It’s no secret that trying to “schedule” barn time is a losing battle. There is no such thing as a ‘quick trip to the barn’. Growing up, pretty much the only thing I got in trouble for was telling my parents a time to come pick me up from the barn, and then being significantly later. Now, friends and family know to allot at least a half an hour later than I tell them (or just tell me to call when I’m done at the barn). You get caught up in who-knows-what-all and end up leaving later than you wanted.
Personally, I usually have to say that I’m leaving at least twice before I actually walk out the door. Or I get ready to leave and remember something I wanted to do while I was there. Or I have to go back to double check my horse’s blankets/wraps/the arena is cleaned up/all her stuff is put away/her stall is closed/take another picture of her/pet the barn cat/clean tack/make sure I locked my tack trunk/struggle to dig through my tack locker because I locked my car keys inside it (again).
But what happens when you have to put your barn time on a schedule?
As a vet student, my ‘free’ time is terribly limited. My classes start as early as 7:30AM (so riding before class isn’t a terribly great option) and can go as late as 5:30PM. I have a full course-load of classes to study for, and most nights find me behind my laptop, making flashcards, reading textbooks and studying lectures from the time I get out of class until I go to bed. Most weeks I have between 2 and 4 exams, so that studying time is crucial to my success in vet school.
And as much as I’d like to put my horse and my education on the same platform, I know that my studies have to come (slightly) first.
We are on a schedule now that I can get out to the barn 5 days a week. I try to avoid going to the barn on the days that I am already getting out of class late, or on days when I really need the studying time. It’s been maintainable so far, but as the semester continues, we might have to drop to 4 days on, 3 days off.
Breeches are not considered ‘appropriate attire’ for vet school, so I pack my breeches and change after I get out of school for the day. Luckily, the commute from school to barn is shorter than home to barn, but it still takes a solid 20 minutes’ drive.
Once I’m at the barn, it’s all about efficiency. I’ve mastered the balancing act of getting bridle/saddle pads/brushbox/girth to her stall in one trip (there isn’t a saddle rack near our stall and the Devoucoux we just got isn’t touching the ground if I can help it, so that gets its own trip directly from tack locker to The Mare’s back).
Luckily, blanket season cuts down on the grooming time, but The Mare likes to get as much shavings as possible in her tail, so I usually have to spend a nice chunk of time picking through her tail. If she’s managed to keep herself relatively clean, I can go from walking into the door of the barn to walking into the arena in 15 minutes.
Untacking is even easier, because I body clipped The Mare, so rarely does she require much in-depth cooling out. All the tack goes back to the tack room in 1 trip, quick brush, blankets go back on, and I’m back out the door with a 40 minute drive home ahead of me before I delve into my coursework again.
The most important thing I have had to learn is that while I can make myself efficient, my horse isn’t always on that same schedule, and trying to make her be only results in frustration for us both. I had to learn to ignore the clock once my behind hit the saddle.
I could never understand why I had such great rides on the weekends (when I have a little more time to burn at the barn), but whenever I needed to be quick during the week, she seemed to be so bad. It took me a while to realize that my own tension and time-obsessive energy was most likely channeling into my aids, and into my horse, and was manifesting as a tense horse that needed more ride time to supple and relax. Once I stopped watching the time, our rides have transformed. Sure, some days we get everything accomplished that we need to in a half hour or 40 minutes. Some days, we don’t. And it is only fair I listen to her and what she needs more than my itemized schedule for the day.
I reserve our over-fences work to the weekend, when I have enough time to set up and tear down jumps, ice, liniment and wrap The Mare afterwards and all that jazz that I wouldn’t have time for in the week. And while I do my best to get in all the patting, cuddling and playing with The Mare I can during the week, I definitely make up for it on the weekends as well.
Is barn time on a schedule possible? To an extent. When you’re working with horses, there is only so much that you can control, and trying to micro-manage it all is definitely not the answer.
It’s a far cry from the days I spent watching lessons on the rail or wandering around the barn and finding things to do to procrastinate leaving. I don’t get as much barn time as I would like, but in the end, it’s always worth it.