You've bought that horse property you always wanted. Your barn is solid. Your fencing is in good order. Your arena footing is the latest blend. You have good horsekeeping skills-and even some barn-management experience. You're more than ready. You pull up to your barn, horse in tow, and your stomach gives a little jump. Your dream has finally come true!
Or has it? Your facility may be ready to house your beloved equine-but are you ready for the social and emotional changes that go along with bringing him home? You may begin to feel isolated -- your built-in equine community is gone. Or, you may start to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility. Can you really handle every problem that might arise? You may also feel tied down, unwilling to leave your horse in someone else's hands. Finally, you may find yourself besieged with requests from friends and neighbors-and you don't quite know how to say "no."
Here, equine sports psychologist Janet Edgette, PsyD, takes you through each of these issues. She explains why you might feel the way you do, then gives you specific ways to cope.
Horsekeeping Issue #1: Feeling Isolated
You may not realize how important your barn community is to you-until it's gone. You may have discounted the significance of those contacts as "just my barn friends." In reality, your barn friends were a vital social outlet, as well as a valuable resource. They provided companionship, advice, a safety net, and competitive motivation.
In terms of social contacts, you're without the fellowship of barn pals, sharing dreams and cleaning tack on a sunny afternoon. And, if your horse develops a minor health problem, you can no longer turn to the resident horse-care sage to find out what she thinks before calling your vet.
You've also lost that built-in safety net-there's no longer someone around to make a phone call should you become injured, unless you arrange it. When no one is around, you may be hesitant to engage in such risky-but-rewarding pursuits as riding on challenging trails, practicing reining maneuvers at a gallop, or working a green horse.
And, finally, it's easy to lose your winning edge at home, where a casual attitude is okay. Away from watchful eyes, your riding can lose some of its sharpness-which may mean the difference between first and fourth place.
Find a buddy to ride and/or train with. That can be as close as your horse- savvy neighbor, or as easy as placing a note on your local tack- or feed-store bulletin board.
Join local horse clubs. Become active in local breed, show, and/or trail associations. To contact them, look in your state horsemen's directory, or again, ask around at your local tack or feed store.
Form a trail-riding club. If you have trails nearby, and riders who enjoy them, you have all the necessary ingredients. Simply post a note at your local tack or feed store, and/or take out a small advertisement in the personals section of your community newspaper.
Sponsor clinics. If your facility is large enough, sponsor a show- or communication-oriented clinician. Most big-name clinicians have representatives throughout the country, who'll give first-rate clinics to smaller groups. For contact information on communication-based clinicians, see "Your Clinic Companion," Special Report, EQUUS March '00. For other clinicians, check advertisements in national publications, and use your Internet search engine to locate relevant home pages.
Take riding lessons. Sure, you know how to ride. But everyone can use a few pointers. Or, you might want to try another discipline. Group lessons especially offer social opportunities. If you find a fun group, ask the others if they'd like to go on a trail ride-or grab a soda-after the lesson is over.
Become a certified riding instructor. If you're an advanced rider with a gift for communication, you might prefer to give lessons. Not only will you meet interesting horsepeople, you'll also make some extra income. To sign up for a certification program, contact the American Riding Instructors Association at (941) 948-3232.
Volunteer. Offer to work with schools, 4-H clubs, etc. to educate kids about horses and horse safety. To get the number of your local chapter, contact the National 4-H Council at (301) 961-2800.
Horsekeeping Issue #2: New Parent Jitters
You might feel as though you're just in over your head. Taking your horse home for the first time is much like the experience facing new parents-right down to the panic you feel when left alone with your new arrival. It can be very nerve-racking.