Today was total comedy and it was eye opening to how some horse facilities function. We (who shall remain unnamed) went out to see a horse that was for sale at a rock bottom price. Being a thoroughbred lover, I cannot stand to see one being sold off at a price that will soon compete with the meat buyers at the auction. It worries me that the horse might not be bought and then will end up on a scary semi to Mexico, and that presses all my heart buttons. I start wondering if he could be short backed, uphill, long legs…. and the car is warming up.
We went to see the horse at a local barn, and combined it with an afternoon lunch to make us all happy. After eating our selves to the chock-full, we went to the barn where the horse was kept, and it reminded me a little of the old dairy farm that Polestar Farm used to be. Not our dairy farm in it heyday with the Glover family in control, but the farm after it had been sold and left to ruin for 10+ years with sketchy people leasing it out and never caring about its future (NOT Rob and Amy, if they are reading!!). The farm we visited had been converted from dairy to horse with very few changes and improvements to it to help draw in boarders or improve workability. Paddocks were all mud, stalls were 9×9, arena was a converted silage bin…. everything that our farm used to have and was completely unsuitable, in my opinion, for horse care. Now, granted, I definitely will say that the stalls were mostly clean, water was present and hay was in stalls… no horse that I saw was suffering. But what was mostly entertaining for us was the afternoon feed, and when you thought a little more carefully there was a lack of concern for horse and rider safety and welfare in the barn management.
We were in the silage bin/arena trying the thoroughbred when the outside horses were brought in fortheir afternoon feeding. The arena walls were about 9 foot tall, and impossible to see over for a horse, pressing some nervous buttons on them. On the other side of the wall, was a rock road. The horses would be let out of their pastures by a barn hand and the horses would then sprint, willy-nilly to the end of the road, clattering over the rocks to someone to receive them with their halters.(that bad photo is of a horse mid-gallop on way to his halter). That person would rush them to their stalls in order to be back in time to receive the next pony express that barreled down the cobbles. It was horrifying to be in the arena, on a racing thoroughbred, and not be told that this rodeo event was happening.
I was never asked to sign a waiver, and we were never warned that possibly this was a bad time to sit on a horse who has not been saddled in over 3 months. I can completely see that the resident horses all knew the drill and it was not dangerous for them, but was likely inviting injury that was avoidable. The horses were well trained to sprint down this 200 meters and they knew to stop at the agreed fence and not slide into it and get tangled in the wire. But was not well posted that we might be in mortal danger ourselves in this arena. After the third set of horses has run by, our little thoroughbred finally decides he has popped a gasket and he can no longer control any portion of his brain. Our rider wisely jumps off just in time to avoid the horse rolling on her in his frustration. He does the obvious after getting down in the dirt, he jumps up faster than a flying potato and double barrels in my direction (he knew I was the trainer!). At this point we realize that we are no longer at risk just from the horse, but we are also at risk of needing to deal with idiots who run the barn. Despite thinking that the horse is not half bad, we scurry back to the barn in an attempt to reduce the chance that one of us is going to lose some teeth or get a black eye. It was eye-opening to realize that there are many equestrian operations run by folks who do not consider safety as a primary concern. I felt a little at risk by the horse, but a LOT at risk by the people who run the farm recklessly. There were no helmet rules, no questions about our skill levels, and no introductions to the owner/manager even though they were present. I guess my take home message to you is that not every farm is run with the idea that rider and horse safety are the primary concern. If you find yourself in that situation, it is a good idea to be extra cautious about what you do and what you throw your leg over at that facility. You might find yourself at greater risk than you want, but you might also come home with a good story!