The Sacred Art of Puttering Around with Horses

I’ve been back to horse ownership for four months, and I’ll confess: I haven’t made a “quick trip to the barn” yet. Typically, going to the barn has involved catching my gelding, Happy, grooming him while chatting with the other boarders,

I’ve been back to horse ownership for four months, and I’ll confess: I haven’t made a “quick trip to the barn” yet. Typically, going to the barn has involved catching my gelding, Happy, grooming him while chatting with the other boarders, asking him to do his carrot stretches, tacking up, riding, cooling down/untacking/cleaning him up, completing a few more stretches, and, finally, tidying his stall and grooming area.

Many of these are run-of-the-mill rituals I had enjoyed prior to selling my previous horse more than a decade ago. That’s quite a time span with no daily horse care routine, especially after keeping horses on my family’s property for as long as I could remember. In a way it made things simpler—my car was free of tack, mud, and horse hair. I had more time for things like cooking, cycling, and traveling. I could go ride friends’ horses if I was nostalgic for the barn scene.

But I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the simple routines of horse ownership until I purchased Happy. Even the act of driving to the barn has made me misty-eyed on more than one occasion; having a horse is a remarkable source of happiness. And at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event trade show here in Lexington in April, I began grinning like a little kid when I realized I had a particular horse in mind for the snaffle bit I was assessing. Clearly, I hadn’t realized the extent of my missing horses. 

Because I board Happy, chore efficiency for me is less about farm-and barn-keeping and more about riding and managing my horse.

Photo: Steve Church/TheHorse.com

As I’ve eased into these horse care habits again, and linger at the barn for hours on end, I find it amusing that our cover story for the June issue (which likely arrived in your mailbox last week and is available for digital download now) is filled with time-saving tips for the barn. Most of us are incredibly busy these days. Efficiency is valued—even revered—and we long to get all the have-tos done quickly so we can spend the rest of the time doing things we enjoy.

Last week when I (yet again) arrived tardy to a dinner after a ride, I apologized to the host and said I’d taken longer than I’d expected at the barn. My friend replied, “It’s okay. I get it. Sometimes you just need barn time! That’s valuable time to you. I figured you were probably enjoying yourself out there.”

Another friend calls this activity puttering, which Merriam-Webster defines as “occupying oneself in a desultory but pleasant manner, doing a number of small tasks or not concentrating on anything particular.”

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

This is an apt description of my current reality. Because I board Happy, chore efficiency for me is less about farm- and barn-keeping and more about riding and managing my horse. I will be taking my team’s and our sources’ cover story advice (and, incidentally, my own!) on saving time where I can, so I’m able to spend more riding and being with Happy.

So, is it really practical that I took three trips to the car last night before heading home from the barn, just so I could give Happy one more pat? No, not really. But for now, perfecting the art of puttering at the barn is exactly what I need.

How do you maximize your minutes spent at the barn?  

This column originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care 

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