We Were Barn Rats

“By most standards, I am not old. But horse show standards are not most standards. According to the horse show prizelist, not only am I “senior” but I am also an “older.” Add that to my “amateur” status and, according to the USEF, I am basically a talentless geriatric.

I remember my junior years well. I even remember my pony years as if they were yesterday. And as a true testament to my age, I will say with great conviction: Things were different back then. So, so, different.

We were barn rats. Our moms dropped us off at the farm on weekend and summer mornings around sunrise, and didn’t come to get us until the end of their workday. 10+ hours at the barn, and still, we would keep our parents waiting at pick-up time. We would ride anything that was breathing and serviceable. It didn’t have to have a famous name or a show record. We often traded horses because it was fun and challenging – and not just because a medal test might require it. We cleaned our tack, cleaned the tackroom, and helped with stalls, feeding, and turnout. Not to work off board, but because, as boarders, took a lot of pride in the place our horses – and often we – called home. We contributed because we wanted to and because it mattered.

We helped clip the show horses, and we knew how to poultice, pack feet, and bandage legs. If we didn’t know how, we learned and practiced and practiced and practiced until we got it right. Horse care and horsemanship went hand-in-hand with horse-showing and we didn’t know any other way. We knew how to give a show bath that could potentially get us a bump up in the competition. We could pull manes and braid (full disclosure, I can braid, but just because you can does not mean you should – it would take me 6+ hours to braid a small pony, but the point is, we knew how to do it and could if we had to).

The point of all this? We worked really hard to prepare for horse shows. Inside the ring and out. Which meant a successful horse show was incredibly rewarding – the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat, and even some blood and tears. A ‘bad’ horse show was devastating, but something we’d always learn from. It was all a big deal. Something we took personally and seriously. We invested the time and the work and the return on investment was valuable and validating.

This sport is one in which you get out of it what you put in, and horsemanship is as critical to success in the ring as ever. Sometimes it’s time and work, sometimes (unfortunately) it’s money, and a lot of times it’s both. Either way, putting in the homework certainly has a significant impact on your relationship with your horse. Some of the most successful riders I know are the ones that are their own grooms, handlers, and sometimes, trainers. Call them barn rats, call them dedicated, or call them crazy horse people… I’ll just call them my kind of people.”

Christiane Schuman Campbell

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