I think it’s easy enough to forget that horseback riding is a team sport. Not just ‘team’ in the sense between horse and rider, or between riders competing on a show team, etc., but a team in a much grander sense of the word.

Standing next to every successful pair of horse and rider is a massive team. A team made up of vets, farriers, chiropracters/acupuncturists/massage therapists/whatever other modalities you might employ, fellow riders and competitors, barn staff, trainers and coaches, and family, along with a million other people who play a role in your partnership, from saddle fitters to professional haulers to judges to tack store owners and workers…it’s overwhelming to think about how many people we rely on and who have influenced our journey with our horses.

And within ‘family’, you can break that down farther into family (in the biological/traditional sense of the word), and barn family.

Family is great. Maybe they are horsey, maybe they aren’t; hopefully they are wonderfully supportive and want to learn about everything you are doing with your horse (like my own family). They come to lessons and shows, they want to hear about your latest ride, my mom even bakes for my horse.

Barn family is an equally indispensable group of people. This group encompasses trainers, barn workers, fellow boarders and riders at that facility, and their vets/farriers/etc.

Whereas my actual family has come to adopt this crazy sport I fell in love with, I’ve been lucky enough to have been adopted into several barn families as well.

What I call my ‘home barn’ (or the barn I first started riding at), was my first barn family. I still am friends with girls from that barn, even though we are all graduated and spread around the country in various stages of our lives. Whenever I am home, I still go see my trainers; sometimes I even get to sit on my favorite school horses that are still there. This barn is where I spent my free evenings, my summers, my school breaks, learning everything and anything I could about horses. This barn was my first job. I cleaned stalls, swept aisles, fed horses. I graduated to helping teach with birthday parties and scout troops and summer camps. When I decided to bring The Mare home, my home barn family was so supportive of our journey. They helped in any way they could, and my trainer was a major influence on us. She got us started on the right foot; without her, I am positive my story with The Mare would be very different. My home barn family was and still is a major support system.

My college barn was an entirely different kind of barn family. I was adopted into a huge barn family at Otterbein. A giant team of equestrians, the wonderful barn staff, the amazing trainers, and the professors in the equine department made up this barn family. I was so immersed in this barn that I even lived on the property for over 2 years. Every free second I had I was in this barn. Working, riding, teaching summer camp, giving tours trying to woo prospective students to our beautiful facility and top-notch program (which wasn’t hard to do; the barn and the program speak for themselves!). Over 4 years of rigorous academic work, applying for vet school and a myriad of personal ups-and-downs, this barn family was my rock. I knew at any point in the day, I could walk into that facility and if I needed something – for my horse, advice, a word of encouragement, an ear to listen…it would not be hard to find. Some of my greatest friends have come from this barn family; and when I graduated I was quite ready and excited to move onto the next chapter of my educational career at vet school, but heartbroken at the prospect of leaving the barn and the people there. I spent every moment I could right up until we left savoring each day I had there.

Now in vet school and dealing with an even more rigorous schedule, I haven’t had the ability to find my barn family until recently.

Barn family doesn’t mean just having the aforementioned people around you. It’s hard to describe exactly what makes a barn family a barn family, but for me it is such an intense feeling of belonging, and knowing you are surrounded by a group of people who you know would drop anything to help you with your horse, and that you would do the same for them. It’s knowing that their interest is not just with their own horse, but for every horse and rider in that barn. It means you have a group of confidants, an instant think tank when you run into problems, ears to listen when you just need to vent, and a support system for the day-to-day trials and tribulations we face in and out of the barn.

It’s having those people, and knowing you are a part of that barn. It is what makes those people feel like family, and makes that barn feel like a second home.

So to my newest barn family (you know who you are); thank you.