Benefits of Barn Work

Credit: Thinkstock Grooming and throwing hay are part of the fun.

A friend told me today that her daughter made her school’s volleyball team. She was surprised by the feat because the family wasn’t a “sports” family. Oh, they’re accomplished, all right. Both parents are successful doctors, and the kids are equally brilliant and have made their mark in things like music and, of course, horses. But the sports team thing was a first.

Still, she said, her daughter is strong and fit. How could she not be with a barn full of horses and other animals to take care of, she said? When you’re a horse kid, you learn early on to carry 50-lb. feed bags and toss hay. You don’t consider the physical benefits of all that work. And that got me thinking . . .

As a kid, my dad used to tease me that I was as muscled as I was because all I did was ride (no, I don’t look as good as that now). My legs were hard and muscled – not pencil thin elegant like some of my classmates – but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. All I wanted to do was horses. Still is. Every spare hour and every spare dime goes to the horses. (Yes, I’ll talk more about barn building in upcoming blogs.)

I know I’m fit. I know I could weigh less, especially as I battle middle age, but I have strength and endurance. Have you ever seen a non horse person try to gracefully put a saddle on a horse’s back, especially a Western saddle? It’s not pretty.

Like you, I’d bet, I’ve developed other handy skills that many people lack, like knowing how to mend a fence, fix minor plumbing issues and handle other barn emergencies. I’m sure I’m not the only horse person who can hold a bandage against a bleeding horse with one hand while dialing the vet’s phone number with the other. And most of us can drive with the best, especially when it comes to backing a trailer into a tight spot. 

We mow, throw hay bales, carry bedding, clean stalls, fill and hang water buckets, drag arenas, move jumps or set up a dressage arena – all part of having a horse and your own barn. Hard work, they call it. A thorough grooming – “spa day” for the horses – will leave you wearing more dirt than the horse and an ear-to-ear grin as you look at your beautiful steed. I guess work doesn’t seem like work when you love it so much. 

Riding itself is a fitness builder. I remember Mike Plumb, three-day Olympic champion and renowned trainer, telling readers in the early days of Horse Journal that, if they can’t ride several horses a day, try to find a place to swim, as it’s the best non-horse sport we can do to increase our physical condition for riding. That’s because it also involves the entire body.

My favorite riding instructor, Ellen Stanton, said students were often amazed when they learned how much work riding well really is. And she was right. If you find that long-rein walk break during a training session is just for the horse’s sake, you aren’t putting enough effort into your riding.

Yes, it’s work. And it gets more difficult every year. But we don’t care. Life wouldn’t be worth living without it.

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