Sunday, June 20, 2010

About Face

As those of you who have been following along know, I have my 5 horses in a variety of places. Two, Lily and Norman, are retired and living with Jason and Melissa at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee. Two of my horses, Noble, who is retired, and Dawn, who is my younger daughter's horse but for all practical purposes mine when my daughter is away at college or out of town (she's in Peru right now), live at a small stable just a couple hundred yards from my house. This stable is associated with, but not owned by, our development. It isn't really owned by anyone - a small group of boarders do much of the work, although there's also some paid labor. Including my two, there are currently 10 horses. And a little over a month ago, I moved Maisie to another boarding barn about 15 minutes away - this post lays out some of my thinking at the time. Nothing that I thought then is invalid now, but I've been thinking some more.

The new barn has its advantages - a nice indoor, not too crowded, nice people, very large 12x14' stalls with 7 day stall cleaning and very acceptable hay and feeding, and good general horse oversight - I like the barn manager, who is also one of the trainers, a lot. But muddy, small turnouts, with no grass and no herd. No trails or trail access - I'd have to trailer out. And here's the kicker - Maisie seems increasingly unhappy. She's stopped eating the hay they give her in turnout, and comes running and whinnying to me whenever I come to get her. Before she sees me, she's just listlessly standing there - she never runs or plays although she does roll occasionally. She clearly hates the turnouts. And in her stall, although she was initially happy to be there, her expression these days isn't as happy, and she often stands with her head in the corner away from the door. It's almost as though she thought she was on a short trip somewhere that turned into a permanent move, which she hadn't expected. And, because of the limited turnout, I feel obliged to ride her every day, which has its good and bad points.

Now, I'm not saying that it's always unacceptable to keep horses in stalls with limited turnout, as is often the case at show barns. I think horses can be OK in lots of different environments. But Maisie used to be turned out with a herd, on grass pasture, and it's pretty clear that she's unhappy with the change. She just plain looks sad. I remember that look - when I got her, she was a sad, depressed, shut-down horse who wouldn't interact with me at all. It took a long time to get her to open up, and I feel like we're going backwards somewhat in our relationship, although the riding's going well.

And, in addition, the people at the new barn are there to train and show in the hunter/jumper world. I used to do that myself, and they're a pretty nice bunch of people, but I'm never going to jump or show Maisie - she wouldn't stay sound for that, I believe, and besides I have little interest in showing. I like doing lots of things - riding, ground work, obstacles, trails - and some of those options are closed to me due to the facility and the type of riding that's going on there.

Long preamble - Maisie's moved back to the old barn as of this morning. The grass is much less lush than it was in the spring and early summer, and she'll be able to gradually be reintroduced to grass and to her herd of mares. In spring when the horses first go to pasture, she can be kept in during the day and turned out all night with a friend (probably Dawn) in a small dry lot with a shed (now why didn't I think of that before?). When the weather's bad or too cold, I won't ride. When I don't feel like it, I won't ride - she'll be getting lots of turnout so that won't matter. Same applies to Dawn. Will things perhaps progress slowly on the training front? Probably. Does that matter? Probably not. I've got the physical labor issue under control for now as well - several of the other boarders will clean my stalls on Saturday and Sunday for pay - I've finally concluded that I can no longer do this myself, nor do I want to. Now that I'm not working the morning feeding/turnout job 7 days a week, I can do other things and even take a vacation from time to time without worrying.

No situation is perfect, but sometimes working within the limits of your situation can provide more, rather than less, particularly if you take a step away for a bit to look at the situation more clearly. I'm glad Maisie's back in her old home, and expect she'll be glad too.


  1. It's a wise person that can "un-make" a decision when it doesn't work out. Good for you that Maisie's welfare is your highest priority.

  2. Sounds like a good choice. I hope she is happier and it works out well for all.

  3. oh no! Poor baby! Even though when I move, I will probably take Jackson to a H/J barn I will still make sure he gets his pasture! Even if to do so, I pasture board him! He is a pleasure horse for me, and while I do want to jump and show a bit, I am not going to give up my horse's happy lifestyle. He would be so sad stuck in a stall with a crappy little run. You are doing the right thing...

