Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who's The Workhorse

                                                                   Originally published in Horse Directory, September 2012

The author and Lola training at Affari Horse Farm
 By Tom Gumbrecht

It’s generally the same question that gets asked when someone finds out that you keep horses:
“Aren’t they a lot of work?” Even though I’ve heard it a thousand times, I’m still sometimes stuck for an answer. I think of work as something that you have to do, and leisure as something you want to do.  But the dictionary says this:

Work  [wurk] noun
 Exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor, toil.

So.. maybe horses are a lot of work, because that’s exactly what we do a lot of: directing our efforts to accomplish something.  Sometimes the comment is dismissive, as in, “I would never want to do that much work for a hobby.” But sometimes the questioner seems genuinely interested in what is involved in keeping a horse. Attempting objectivity, I will sometimes run down a typical week in my backyard barn:

Monday- Friday:                    Morning feed, care and cleaning, 6:00am- 7:00am
                                                Riding (when possible), 3:30-4:30pm    
            Afternoon feed, care and cleaning, 4:30-5:30
            Evening hay, care and cleaning, 8:00-8:45pm

Alternate Fridays:                 60 mile roundtrip to pick up feed and bedding

Saturday:                                Normal daily routine, plus:
                                                Trailer out to lessons at trainer’s facility, 8:00am – 12:00 noon
                                                Barn, paddock, trailer maintenance, 2:00pm-3:00pm

Sunday:                                   Normal daily routine, plus:
                                                Trailer out to horse park, 9:00am – 12:00 noon
                                                Barn, paddock maintenance, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

This is a typical week but can change fairly radically when we are showing, or when we have a sick or injured horse, or some major project like ring footing or barn painting. In an average week I spend close to 40 hours on the horses. In addition to my day job, which is a full time, non-horse business.

So, I guess, yes, it is a lot of work. It just doesn’t feel like it. It feels like leisure, but the dictionary says this about leisure:

Leisure [lee-zher] noun
Freedom from the demands of work or duty.

Hmmm. So, I guess it’s not a leisure activity, because it is somewhat demanding work, and there is definitely a sense of duty involved.

The thing is this:  My day job can be physically and mentally challenging.  The work is competitive, and every new bid is like interviewing for a new job. Schedules can be tight and inflexible, clients can be very demanding, and payments can be slow. That’s when it feels like work. But sometimes clients actually look forward to us coming, respect and appreciate what we do and show it, and the transaction feels less like business and more like a means of exchange of love and service to our fellow man.

That’s how my horses make me feel, all the time. I feel missed, needed, appreciated and loved. That’s why the time I invest in their care, training and performance doesn’t seem like work. That, and the scores of people I’ve met over the years who feel just the way that I do, has made mine a much richer existence.  For a long time, I didn’t really know exactly how I fit into this giant puzzle called life.  As someone else once said, “When I’m with horses, the question of where I want to be and what I want to do, has been answered.”

Perhaps we need a new word to convey that which is hard work, but at the same time fun, relaxing, rewarding and fulfilling.  What do you call someone who works hard at a job that is never done, but seems to never tire or grow weary of it, and never wants it to end.  How about just call me lucky.

The Author and DannyBoy in the dressage ring at Good Shepherd Farm

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