There’s a popular chain of health clubs called Planet Fitness. Their marketing slogan is that they are the “judgement free zone of gyms.” As we all know, health clubs are often filled with discrimination. This could easily be an analogy for barns that board horses as they are usually full of judgement.
The clients range from all levels of knowledge, experience and attitude about their chosen breed of horse/style of riding/opinion of care and upkeep. They have lots of money or they are scarcely getting by; they ride the fiercely competitive show circuit or trail ride bareback through the woods. From the time I was old enough to sit astride a horse alone, I have been a barn client of one sort or another. At one point, I had my own barn and though it was private, there were a few friends who kept their horses with me on and off during those years.
The overriding demographic of boarders is women. Equestrian sports at the highest levels include many professional men but the norm is women who own horses. I don’t know why this is, perhaps women just relate better to the large creatures. Put a bunch of women together in a competitive environment and you will have snarking, bitchiness and hurt feelings. Even young girls at horseback-oriented summer camps have too much drama to chronicle in one blog post. The only barn I worked at that had no drama was the race track in Trinidad. I was the only woman among the grooms and riders.
To have found a barn where not only the care of the equines is exactly as I would have it; but the level of calm and comradery is high, is a little slice of heaven on earth. Hanni and I moved three horses to Mountain Lane farm in 2008 as Heather opened her doors to outsiders. Through the years, I have watched her grow a business, observed her daughters become astounding trainers and seen the number of her customers increase one hundred-fold. Somehow, with all the changes and expansion, the attitude has remained one of bliss. The animals, regardless of how unruly they arrive, settle into a groove of contentment. Some women have come and gone; not finding the fit they sought or perhaps they couldn’t find a welcome ear for their unhappy baggage, they never lasted long. Everyone respects the careful balance of competition vs. coöperation. We cheer each other on regardless of our chosen riding discipline. Dressage riders school alongside western pleasure aficionados. Impromptu bushwhacking trail rides or painting jump rails – everyone is welcomed, encouraged to join in and share.
I wrote about Lisa’s Ride last summer. Lisa was a boarder who died of a brain tumor and her last trail ride was a celebration. When it is time for a horse to “cross the rainbow bridge” there is a support system for the owner and a final resting place for their friend. Are there occasions when I wonder if Heather ever knew what she was getting into? Of course, it is a barn full of women and horses after all. From my perspective, these are few and short-lived. This is truly a judgement free zone.