  4. If Maisie was unhappy then you are definitely making the right decision. Moving her may have seemed like a good idea, but the two of you need to make the decision together, and unfortunately a horse can only tell us how they feel about it after the fact. She has clearly told you she doesn't like the decision, and as EvenSong said, kudos to you for being able to un-make it once she "voiced" her position.

  5. Sounds like you made a good choice by moving Maisie back to your old barn. You have put a lot of thought into this and even without the indoor, it's a better decision for you and the horse! Good for you and good for the horse, you are a great horse mom!

  6. I was surprised to read this post, but it sounds like a good decision. Maisie will be happier and it seems you can be at the old barn on better terms for you (in other words not as an indentured servant 7 days a week!).

  7. I am often at the barn when others are not. Because of that I've seen things that others who boarded horses did not. I always wondered with the horses being there 24.7 what happens throughout the day and have decided there is now way to know. All I can do is see if the horse behaves like he is happy. If not, change is in order.

    Glad that Maisie has a choice and if she perks up being back "home" - well there you go.

  8. Funny how you can just sense a horse's mood, isn't it? She probably misses her friends.

  9. Glad she's back where she was happy and able to live out more.

    I know horses all over the world live many hours out of 24 in stalls and seem to adjust to that way of life, but I suspect an honest look at the "whole horse" would reveal there is a price being paid.

    Kudos to you for seeing that and making the change for Maisie.

  10. Maisie is very blessed to have an owner so keyed into her needs. I admire the decision you made, and I hope you find that sweet spot of training and living with Maisie.

  11. These are such difficult decisions, yet they are simplified by the expression on our horse's face. I remember how crazy my last mare went when the livery owner stopped turn out one winter. I moved her eventually.

    I am glad to hear you have eased your own workload. It is so important that horses do not become a burden instead of a joy, despite all the work we do have to do.

  12. Oh good for you for being so in tuned with her to get her back to happy!!

  13. Kate .... I'm with you 100%. It is not natural for a horse to be in a stall for an excessive amount of time and I strongly disagree with people who think the horses get used to it and like it. To me it is very sad. No athlete would work out for 2 hours and then get locked in their bathroom for 22. It's not good for their bodies or their minds. Where is the quality of life? The respect for these beautiful animals?

    It should not be like a car sitting in a garage waiting to be taken out for a ride. Maisie must be so happy to be back home. A long time ago I was able to let go of any pressure regarding myself and the horses...and how much I did whatever with them. They are a big part of my life and I give back to them. I read that Jill is going to be taking on some of the work at the barn. I have done it almost every single day for nearly 30 years. You have to love it...and it is very limiting. Enjoy your new found freedom!

    You are one of the most thoughtful horse owner's I have ever "known."
    I thank you for setting such a fine example...and Maisie thanks you too.

  14. Glad to here Maisie is back "home" where she can have more turnout and be with her friends.

    I too agree that it's not natural for a horse to be kept in all the time. My Boys have 24/7 turnout at their option, with an open barn available. I think they enjoy the freedom to come and go as they please and I know it makes caring for them a lot less complicated.

    Hope to see some pictures of Maisie smiling!!!

  15. Maisie is very fortunate to have you. I am sure she will figure out a way to say "thank you". :-)

  16. Sounds like you have found a good compromise . As to the other place , you gave it a shot ,it didn't work so well for you or MAisie , so you fixed it .

  17. Glad to hear the Maisie is back home and enjoying her herd again. Horses should never be in stalls for long amounts of time without adequate turnout,(just my opinion of course). But I've never seen it do any good for the horse at all.

    It's good your work schedule is cut down too, go take a vacation.

  18. I love that you watch out for signs of Maisie's delight and/or lack of joy. I am so glad Maisie is back with her old pals. She is probably thrilled.

  19. Well good for you for not taking too long to make the decision that is best for Maisie. Even better is that your change was easily reverted back if you wanted it to be. So many times, once we make a change, we can't go back because of various reasons.

    And it sounds like you've done your homework in making sure this change back works better for you, too.

    I bet it feels like a weight has lifted.



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