California Riding Magazine • April, 2012

Horsey Humor:
Borrowing at the Boarding Barn

by Bob Goddard

I refuse to board my daughters' horses at any barn that does not have easy access to plenty of trails. The place can be perfect in every other aspect: price, cleanliness, condition, size of stalls, size of pasture and niceness of people - but if those trails aren't there, neither will we be.
I know from experience that just because the girls have easy access to trails, does not necessarily mean they will use them as much as they should. This is true of horsepeople in general. Horsepeople are busypeople and with the daily pressures of work and school, it's not always easy to find time to ride. Sometimes the weather isn't right or the horse isn't right or there is a compelling, must-see episode of Lost on, a program I've personally never paid attention to, but I assume has something to do with trail riding.

One of the most common reasons for not riding is "I didn't have anyone to go with." To be sure, I prefer that my kids ride with someone. It's safer to ride with someone than to go alone. Usually. And I'm not oblivious to the fact that the list of people who have horses and the list of people they would choose to ride with do not always correspond. But what can be done?

Borrower Beware

The Great Book of Horse Knowledge may be of help here. The Great Book tells us of a common practice in the horsepeople community called "Ride Lending." The idea is simple: if you can't find someone you like who has a horse, then find someone you like and lend them one of yours.

This, of course, is a practice that goes two ways. That is, at some point you may be offered the use someone else's horse. What should you do? Most horsepeople are very protective of their animals and to lend someone a horse is a sign of trust and friendship. However, the Great Book warns that horse borrowers should be very careful. Despite what you see in the movies, you can't just hop on a strange horse and think you're going gallop away without falling off and breaking your arm. It's not like stealing a car.

No, you need to do a little checking first. The Great Book suggests that prior to mounting an unfamiliar horse, you should ask the owner some questions. A lot of questions, actually. Such as:
"How old is the horse? How long have you had it? Has it been professionally trained?"
"Does it have any trail experience? Does it have any dangerous habits?"
"May I observe you work it? Can I observe you tacking it up? Can I observe the horse
under saddle?"
"Why aren't you answering me? Where are you going? What are you doing with that shovel? Why are you hitting me in the head? When will you stop?"
"Do you think I need stitches?"

Another Form of Lending

Horses are not the only thing being loaned at boarding barns. The Great Book tells of a parallel phenomenon known as "Male Lending." This is not as interesting as it sounds. It is simply the practice of one female lending a male – usually a husband, boyfriend, a father, but sometimes a son, brother or uncle – to another female for the purpose of completing some task for the second female. In this sense, the male (collectively known as Barn Males) is regarded as a kind of asset the female can use to raise her political/social standing among her gender peers. This is not considered a blatant form of exploitation, because we usually get muffins (good muffins) if we do a good job and don't grumble too much.

Barn Males can be divided into two broad categories: The Technically Capable and The Rest of Us. The Technically Capable know how to do things like electrical work, saddle repair and stall construction. The Rest of Us are more likely to break things and start fires.

You would think that in the world of Male Lending, the Technically Capable would have a higher value and thus be rewarded with better muffins. Quite the opposite is true. The Technical Males are always off doing technical things and are generally unavailable for mundane tasks. And as we all know, Barn Life has more mundane tasks than people willing to do them. The non-technical males' primary qualification – Well You're Just Standing There – is far more valuable in a barn setting.

The only way around this is to become unavailable. This is why I insist any boarding barn we get into has access to plenty of trails.