playing with a hose in the heat is one of life’s great simple pleasures, even when you’re old enough to hope no one’s watching.

The tack room keeps itself pretty organized, but I stop in just to admire all the tidy straps, hanging almost dust-free under the clear shower curtains I cut short and stapled above the rows of bridle hooks. The saddles and blankets and tack boxes are all in place, like furniture in an orderly living room, each where it is most convenient to reach and use. Having a system, after all these years, reduces the amount of clutter in my horse life.

About once a month, light horsekeeping includes bathing the horses, too, and pulling manes, re-braiding and conditioning tails, clipping bridle paths and muzzles, and general equine maintenance. Then, there’s the physical plant work: replacing light bulbs, fixing waterer floats, removing broken snaps and smashed buckets, repairing fences. Horses are certainly destructive creatures, but considering their size, they could probably do a lot more damage if they wanted to.

But today was just a regular Sunday horsekeeping day, and soon the chores are done. I stop in the barn door for a moment to enjoy the view, and reflect. There’s something so satisfying about a clean barn, tidy tackroom, raked pens, and full feed bins. I can remember so many days like today, in different barns at different places I’ve lived, with different horses, but the common pleasures remain: hearing the beasties rustling their hay in the mangers, watching light stream in streaks across the aisleway, the smell of grain and dust and manure and horse and leather all commingled into my favorite fragrance I call ‘Corral Number 5.’

All over the world, I imagine, there are other lucky souls like me breathing in the scents of hay and horse and happiness this morning. No matter what kind of horses you admire and care for, and no matter how humble or grand their surroundings, the simple satisfaction of keeping a stable clean and neat is one of the beautiful, honest things that horse people get to enjoy. I’m so fortunate to spend Sunday morning doing light horsekeeping instead of light housekeeping.

(With apologies and thanks to Helen Mather, whose Light Horsekeeping was one of my all-time favorite books as a kid. A few years ago, I found a copy in a used bookstore, a treasure beyond price.)

? 2002 Suzanne Drnec

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people.
Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company,, a show apparel
manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a
Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to

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